Thursday, February 11, 2010

Romeo and Juliet - William Shakespeare


[I have not read the analysis of the play or seen a theatrical or movie reproduction as I wanted to form my own inferences the first time]

Love and lives torn asunder by circumstance: this is not new. I have heard many people say that Romeo and Juliet were basically luckless. It may have been so, but I wonder, just how much of human mistakes and human prejudices can you blame on luck?

On one hand you have the bitter feud between the Montagues and the Capulets that has already twice threatened the peace of Verona. On the other hand, shouldn't the Prince, as the sovereign of Verona, have tried to govern the Montagues and the Capulets towards a less violent path? Contempt breeds contempt, this is evident in the way even the servants of the respective houses regard each other and spoil for a fight. What was the reason for the Prince's initial leniency? Was it indulgence or negligence? If Romeo and Juliet had indeed been fated to love, maybe timely interference in the feud could have prevented much?

There are the Montagues and the Capulets themselves: at the drop of a stone, words are crossed, swords are drawn and lives are lost. Thus Mercutio (Kinsman of the prince and friend of Romeo) lost his and Tybalt (Juliet's cousin) lost his. Hot blooded Mercutio and Tybalt smarting under his uncle Capulet's criticism goad each other to death and Romeo to murder. What about Benvolio, Romeo's cousin and friend, who seems to be passive at best whenever he appears? Shakespeare seems to have made out Benvolio as a troubled man, one who loves peace yet lacks the impetus to intervene confrontations and preserve that peace. Is self-preservation Benvolio's only interest?

Was Mercutio's and Tybalt's fight the fountainhead of Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet's woes or did they begin when he wanted to be 'a glove upon her hand so that he might touch her cheek?' Romeo, foolish, hot blooded, impulsive, impetuous Romeo, how well and how much did he love Rosaline if one look at Juliet was enough change him? Romeo by turn produces mad agony and a dead sense of calm. In his lady's presence, Romeo seems unable to control his excesses, be it the first time they meet, at the proclamation of their love or towards the end, just before he dies. Romeo as well as Juliet emphasize through out the play that to each, the other means much more than life itself. Romeo is seen many times as being entirely ruled by his emotions. When he goes to the apothecary to procure poison after hearing of Juliet's supposed death, the words and the punctuations used there belie that sense of dead calm that comes out of sheer weariness of spirit and detachment with his "world wearied flesh." Indeed, he shows no consistency of temper or consistency of loyalty to his first love but shows consistency to death, in that, he does what he always said he would do, nothing will be well, cannot live, does not live if Juliet is taken from him. What was it about Juliet that caught his heart that way? Love at first sight might be overrated but was that what Romeo felt? Was love at first sight, excesses of emotions for beauty more common in Elizabethan England? Was Romeo shallow in his treatment of Rosaline? Who is to say? Shakespeare does not tell us Romeo's and Rosaline's story; in fact it may be inferred that the only reason for Rosaline being mentioned at all is to show the unevenness of disposition that causes Romeo ultimate harm. Juliet on the other hand, present a foil, she is quick with her words, quick with her wits and till the time of the actual wedding is not sure of Romeo's love. Her mind wavers with Tybalt's death (Romeo being the murderer) but her loyalty to her love overrides everything else and she is dispassionate enough to chide herself for showing even a glimmer of disloyalty to Romeo. But here too, one vein runs common: violence of emotion. From the time that they meet, both are blind to everything else.

Every character in the play seems to have played a part in writing the destiny of the two. The prince with his punishment, the families with their prejudices: they love their children, as long as the children do their bidding, Mercutio and Tybalt with their misplaced rivalry, Benvolio with his passiveness, Paris simply because he wants to marry Juliet and Friar Lawrence, the third most important character, with his self preservation instincts when he hastens out of the tomb leaving Juliet to follow, Juliet who is clearly suicidal after seeing the dead Romeo. If Friar Lawrence had dragged Juliet away with him could he have prevented her death? Or would he have just delayed it? What if Friar John had not been held in quarantine and if Friar Lawrence's letter had reached Romeo on time?

Romeo and Juliet were just a boy and a girl who fell in love and tried to move heaven and earth to be together. Shakespeare hasn't attempted to romanticise either of them - he lays open their flaws for all to see. Excesses? Maybe so, but who is to say foolish? Through his books, Shakespeare has always placed the utmost importance on love's consistency, this is apparent through his sonnets. So maybe in writing this, he really believed that when some people love their only other alternative is death. Romeo and Juliet have not attracted people for centuries because their story ends in tragedy, they are famed because of the intensity, the blindness and that unbelievable love that may very well exist only in an imaginary world.

Out of an ordinary love story, Shakespeare has created an extraordinary play that subtly showcases the inconsistencies of human nature from start to finish.

6 comments:

bikerguy said...

wow!! quite a brave attempt to write on one of Shakespeare's most famous plays :)
well, I am no literary genius so i will skip that part...all i can say is that it is very well written and for the first time, i got to know what the true story is...like you have mentioned: "Romeo and Juliet were ordinary people who fell in love and tried to move heaven and earth to be together", and it is Shakespeare who has created an extraordinary play out this...must be a genius :)
continue your journey of presenting books in this manner...I always look forward to your next post :)

Pavithra said...

Am amazed by the amount of books you read and also the variety in it:)I know Romeo and Juliet is a masterpiece but since am not a fan of tragic endings I've never made an attempt to read it..But maybe I should..Your narration is very nicely written:)Great job..Keep writing:)

archana reddy said...

romeo and juliet are idiots..but i guess it wouldnt be a play if they werent dramatic enough and kill themselves...

Vaishnavi said...

@Avi - I don't know if you will like R&J, to put it crudely, there is too much mooning in there to be of your liking :) Read Julius Caesar :)

@Pavi - Thanks! You can borrow it from me if you want :)

@Archana - Love generally tends to make fools out of the most rational people and it seems to be that Romeo wasn't even that rational to begin with :)

Suvro Chatterjee said...

How apposite. 'Violent passions have violent ends/ Like fire and powder, which, as they kiss, consume' ... that's from the play itself! Also think of Wuthering Heights in this context.
Sir

Vaishnavi said...

Dear Sir,

Now that you mention it, there are quite a number of parallels that one can draw between these two books. The lines you have quoted are extremely appropriate here. Reminds me of this line from The Twilight where Bella is talking about Cathy and Heathcliff, "May be their love was their only redeeming factor." This reminds me of Romeo and Juliet too.