Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is heralded as the quintessential tragic love story. This is often argued for two reasons; one being the intense youthful infatuation and passion which Romeo and Juliet develop for one another in contrast to the obstacles impeding that love, and the other is the deathly sever nature of their circumstance. By their being so many obstacles in the way of their love it provides the plot with classic conflict to engage the audience, but more importantly it shows the true length the young lovers are willing to go, to be together.
While the characters may love one another deeply and be willing to defy their families’ interests for the sake of that love, the true value of their feelings does not come into account until it is revealed that they are willing to die. The ideal of defying obstacles in the way of true love, as well as self sacrifice for the sake of it is the essence of what Shakespeare’s play is about, and no dialogue better relays this idea throughout the play than Romeo’s speech to the Friar in Act3 scene3.
The key argument Romeo poses in his speech to the Friar in Act 3 scene 3 is that more important than being banished from Verona he is banished from Juliet. Romeo states that “Tis torture, and not mercy: heaven is here, Where Juliet lives; and every cat and dog And little mouse, every unworthy thing, Live here in heaven and may look on her; But Romeo may not (3. 3. 30-35). ” His statement referring to torture and not mercy is in reference to the Princes’ decision to banish him from Verona as opposed to sentencing him to death for slaying Tybalt.
When Romeo claims that heaven is where Juliet resides, he simultaneously acknowledges banishment from her as being banished to Hell, and death becomes a more appealing alternative. This moment in the play is very significant because it signifies a turning point in which Romeo is given an ultimatum and in response to it reveals he would rather commit the ultimate sacrifice than be banished from his love. Romeo goes on to proclaim Juliet’s purity arguing that even the most innocent pure men would feel sinful in comparison to her upon kissing her lips.
He refers to kissing her pointing out that everyone under the sun can have contact with her even flies and then proclaims himself as worst than a fly when he says, “Flies may do this, but I from this must fly: They are free men, but I am banished. And say’st thou yet that exile is not death (3. 3. 43-45)? ” The intense anguish Romeo is enduring can be seen in the irony that he refers to flies as ‘free men’ and in a sense envies their place in the world over his own.
His depression upon the news of his banishment reaches a head when he finally requests of the Friar an immediate way to sooth his pain, when he says, “Hadst thou no poison mix’d, no sharp-ground knife, No sudden mean of death, though ne’er so mean, But ‘banished’ to kill me? –‘banished’ (3. 3. 46-48)? ” This willingness to die rather than live without Juliet is a foreshadow to the ending sequence of the play, which has established Romeo & Juliet as a classic tragedy. The popularity of the dual suicide for the sake of love theme can largely be credited to the significant underlying Western and Eastern cultural connotations.
Western society has a natural infatuation with youth and the ideal of romanticizing dying young. This can largely be credited for the play’s initial popularity in its western reception over the past hundreds of years. In Eastern culture the act of ‘shinju’ is highly romanticized. Shinju, the act of double suicide, is a well known part of Japanese culture. Its popularity in the west, in American films like The Last Samurai, can largely be credited to the contrast between Christian ethics and Japanese ideals of nobility.
In the west suicide is largely viewed as a sin, and an easy way out of life. This is in part due to the major influence of Christianity in the west. The reason why I think Americans are so intrigued by the Japanese concept of suicide is because their ideals are completely the opposite. Suicide is not only viewed as a difficult path, but a noble one. Underlying within Shinju are many Buddhist themes, many of which can be seen played out in Romeo and Juliet. Themes like impermanence of pleasure or happiness.
For example, the idea that no matter how comfortable you are in a chair, you will eventually become uncomfortable in a certain position and have to switch it. This is a concept of impermanence and therefore a Buddhist belief. This idea is present in many of famous Japanese playwright Chikamatsu’s plays as well famous Japanese film maker Masahiro’s films. It’s present in Romeo ; Juliet in the fact that the audience is always given the impression time is fleeting. Even during the moments when the lovers are together, they are both aware that their love is temporary.
The conflict of the play is with the impermanence and frailty of human nature. The agony and anguish is not over the fact that they can’t be together, but that they can’t be together forever. Even if Romeo is able to be with Juliet, they both still must acknowledge that death is inevitable. Since there is no guarantee they will die together, committing a double suicide becomes the only noble act they can carryout in honor of their love, and the only way they ensure one never lives without the other.
Combined with the infatuation with youth, and dying young that is so popular in western culture, one can only assume that Shakespeare’s play was destined to be a hit. The reason why this particular speech by Romeo is so significant is because it captures much of the passion that is synonymous with youth and young love, as well as the feeling of being opposed by one’s parental figures. Romeo appears as the ultimate underdog in the sense that he argues that even flies are better off than he.
At this point in the play, it has not yet been made clear whether Juliet’s love for Romeo is mutual. Romeo’s speech hints to this revelation, but is more so a product of his own despair over being banished from Juliet. In sum, Romeo’s speech with Friar embodies the core emotion of Shakespeare’s most infamous tragic love story because it represents the moment in which the protagonists reveals he is willing to die. Death to Romeo is not seen as a sacrifice, but a blessing compared to life without Juliet.
The speech also foreshadows the double suicide that will occur at the end of the play. All of the elements of life are present in this section of the play as well. Romeo feels deep authentic love for Juliet, as well as anguish for being banished from her graces. He is at a point where he is willing to die and is actually prevented from killing himself by the Friar. In the end the audience finds that this sacrifice is inevitable, but the admirable nature of it is saved by the fact that Juliet sacrifices her life as well.