by Ainsley Gray*
“Deny thy father and refuse thy name – or if thou wilt not, but be sworn my love, and I will be a Capulet no more.” In Shakespeare’s romantic tragedy (or dark comedy, according to some), Juliet says this to her boyfriend Romeo, whose family (the Montagues) have feuded with hers for years. The lovers have to meet in secret because Montagues and Capulets can’t meet openly without exchanging insults. The men usually challenge each other to duels to the death. And Juliet is betrothed to a man her parents chose for her, an ally of her family.
Some readers/viewers see Romeo and Juliet as helpless, innocent pawns of forces they can’t control. Juliet is fourteen at the beginning of the play, and Romeo isn’t much older. (In fact, his sidekick Mercutio teases him about his recent crush on a lass named Rosaleen.) So do the teenagers fall in love because that’s just what happens naturally when adolescent hormones kick in?
Romeo meets Juliet at a masquerade ball at the Capulets’ villa. Because everyone is in disguise, he is able to sneak in without being recognized, but he is still taking a huge risk. Is it really just a coincidence that Juliet, the young daughter of Lord Capulet, catches his fancy? And is Juliet’s response to Romeo based on his looks and charm, and nothing else?
To this day, teenagers are often more attracted to someone from the other side of the tracks, or from a community their parents disapprove of, than to the boy/girl next door. The saying “opposites attract” describes a situation in which young people who want to assert their adult independence choose dates their relatives are unlikely to accept.
Carl Jung, described as one of the fathers of the study of psychology, claimed that everyone has a kind of internalized personality of the “opposite” gender (an anima for men, an animus for women), and this serves as a model (usually not consciously understood) of one’s ideal love-object. So how well does this kind of attraction work as a means of finding one’s life-partner?
Whether Romeo and Juliet would have loved each other for a lifetime if the family feud hadn’t destroyed them is anyone’s guess. Based on my own youthful experience, I would say that the attraction of opposites produces great drama but no lasting rapport.
Sometimes the sheer force of desire, blind and reckless as it may be, is fascinating in itself. That’s probably why tragedy hasn’t gone out of style. And it’s usually not far from wry comedy.
*Jean Roberta's other pen name and alter ego. She couldn't find a guest-blogger for this week.