Addiction in Society

Addiction—the thematic malady for our society—entails every type of psychological and societal problem

Taking Words Seriously - Romeo and Juliet are Troubled Kids

Shakespeare means what he says, not the Hallmark version

imageAs I have written previously, bloggers quickly learn that most people are simply waiting when reading something to offload their own opinions. A recent reader of my post on Romeo and Juliet, a play I point out is a case study of fatal love addiction, commented that "Your article trivializes a great piece of poetry, and fails to appreciate Shakespeare's real knowledge of human nature."

Not surprisingly, I disagree.  I feel that Ms. Holcomb fails to respect the greatness of Shakespeare's insights and writing in favor of accepting our culture's popular, quick read of the play as a tale about families interfering with true love.

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Romeo and Juliet is not a paean to young love - it's more a funeral bier to immaturity.  Shakespeare fills his plays with words and scenes, all of which have a purpose. So, I pointed out in my response to Ms. Holcomb what I had noted in my original post:

1. Shakespeare begins the play with a long development of Romeo's withdrawal from his previous affair with Rosaline - he is so disconsolate he is already threatening suicide - well before he meets Juliet!

2. Armed with his tendency for complete and utter infatuation, Romeo finds Juliet, a teenage virgin whose father is forcing her to marry an older man she wants nothing to do with. Shakespeare frequently portrays capable, mature women who control their destinies - often managing the wilder impulses of the men they love. Why does he select as his female lead in this play a totally unformed and malleable heroine?

3. Shakespeare assigns a prominent didactic role in the play to Father Lawrence, who remonstrates the male lead for his impetuosity, his quick shifts in love objects, his failure to appreciate his options, his self-defeating impulses. Why take the time and space to point these things out - and from a man sympathetic towards Romeo?

4. Whenever either lover is thwarted, throughout the play, he or she immediately contemplates - threatens to commit - suicide. These are two depressed people unable to cope with stress and obstacles in life! Of course, this could be due to Juliet's youth - and to Romeo's impulse disorder. But these are traits of the young lovers themselves, not of their families or the barriers their last names create.

5. And, most important of all, why do the two lovers end up killing themselves? And they do so when only the other is present? If this is a play about the oppressive nature of family feuds and of larger society, why not have Romeo be executed for violating his banishment? Shakespeare is certainly not afraid to portray people being murdered, assassinated, or executed. To deny the significance of these suicides - as though Shakespeare somehow thought they were a good way to protest familial interference wth young love - is indeed to trivialize Shakespeare's humanity.

Instead, I believe I express the utmost respect for Shakespeare's language and insight into human nature when I take the trouble to parse his words and contemplate his characters' feelings and actions. Indeed, my biggest complaint with the addiction field is its failure to assay the implications of the meanings of words like "powerlessness," "progressive," and "genetic," as well as failing to actually consider the meaning of addicts' behavior and outcomes.

Stanton Peele, PhD, JD, is the author of Recover! He has been a pioneer in the addiction field since publication of Love and Addiction in 1975.

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