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Romeo and Juliet: A Tale of Love and Anxiety
Shakespeare's story of Romeo and Juliet is often accepted as the tragic story of two lovers who cannot be together. Romeo is part of the Montague family, which has a long history of feuding with Juliet's family, the Capulets. Romeo and Juliet meet and instantly fall in love. The tragedy is that they cannot be together because of their feuding families. In their attempt to escape their families and be together, they both end up tragically dying. In this view of the story as the tragic tale of two lovers, it is accepted that Romeo and Juliet are simply destined to be together and cannot ignore the love they have for each other. While this is a commonly accepted view of the story, it is not the only way the story can be seen. The characters of Romeo and Juliet can also be considered on a psychological level, with this analysis looking deeper at the real reasons for their decisions and their behavior. If Romeo and Juliet are considered in this way, it can be seen that the story is not one of star-crossed lovers, but one of two teenagers trying to deal with the anxiety in their lives. Romeo and Juliet will now be considered from this psychological perspective, with this analysis showing that their story is one that deals with love and anxiety.
One of the first critical points in understanding Romeo is that Juliet is not the first woman he has been in love with. In the first scene he describes his love for Rosaline. Most importantly, like Juliet, Rosaline is also a Capulet. In the first scene, Romeo describes how Rosaline is sworn to chastity saying, "Well, in that hit you miss: she'll not be hit / With Cupid's arrow; she hath Dian's wit; / And, in strong proof of chastity well arm'd, / From love's weak childish bow she lives unharm'd" (I, i 206-209). This shows that Romeo has selected a person to love that is a completely unsuitable match for him. It is also important that Romeo speaks as if his love is pure and will never die. When Benvolio urges Romeo to forget about her, Romeo replies that he could not possibly forget her because he loves her too much. Considering that Rosaline has shown no interest in Romeo and that they do not have a real relationship, it is suggested that Romeo is inventing his sense of deep love. This is further suggested when Romeo meets Juliet and instantly forgets about Rosaline and transfers all his feelings of love to Juliet. Reading Romeo and Juliet as a love story, it could be argued that Romeo forgets about Rosaline because he experiences real love when he sees Juliet. However, on seeing Juliet, he decided that he loves her intensely without even knowing her. In fact, the only thing he does know about Juliet is that she is a Capulet. This suggests that Romeo desperately wants to love a Capulet.
The meeting between Romeo and Juliet is worth looking at in more detail. On seeing Juliet for the first time, Romeo focuses on her beauty at first, "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! / It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night / Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear; / Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!" (I, v 44-47). In this statement, Romeo describes Juliet's beauty in terms that go far beyond what would be expected. Certainly, Juliet may be attractive, and Romeo may be attracted by the beauty, but referring to her beauty as being the source of light and something beyond the earth suggests that Romeo is being more imaginative than factual. It is also important that Romeo immediately uses references to light and dark, where Juliet brings light to his life. This is something that continues throughout the play. If it is considered that light represents good and dark represents evil, then it is seen that Romeo immediately sees Juliet as taking him out of evil and into goodness. Romeo then finishes his statement with the lines, "Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night" (I, v 52-53). Romeo is now stating that he is in love with Juliet, simply by glancing at her. While it could be argued that it is a case of love at first sight, this seems unlikely. Instead, it seems that Romeo wants to love Juliet, with his extreme statements a way of convincing himself that she is everything. The next question to be asked is why Romeo wants to love her so much. This is suggested later in the scene when Romeo tries to kiss Juliet's hand. In his first statement to Juliet, Romeo says "If I profane with my unworthiest hand / This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: / My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand / To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss" (I, v 96-99). It is relevant that Romeo begins by referring to Juliet as a "holy shrine." This shows that he attaches great meaning to Juliet. Most importantly, she serves a much greater purpose than being just a love interest. When Romeo says that a gentle kiss will "smooth that rough touch," it is apparent that he sees winning Juliet as a way of purging himself of something. Romeo extends on this further when he says "Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take. / Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged" (I, v 109-110). This shows that Romeo sees Juliet as purging his sin. It is now necessary to consider the exact sin that Romeo is driven by.
The sin that Romeo is attempting to purge is his hatred for the Capulets. This has been a driving force in Romeo's life and has influenced his family for as long as he has known. Kristeva (225) explains that Romeo's love for both Rosaline and Juliet "proceed from the same source of hatred, the Capulet family." The conflict for Romeo is that he has learned to hate the Capulet family from birth, but has no valid reason for this hatred. It is also observed that Romeo is not a hateful person, but is instead driven more by love and understanding. This results in a state of anxiety within Romeo where he feels hatred for the Capulets, but does not want to. His relationship with Juliet then becomes a way of purging him from the hatred he feels, with Romeo aware that love will overcome his hatred. This explains why he is driven to love a Capulet, as seen by his love for both Rosaline and Juliet. Romeo is driven by a psychological desire to fight against the inner hatred he feels, with an invented love having the strength to overcome the hatred. This also explains why Romeo's love is immediately intense, with this intensity needed so that the love will completely overwhelm his sense of hatred. When Romeo refers to kissing Juliet, he says "Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged" (I, v 109-110). Romeo means this almost literally, with Juliet representing his ability to overcome hatred. However, it must also be noted that overcoming the hatred is not really as simple as simply kissing Juliet. Romeo also has an ongoing battle. The most important point is that Romeo connects his ability to overcome hatred with his ability to overcome any obstacles and be with Juliet. This is seen in one of the most important scenes of the play, which is the balcony scene. In this scene, Romeo calls to Juliet saying, "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. / Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon" (II, ii 2-4). This shows that Romeo sees Juliet as the light in his life and as his weapon against darkness. This is not simply a romantic image, but represents how Romeo literally sees Juliet as his weapon against the evil in himself. When Romeo tells Juliet to "kill the envious moon" he is asking her to kill the evil parts in himself, most notably his ability to hate. Romeo also refers to Juliet saying, "O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art / As glorious to this night, being o'er my head / As is a winged messenger of heaven" (II, ii 28-30). In this statement, Romeo uses the image of light and dark again, showing that Juliet represents light to him. As noted earlier, the light represents goodness. Romeo also extends this by referring to Juliet as an angel, both by calling her "bright angel" and by referring to her as "a winged messenger of heaven." This is similar to the way that Romeo describes Juliet as purging his sin, and shows that Juliet represents Romeo's desire to be good.…[continue]
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