“We live in a political world,
Love doesn’t have any place.
We’re living in times where men commit crimes
And crime don’t have a face.
We live in a political world,
Wisdom is thrown into jail,
It rots in a cell, is misguided as hell
Leaving no one to pick up a trail.
We live in a political world.
The one we can see and can feel
But there’s no one to check, it’s all a stacked deck,
We all know for sure that it’s real.”
– Bob Dylan, Political World –
Bob Dylan gives us an accurate description of the world we live in. We live in a moment of human history that calls for the deepest wisdom and spirituality. We live in a world where violence and aggressiveness have invaded man’s private space. We live in a world in which the power of love has lost its meaning, a world which requires courage and struggle on behalf of all creation to resist chaos.
It is easy to retire from the vulgar reality into some isolated and private paradise where we can reflect on the questions of the time, the injustice of the age, and live like moles in the heart of a twisted world. We can ignore and accept things as they are, or we can choose to struggle with them. We can run away from the call to contemplation, or we can embrace it with both wisdom and action, because the world is unfinished and it is our responsibility to keep building and creating. We can gather our strength – our spiritual strength – to see beyond ourselves and take the first step toward a new life.
In our search for wisdom and spiritual strength we should turn to works of literature and authors who show new possibilities. Since literature, as Lionel Trilling puts it, deals with truth, meaning “the truth of the self, and also the truth about the self, about the conditions of its existence, its survival, its development” 1 , it is necessary that we devote all our energies to works of literature which sharpen our awareness and expand our consciousness.
In a world where the quality of literature is so often said to be rapidly diminishing, it is important to draw our attention back to some of the true classics and appreciate their works from the point of view of our own time. It is important to pay attention to William Shakespeare, whose works have a timeless quality.
A master of writing skills, Shakespeare based the majority of his works on universal human truths and moral choices. His ability to capture the essence of life gives us a spiritual direction of what it means to be really human.
Harold Bloom, the great lover of Shakespeare, said:
“We have to read Shakespeare, and we have to study Shakespeare. We have to study Dante. We have to read Chaucer. We have to read Cervantes… We have to read certain authors…They provide an intellectual with a spiritual value which has nothing to do with organized religion or the history of institutional belief. They remind us in every sense of re-minding us. They not only tell us things that we have forgotten, but they tell us things we couldn’t possibly know without them, and they reform our minds. They make our minds stronger. They make us more vital. They make us alive…” 2
In short, Shakespeare takes us beyond our limited experience of life and the moral blindness we live in to show us the lives of other people at other times. He stirs us intellectually and emotionally; he deepens our understanding of our history, our society, and our own individual lives. Shakespeare expands our views and gives us the strength to resist harsh reality. That’s why it is impossible for him to slip into the tragic oblivion of old age.
Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds:
Romeo and Juliet
“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments, love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempest and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come,
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom:
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” 3
Love is the dominant and most important theme in many Shakespeare’s dramas. However, the kind of love that Shakespeare writes about is not just any kind of love. Love, for him, defies the stars and makes the world go round. It is the most powerful emotion that captures individuals and makes them oppose their world, and, at times, fight against themselves. It is the noblest of all passions. That kind of love is prepared to seek refuge and salvation even in death when other solutions seem impossible.
Romeo and Juliet, the most famous love story in the English literary tradition, is a perfect example of what the forcefulness of love means. The love between Romeo, the young heir of the Montagues, and Juliet, the daughter of the house of Capulet are the violent, ecstatic, and overpowering force that supersedes all other values, loyalties, and emotions.
Despite the fact that he lives in the middle of the violent feud between the two families, Romeo is not at all interested in violence. His only interest is love.
His first love is Rosaline, who doesn’t return his love. Analyzing the nature of his love for Rosaline, we can see that Romeo is in love just exactly as the culture of the day said a young man was supposed to be in love. Rosaline exists in the play only to demonstrate Romeo’s passionate nature, his love of love. From the many oxymorons and clichés in Romeo’s speech, like “Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health” 4 , it is easy to guess that Romeo has read bad love poetry.
In the popular love poetry of Shakespeare’s time, the focus was always on the sufferings of the male lover. The lady is beautiful, and her beauty strikes a man through the eyes, into the heart, making him fall in love. He suffers and tries to tell the lady of his suffering, so she may pity him and return his love. But she cruelly rejects his advances, and so he suffers, both from the fire of love and the coldness of her heart. Benvolio knows that it has been ever thus, and sympathizes, saying:
“Alas, that love, so gentle in his view,
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!” 5
Rosaline is incapable of returning her love to Romeo. She is cold, chaste and unattainable. She rejects his love not because she does not love him, but because she rejects love in general. In her coldness and chastity, Rosaline is directly contrasted to Juliet – the beautiful, passionate and strong-willed daughter of Capulet . Shakespeare’s intention was to contrast sharply Romeo’s mooning over Rosaline with the fresh, spontaneous passion which Juliet will inspire in him.
The meeting of Romeo and Juliet at the feast of Capulet’s captures the excitement of the intense passion that springs up at first sight between the two protagonists. When Romeo first sees Juliet, he says:
“Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night” 6
Suddenly struck with the exceeding beauty of Juliet, he compares her immediately to the brilliant light of the torches that illuminate Capulet’s great hall: “O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!” Juliet is the light that frees him from the darkness of his perpetual melancholia.
On discovering that the lady, whose matchless beauty unexpectedly struck him, is young Juliet, the daughter of the lord Capulet, and the great enemy of the Montagues, he becomes aware that he has unknowingly engaged his heart to his foe. However, this realization cannot dissuade him from loving. When Juliet learns that she has fallen in love with her enemy, she shows great sorrow but her loyalty begins to go to Romeo because she thinks the feud is absurd:
“…Prodigious birth of love it is to me,
that I must love a loathed enemy.” 7
The force of parental influence stands in the way of the lovers’ happiness. Because they are foes, he can’t vow his love to her, and she can’t meet him anywhere.
“But passion lends them power, time means, to meet,
Temp’ring extremities with extreme sweet” 8
Shakespeare founded the passion of the two lovers not on the pleasures they had experienced, but on all the pleasures they had not experienced. 9 All that was to come of life was theirs. At that untried source of promised happiness, they quenched their thirst; their hopes were of air, their desires of fire. They were in full possession of their senses and their affections. Youth is the season of love because the heart is then first melted in tenderness from the touch of novelty, and kindled to ecstasy. The expectation of pleasure made their passion and love even more infinite and inexhaustible.
The balcony scene is one of the most famous scenes in all of theater, owing to its beautiful and evocative poetry. It is more than a great lovers’ meeting place. It is in fact the same as if Romeo had entered the Garden of Eden. When Romeo sees Juliet again, he wonders,
“But soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!” 10
Juliet is compared to the sun, and is one of the most giving characters in the play:
”My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite.” 11
Her love is so deep that she is prepared to cast off her family and social security just to be Romeo’s wife:
“O, Romeo, Romeo! – Wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.” 12
Nevertheless, the desires and hopes of youthful passion bring with them many disappointments. Such is the transition in this play from the highest bliss to the lowest despair. Though the euphoria of love clearly dominates the scenes in Act II, some ominous foreshadowing is revealed. The friar’s observation, in reference to Romeo’s powerful love, that “these violent delights have violent ends” 13, reinforce the presence and power of fate.
The Chorus tells us from the very beginning that the lovers are “star-cross’d”, and doomed by the influence of malignant planets.
Before attending Capulet’s ball, Romeo has a premonition:
“I fear, too early: for my mind misgives
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,
Shall bitterly begin this fearful date
With this night’s revels, and expire the term
Of a despised life, closed in my breast,
By some vile forfeit of untimely death:
But He, that hath the steerage of my course,
Direct my sail!” 14
The sudden, fatal violence in the first scene of Act III, that is, the fights between Mercutio and Tybalt and then between Romeo and Tybalt, serves as a reminder that, for all its emphasis on love, beauty, and romance, Romeo and Juliet still takes place in a masculine world in which notions of honor, pride, and status are prone to erupt in a fury of conflict. Elizabethan society generally believed that a man too much in love lost his manliness. Romeo is clearly under the influence of that belief, as can be seen when he states that his love for Juliet had made him “effeminate.” 15 Once again, however, this statement can be seen as a battle between the private world of love and the public world of honor, duty, and friendship.
With their love censured not only by the Montagues and Capulets, but by the ruler of Verona , Romeo and Juliet’s relationship puts Romeo in danger of violent punishment from both Juliet’s kinsmen and the state. The viciousness and dangers of the play’s social environment is a dramatic tool that Shakespeare uses to make the lovers’ romance seem even more precious and fragile.
When Juliet understands that Romeo has killed Tybalt and been sentenced to exile, she curses nature that it should put “the spirit of a fiend” in Romeo’s “sweet flesh” 16 . However, after criticizing Romeo for his role in Tybalt’s death, she regains control of herself and realizes that her loyalty must be to her husband rather than to Tybalt, her cousin. She disapproves of the nurse for criticizing her husband, and adds that she regrets faulting him herself:
“Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband? 17
She laments that Romeo’s banishment is worse than ten thousand slain Tybalts:
“’Tybalt is dead, and Romeo – banished;’
That ‘banished,’ that one word ‘banished,’
Hath slain ten thousand Tybalts. ” 18
Juliet’s visible transformation to adulthood is revealed here . She transforms herself from the inexperienced girl of near fourteen to the brave, mature, and loyal woman who has been caught up into a train of passionate events and now stands alone prepared to face all the consequences for the sake of her love.
In the previous scenes, Juliet always followed the wishes of her parents or at least did not challenge them verbally. Later on, she verbally defies both of her parents by refusing to marry Paris . Even more boldly, she exclaims that she will not marry anyone other than Romeo. She holds firmly to her heart’s desire despite the foreshadowing threats of her father:
”…hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,
For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee.” 19
This is exactly why the audience and the readers are against the parents who wish to control the young couple and why they are on the side of the lovers. We support love of Romeo and Juliet because our hearts plead for them. We accept the deceits by which a young woman truly in love outsmarts the tyrannies of her parents who want to marry her off to the wrong man.
Juliet’s mother, Lady Capulet, has never been able to establish a sympathetic relationship with her daughter. She is a typical female character who has allowed herselfto be shaped and molded according to the conventions of the time. Although a woman, she is the same as her husband. She is made up under the influence of the system and cannot think beyond it. Juliet is supposed to accept the demands of her parents and only to stoop.
At first Juliet’s maternal figure and confidant, the Nurse also turns her back on Juliet in the argument over marrying Paris . When Juliet, already rejected by her parents, turns to her for help:
“What say’st thou? hast thou not a word of joy?
Some comfort, nurse.” 20
the Nurse sides with the Capulets and recommends that Juliet marries Paris . For her, getting married has nothing to do with love.
Juliet finds it hard to believe that the Nurse would have her break both legal and moral laws in marrying Paris . She feels betrayed and thus ends her faith in the Nurse and her intimate ties as well,
“Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain.” 21
Neither Lady Capulet nor the Nurse knows what real love is and what it is prepared to do. The two of them have never experienced the forcefulness of true love. No matter how much isolated from her environment, Julia remains faithful to her heart’s messages and remains loyal to her intense emotions. Her final goal is to go to Friar Lawrence hoping that he may help her. She resolves to the idea that,
“If all else fail, myself have power to die.” 22
Though defeated by the circumstances, Juliet does not revert to being a little girl. She recognizes the limits of her power and, if another way cannot be found, determines to use it: for a woman in Verona who cannot control the direction of her life, suicide, the brute ability to live or not live that life, can represent the only means of asserting authority over the self. The best mark of Juliet’s maturity is that she’s strong enough to be true to herself and to Romeo, even though everyone is against it, and the cost is very high.
The world of Romeo and Juliet is a world governed by tradition, desire for power, hate, revenge and fate. Romeo and Juliet’s world of true love and their language of love fall upon the deaf ears of the other characters in that violent world of Verona . They lived in the time when love meant isolation not only from their parents but from the whole environment.
In Act IV, Juliet once again demonstrates her strength. She comes up with reason after reason why drinking the sleeping potion might cause her harm, physical or psychological,
“How if, when I am laid into the tomb,
I wake before the time that Romeo
Come to redeem me? there’s a fearful point!
Shall I not, then, be stifled in the vault,
To whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in,
And there die strangled ere my Romeo comes? ” 23
She chooses to drink it anyway. In this action she not only attempts to outwit the forces that obstruct her relationship with Romeo, but she also takes full responsibility for herself. She recognizes that drinking the potion might lead her to madness or to death. She drinks the potion just as Romeo will later drink the apothecary’s poison. In drinking the potion she demonstrates a willingness to take her life into her own hands. What is more, she goes against what is expected of woman and takes action.
Act V reveals the inescapable work of fate. An outbreak of plague forces Friar John into quarantine and prevents him from delivering Friar Lawrence’s letter to Romeo, while Balthasar seeks out Romeo with news of Juliet’s death. When Romeo screams “then I defy you, stars” 24 he is screaming against the fate that obstructs his desires. He attempts to defy that fate by killing himself and spending eternity with Juliet:
“Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night” 25
Tragically, it is Romeo’s very decision to avoid his destiny that actually brings fate about. In killing himself over the sleeping Juliet he ensures their ultimate double suicide.
Shakespeare demonstrates the extreme power of fate: nothing can stand in its way. All factors swing in its favor: the outbreak of the plague, Balthasar’s transmission of the message of Juliet’s death, and Capulet ‘s decision to move Juliet’s wedding date. But the sense of fate can also be attached to the social institutions of the world in which Romeo and Juliet live.
Throughout Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has shown the possibility of suicide as an inherent aspect of intense love. Passion, when combined with the vigor of youth, expresses itself through the most convenient outlet. Romeo and Juliet long to live for love or die for it.
T hrough suicide, the lovers are able not only to escape the world that oppresses them, but also, in the final blazing glory of their deaths, to transform that world. The feud between their families ends. The extremely intense passion of Romeo and Juliet has defeated all other passions, and in coming to its violent end has forced those other passions to cease. In dying, love has conquered all; its forcefulness has shown to be the brightest, most powerful. It seems at last that Friar Lawrence’s words have come to be:
“These violent delights have violent ends,
And in their triumph die” 26
Because of the power and beauty of their love, it is hard to see Romeo and Juliet’s death as a simple tragedy. Romeo and Juliet’s deaths are tragic, but this tragedy was fated: by the stars, by the violent world in which they live, and by their very natures. At the play’s end, we do not feel sad for the loss of life as much as we feel wrenched by the incredible act of love that Romeo and Juliet have committed as monuments to each other and their love. Romeo and Juliet have been immortalized as the archetypes of true love not because their tragic deaths bury their parents’ enmity, but rather because they are willing to sacrifice everything—including themselves—for their love. That Romeo and Juliet must kill themselves to preserve their love is tragic. That they do kill themselves to preserve their love makes them transcendent.
Post-Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet :
Romeo and Jeanneatte
“These violent delights have violent ends,
And in their triumph die” 26
“Listen , my friend, there are two races of beings. The masses teeming and happy – common clay, if you like – eating, breeding, working… people who just live; ordinary people; people you can’t imagine dead. And then there are the others – the noble ones, the heroes. The ones you can quite well imagine lying shot, pale and tragic; one minute triumphant with a guard of honor, and the next being marched away between two gendarmes.” 27
– Jean Anouilh-
Many writers, having been influenced by particular works, adopt elements of such works and fashion them into their own story. Such is the case of the French dramatist, Jean Anouilh, who, inspired by the tragic tale of Romeo and Juliet, wrote a play Romeo and Jeannette , the action of which takes place in France in the twentieth century.
In terms of its plot, the play differs a lot from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Romeo, that is, Frederic, falls in love with his fiancé’s sister Jeannette, which is quite unexpected when compared to the well-known love story of Romeo and Juliet. However, it is just another proof that love can happen when it is least expected, and that it is completely unpredictable.
From the very beginning of the play, Anouilh sharply contrasts Julia and her mother-in law, the dutiful and hard-working women, with Julia’s father and her brother Lucien, who have an easy-going and relaxed attitude toward life. The dirty and messy house they live in is in a state of utmost disorder. Unlike Julia, they do not worry about trivialities, such as cleaning the dust, or what they will have for lunch. Instead, they all have “their own sweet ways” 28
However, Julia’s superficial and shallow attitude toward life is best illustrated in comparison with her sister Jeannette, the passionate and unconventional heroine of the play. While Julia’s only wish is to live in a neat tidy house and to preserve the routine – “the same old things, going on day in, day out like the ticking of the clock” 29 , Jeannete, in her search for true emotions, plays with life and tries new possibilities.
Jeannette carries the burden of her complex personality: she is at the same time strong and fragile, courageous and weak, vulgar and innocent; she is sometimes too passionate, sometimes too rash, but deep in her soul she is just an emotional lonely girl who longs for a true love in a loveless world where everybody searches for material wealth or social security.
Even her brother, Lucien, although introduced into the play with a book in his hand, categorically denies the possibility of love in life. Bitterly disappointed in women and love, and disillusioned with life, he shuts himself up in his room, where he reads all day long. Although a man of learning, he cannot find a way to overcome his feeling of being “a cuckold” and make a fresh start. On the contrary, his frustration makes him so embittered that his only solution is to isolate himself from the fallen world of modern society and go to the Ivory Coast : “The wilds for me, and good, black, primitive Negroes with heads thick as boulders and not idea, but absolutely no idea, what love is. Not a white within four hundred miles“ 30
When he meets Frederic, he speaks resentfully: “You seem the well-educated type, as they call it. I like you a lot. Frank, loyal, honest, clear, go-ahead, and all the rest of it. A proper little soldier.” 31
Lucien regards Frederic as a person who, due to his education, has been brain-washed according to the rules of the time. He sees in Frederic and his mother “compulsory happiness” 32 ; none of them is really happy nor really alive. They are people who have never felt strong emotions; they have never understood pain or suffering. They are just playing their role in the “masquerade of gaiety.”
Frederic’s mother is the evidence of what society and culture do to a woman. The sense of duty and hard-working numbed her senses and emotions. She is a woman holding a knife and killing an innocent living thing. Having killed Leon , Jeannette’s chicken, she becomes the real embodiment of the cruel society which destroys the living potential.
On seeing that her chicken is killed, Juliet cannot and does not want to hide her anger and resentment. She is not afraid to speak her mind; she has the need to do something, she does not want to take things for granted. As she holds the dead Leon against her, she shows her strong emotions, her capacity to love and her passionate nature. Frederic, who has not taken his eyes off her since she entered the room, becomes amazed and overwhelmed by her furious reaction and tries to comfort her.
Although Frederic becomes strongly attracted by her being different from the others, and tries to soothe her, she still replies bitterly: “I’m the black sheep of the family – you must have heard; the one that does all the things that aren’t done. You’re supposed to detest me.” 33
Nevertheless, the approaching evening brings peace and unforgettable moments to both of them. They experience some extraordinary moments while sitting in the dark. Julia and Frederic’s mother are busy in the kitchen, missing the beauty of the silence.
Lucien thinks there is an image of death in housewives. Their lives are the same – only monotony and passivity; they are living and partly living; they are the embodiment of death-in-life. He says: “Look at them, busy little bees. Scrubbing and scouring away in the kitchen, thinking they hold the key to Truth like a handle of a saucepan, not suspecting a thing.” 34
Meanwile, Frederic and Jeannette enjoy the evening and wish that it would never end. They realize that they can share the moment, that they feel something for each other, and that they have never really loved before. Although Jeannette has had many lovers, she has never been fully alive. Deep inside, she is angry with the unfair world she lives in and she offensively speaks to her sleeping father:
“Listen to what your daughter has to say. Your bad daughter. Not the other one. She never says shameful things that burn when they are spoken. She always does the right thing, and she’s going to get her reward. She’s going to be happy. She won’t need just the memory of one evening, later on. She’ll have the right to every evening, every day, every minute – the right to a whole lifetime.” 35
During the course of the evening, both Jeannette and Ferederic realize that they have lived unhappy lives. Frederic feels the strong impact that Jeannette has left on him. They feel united in their agony. He says:
“This pain, this agony we’ve both been feeling today, it can’t be love – that’s impossible. But I shall never be able to get rid of it now. “ 36
Although uncertain of his feelings, Frederic only knows that he wants to struggle: “I want to struggle. Yet, but not against this part of me that’s crying out. I want to struggle, but not against this joy.” 37
He realizes what is to be alive after a long, long death-in-life: “So it was possible. I feel as though I were drinking water. How thirsty I was.” 38
His upbringing tells him that his behavior is not correct, but his heart says that it is the right thing and that he should go along with it. At times, the two of them think that what they are doing is wrong. Frederic says: “We must never for a moment imagine ourselves in each other arms.” 39
Yet, later on, when he feels very strong love for her, he says that it cannot be wrong. Frederic feels pain for the first time in his life. As a child, he was always protected and secure, without a real insight into life. But now, he gets hurt with Jeannette’s lies, her sudden fears, irrational whims, instinctive worries and her boldness. He fights with himself to accept her as she is, her whole being, from the worst to the most virtuous aspects. However, other things stand in his way.
Lucien, with his embittered view that everything that is good is forbidden, and that people should cheat at everything, including themselves, tries to talk Frederic out of his plan to marry Jeannette. Julia, who cannot believe that Frederic leaves her because of a woman who embodies everything that he hates, suffers great humiliation.
When Frederic and Jeannettes elope and find refuge in a deserted summer house in the woods, Frederic calls Jeannette a “wooden nymph”. And she wishes that she could really be a real wood nymph, sitting in the branches with her hair all tangled, shouting insults at people 40 . But then she remembers that Frederic belongs to another world, different from hers. She lives in a world of freedom, imagination, free-will, defiance and passion. On the other hand, Frederic’s ideal world is that of order and convention. He says: “It had to be your eyes that I daren’t look into, your straggly hair, your urchin face and your eyes. Everything I don’t like I had to love.” 41
Jeannette constantly warns Frederic that she is not like Julia. She wants him to accept her in totality – with the good and bad tied up in a knot. She warns him that by choosing her he is choosing separation from everything safe and good in his life. Aware of the fact that he has fallen in love with a woman completely different from the kind of woman he had imagined for himself, Frederic says: “I love you, and we’re alone at last after that interminable day. Don’t let’s wait any longer! The night’s coming on so quickly; I’ve accepted it all – the wrong and the hurt we’ve caused, and your being so different – provided we’re here now.” 42
When confronted with Lucien’s accusations that all women are false, changeable and incapable of loving, and what is worse, that they become mothers, Jeannette replies:
“This isn’t just some vague instinct I’ve given way to, something that makes it absolutely necessary for me to have a child to suckle. I love him. It’s for him I want to sacrifice myself and die. This isn’t the sort of love that will come surging up again like sap every time my waistline gets thick. It is the first and last time I know it till the skin of my stomach clings to my spine. The last time I shall be ready to give my blood, here and now, and my milk, if it would come.” 43
Lucien thinks that his role is to play an eye-opener to Frederic and Jeannette. He thinks that women have nothing to give, except their bodies for a minute and their everlasting changes of mood. He is trying to persuade Jeannette that Frederic cannot love her. He thinks that the thing that attracted the two of them is only sex. When Jeannette says that she is Frederic’s wife, Lucien goes on to say:
“His wife? You? Don’t make me die laughing. Look at him. Firm, frank, reliable – a real honest-to God little French soldier, fairly bursting with the right sentiments. You, his wife? You want him, he wants you. Good luck to you. Get on with it quick. But don’t stand building a cathedral on it!’ 44
Jeannette is so eager in her attempts to prove to Lucien that there is a higher cause worth living and dying for. She herself is prepared to die for it. It is the reason she cuts her wrist with a piece of glass. Nonetheless, on hearing that Julia has poisoned herself, Frederic runs out of the house, leaving Jeannette alone. Jeannette, motionless and with her hands clasped around herself, realizes that Frederic has not broken all the bonds that tie him to Julia and his world.
Wanting to hurt Frederic back for leaving her at the most intense and vulnerable moment of her love, Jeannette decides to get married to the rich Monsieur Azrias. Although Julia’s out of danger, Frederic is numb with pain. Lucien is there to offer his comment:
“It hurts, doesn’t it, at first? You have the feeling you just can’t stand the pain another second. You ought really to yell out or to break something. But what? You can’t break them. How about the furniture! Grotesque. It’s when you realize there’s nothing to break that you begin to grow up. You can live comfortably in pain, you know. You’ll see when you get to know it.” 45
At this point in the drama, Frederic returns to his old self, to his partly living and decides to marry Julia. He enumerates all the trivial things that wait for him in his future life: “I shall have work to do. I shall marry Julia. I’ve got a whole house to decorate and a garden to clear and wood to cut for the winter.” 46
Jeannette is also trying to be someone she is not. All dressed in white, she comes to say good-by to Frederic. She thinks that everything would have been different if he had not left her that night in the wood. Before that, she could have done anything for him:
“I could see my own blood running for you and I was proud. You could have told me to jump out of the window, to enter into the fiery furnace and I’d have done it. I could have been faithful to you forever; the only thing I couldn’t bear was not to feel you touch me any more.” 47
Jeannette felt betrayed because he wasn’t able to be sure of her true feelings, to see that she was stronger that his mother, than Julia, that she deserved him more than anyone else. She felt betrayed because he was not ready to accept her. After that moment, everything changed. She didn’t have anything more to give him but pain, to make him suffer as she did.
Having realized that she does not want to grow up or accept the ugly life of rules and conventions, Jeannette suggests that she die with Frederic. She wants to dive into the clean ocean with its great waves that wash everything. Frederic, on the other hand, thinks that death is not the solution. He thinks that life, although “grotesque adventure” 48 , as he calls it, belongs to them.
However, Jeannette remains faithful to her heart’s decision and she plunges into the sea alone. Frederic, seeing her attempts and not being able to stand the pain, soon joins her. The see, with its great and clean waves accepts the two lovers.
All that Lucien has to say to his father is:
“Love. Unhappy love. Are you happy now? With your hearts and your bodies and your romance. Haven’t we still got jobs to do, books to read, houses to build? Isn’t it still good to fell the sun on one’s skin, to drink wine freshly poured, to have water running in the streams, shade at noon, fires in winter, snow and rain even, and the wind and the trees and the clouds and the animals, such innocent creatures and children. That is, before they get too ugly? Isn’t that right, love? Everything’s good, isn’t it? Well, there it is. Are you satisfied? That’s the way it had to be.” 48
Although their Romeos and Juliets differ a lot from each other, both Shakespeare and Anouilh showed through their characters what the forcefulness of love means. They dramatically displayed that true love exists, but that it has many “impediments” in its way. They wrote about the irreparable damage society does to lovers. And they proved that true love can happen, but that its cost in the world of moral blindness and stupidities is very high.
Choosing Life without Love:
Mrs Dalloway and How Romeo and Juliet Loved
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”
-H. D. Thoreau, Walden –
Unlike Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, there are numerous pieces of work whose main characters fail to recognize the value of love, and who often reject it in the name of wealth, social status or the fear of the uncertainty of life. Virginia Woolf is one of the many authors who describe the feelings of those who have transgressed against the most precious emotion in man; she wrote about those who were not able to escape the prisons of their empty souls.
The novel Mrs. Dalloway takes the reader through only one day in Clarissa’s and Septimus’ lives, and yet we learn so much more about their characters and about humanity in general. These two personas allow the reader to discern how two seemingly opposite characters correspond and interrelate. Perhaps the best way to describe Mrs. Dalloway and Septimus is to think of them in terms of the choices they made in their lives.
Being a fashionable “perfect hostess” in her early fifties, Mrs. Dalloway enjoys a world of glittering surfaces, parties, and high society. Her social identity is Mrs. Dalloway, the wife of a successful politician Richard Dalloway. Behind her surname, however, hides Clarissa, the emotional virgin, who fears, deep down in her heart, that the choice she made as a young woman was wrong. Instead of the romantic and adventurous life she could have had with Peter Walsh, she chose to live a life of comfort and material security.
Though apparently content, Clarissa can never reconcile with her life:
“Like a nun withdrawing, or a child exploring a tower, she went, upstairs…There was an emptiness about the heart of life; an attic room. Women must put off their rich apparel. At mid-day they must disrobe…The sheets were clean, tight stretched in a broad white band from side to side. Narrower and narrower would her bed be. The candle was half burnt down and she had read deep in Baron Marbot’s Memoirs. She had read late at night of the retreat from Moscow … So the room was an attic; the bad narrow; and lying there reading, for she slept badly, she could not dispel a virginity preserved through childbirth which clung to her like a sheet.” 49
This private moment of hers describes her emotional virginity and her partly living. Like a nun, who has run away from the intensity of life and love, Clarissa feels the emptiness of the life she chose. The sobering reality of her isolated life in the attic room reminds her over and over again that she has never been able to plunge into the sea of her emotions, or to stop fearing “the heat o’ the sun” 50 . Taking off her clothes, that is, her social pretence, she gets in touch with her fragile and vulnerable being. The image of the room is that of death-in-life: the narrow bed like a coffin, and the half-burned candle like her half-spent life. The Memoirs that she reads suggest that her past is the only place where her thoughts reside. The book is about Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow because of the harsh Russian winter; about the city that could not be conquered because it was too cold. Just like Clarissa’s heart.
As her loneliness and lack of intimacy in her marriage are symbolized as the metaphor of a virginal nun, the most intense moment in Clarissa’s life is symbolized through reference to Shakespeare:
“…feeling as she crossed the hall ‘if it were now to die ‘twere to be most happy.’ That was her feeling – Othello’s feeling, and she felt it, she was convinced, as strongly as Shakespeare meant Othello to feel it, all because she was coming down to dinner in a white frock to meet Sally Seton!” 51
She is aware that she betrayed the voice of Shakespeare within her; she is aware that many moments when she was really alive were over because she let them pass by her.
On the other hand, Septimus Warren Smith, the shell-shocked war veteran, who can be observed as Clarissa’s double, her alternate persona, or her more internal personality, makes a quite different choice in his life. In fact, Septimus can be said to fill the void of feelings that Clarissa lacks.
Being the victim of psycho-social establishment of post-War-England, Septimus suffers from delusions and hallucinations. He was one of the first volunteers for the army in World War I. He went to protect England , Shakespeare and Isabel, the woman who stirred the poet in him by lending him books and speaking of Shakespeare. When his friend Evans died in the war, Septimus was glad that he felt no fear over his death, until he realized that he lost his ability to feel.
Septimus knew that nothing was physically wrong with him, but he figured that his crimes were still great. He felt nothing, he had married without love. The real truth is, however, that Septimus felt too deeply, that he was shaken and numbed by the war, and specifically by the death of his friend.
In his fits of hallucinations Septimus mentions killing himself, because, he explains, people are wicked. He particularly shows disapproval of his doctors who prescribe “proper sense of proportion”, as well as conversion into a suitable personality, in order to straighten out his delusions. He even pictures dogs turning into men. Woolf’s intention to illustrate the humanity lacking in a sane person and the depth of feeling possessed by an insane character shows that something has gone wrong with people.
The war did not allow Septimus to keep neither Shakespeare nor Isabel. He becomes stripped of his passions. His mentality is replaced by a hardened vision that teaches one not to love and not to care. The corruptness of the world he lived in destroyed his noblest emotions.
Septimus feels pushed into a position where he must save himself from the overpowering grasp of conversion and proportion. Septimus, last alive in the hot sun, decides to “hold his treasure”, that is, his deep-rooted love for Shakespeare and the glimpse of life as a beautiful place, and oppose the approaching and inevitable conversion by jumping to his death.
Although they never meet, Septimus’ destiny strikes a melancholy chord of truth deep in Clarissa’s soul that she cannot deny.
A striking similarity to Woolf’s “Juliet” can be percepted in How Romeo and Juliet Loved , a film made by Jovan Zivanovic, who decided to depict the lives of all those modern Juliets who enjoyed everything in their lives except the most beautiful feeling of loving and being loved.
One of the three Juliets in the film is an actress, both on the stage and in her real life, playing the role of false happiness. Another Juliet is a ballet dancer, who, although an artist, loves neither poetry nor any serious thinking about literature or life itself. Jasna, the third one, is an embodiment of the fallen Juliet who renounces the love of her life in the name of money and social security.
Although at first glance their lives look bright and carefree, each of the Juliets is empty, lonely, and unhappy. But Jasna, whose sin is the greatest, seems the most unsatisfied of them all, living in her dreams of the past and, ironically enough, fantasizing about the true love of Romeo and Juliet.
Unlike their falsehood and insincerity, Zoran, that is Romeo, who remained faithful to his emotions, is shown as a victim in the world where “love doesn’t mean a thing”. Although his Juliet left him because of a prosperous diplomat, who is not half as imaginative, witty, or charismatic as Zoran is, he is still not ready to give up the love that hurts him inside. He follows Jasna, he tries to win her back, but she still remains unable to deny her false life of appearances and choose the man her heart so strongly desires.
In sharp contrast to both Clarissa and Jasna, who are afraid to plunge into the sea of their emotions, Zoran, upon realizing that the life he has imagined cannot come true, plunges into the see from the highest cliff, unwilling to make a compromise when love is concerned.
Somewhere along the road to success, striving for prestige, status and power, people of the modern world have lost their souls. They have lost their orientation in the modern jungle of civilization, they have forgotten their goal of life; they have forgotten to value the forcefulness of love.
Denying the most important part of them, people of modern times fail to get in touch with their inner beings; moreover, they find it hard even to understand whether they are really alive.
Many writers wrote and still write about the moral direction that modern man lost. Many of them showed new possibilities and new ways of life. Many of them proved that life without love is a spiritual death. And most of them invoked Shakespeare, as a cornerstone of our humanness.
Shakespeare in his many works showed that there are always those who accept, approve, and surrender to the inevitable destruction of the system, and those who do not. He wrote about the heroes of life that chose to live differently, about those who refused their contemporary morality, about those that fought for their place in the universe. Shakespeare wrote about those who were not afraid to plunge into the sea of life, as well of those who were afraid of “the heat o’ the sun.”
But above all, being an immortal defender of true love, Shakespeare wrote about the religion of love, which always showed the way and served as a guiding star “to every wand’ring bark” that lost its way under the sun.
1 L. Trilling, Freud: Within and Beyond Culture, in BEYOND CULTURE (Penguin Books, 1967), p. 99 .
2 Interviews with Harold Bloom, http://prelectur.stanford.edu/lecturers/bloom/interviews.html
3 William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
4 William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (Act I, i)
6 Ibid., Act I, v
8 Ibid., Act II, prologue
9 William Hazlitt, quoted in The Invention of the Human,by Harold Bloom, (Fourth Estate, 1999) , p. 91
10 Romeo and Juliet (Act II, i)
13 Ibid., Act II, v
14 Ibid., Act I, iv
15 Ibid., Act III, i
16 Ibid, Act III, ii
19 Ibid., Act III, v
23 Ibid, Act IV, iii
24 Ibid., Act V, i
26 Ibid., Act II, v
28 Jean Anouilh, Romeo and Jeannette, (London, Oxford University Press, 1976), p. 266
29 Ibid., p.279
30 Ibid., p.277
31 Ibid., p.270
26 Ibid., Act II, v
27 Jean Anouilh, Famous Quotes, http://www.1-famous-quotes.com
34 Ibid., p. 290
35 Ibid., p. 285
36 Ibid., p. 288
37 Ibid., p. 291
40 Ibid., p. 302
41 Ibid., p. 308
42 Ibid., p. 311
33 Ibid., p. 283
43 Ibid., p. 316
44 Ibid., p. 316
45 Ibid., p. 323
46 Ibid., p. 324
47 Ibid., pp. 333-334
48 Ibid., p. 336
48 Ibid., pp. 339-340
49 Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway , (Penguin Books, 1996), pp. 35-36
50 W. Shakespeare, Cymbeline , (Act IV, ii ) quoted in Mrs Dalloway , (Penguin Books, 1996), p. 34
51 Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway , (Penguin Books, 1996), p. 39
• Anouilh, J.,(1976), Romeo and Jeannette , vol.1, London , Oxford University Press
• Bloom, H., (1999), The Invention of the Human , London , Fourth Estate
• Bogoeva-Sedlar, Lj., (2003), On Change: Essays 1992-2002 , Niš, Prosveta
• The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, (1999), Oxford , The Shakespeare Head Press
• Petrović, L., (2004), Literature, Culture, Identity: Introducing XX Century Literary Theory , Niš, Prosveta
• Trilling, L., (1967), Beyond Culture: Essays on Literature and Learning , Harmondsworth, Penguin Books
• Woolf , V., (1996), Mrs Dalloway, Berkshire , Penguin Books
Somewhere along the road to success, striving for prestige, status and power, people of the modern world have lost their souls. They have lost their orientation in the modern jungle of civilization, they have forgotten their goal of life; they have forgotten to value the forcefulness of love.