Thursday, October 27, 2016

Romeo and Juliet: A Precurser to Transcendenalism

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"Romeo and Juliet:" A Precurser to Trandscendentalism

While reading "Romeo and Juliet" so many things came to mind to write about; nevertheless, inspiration struck while I was reading Walden last night by Henry David Thoreau.  I kept finding parallels between the play and transcendentalism. Strange? I know. But bear with me. 

The other night my roommate was railing on Romeo and Juliet and how much she hates the play - particularly how she views the play to be a satire on love. She argued "Shakespeare couldn't possibly have wanted his audience to read that play as being romantic. He's obviously making some sort of commentary on childish impulsivity." I contended that I think the play is more about exposing the beauty of childlike idealism in the face of institutional hatred. Often times we can look at young people and ridicule their irrationality or impulsiveness - and yet, I think we also admire their willingness to do what is said can't be done. To tear down fences where we thought there were walls. Thus the Page’s words encapsulate the play’s transcendentalism when he says “I am afraid to stand alone / here in the church yard. Yet I will adventure” (5.3.10-11).  

The primary tenant of transcendentalism is the notion that societal institutions corrupt the purity of the individual. And while Romeo and Juliet verge away from the idea of bona fide self-reliance - they nevertheless embrace the idea of spiritual truth over physical truth, as well as the idealism of an individual with excess faith. However, they have put their faith in love and in each other. The love and idealism of the play’s young lovers reflect the invigorating pleas of Henry David Thoreau; in the face of institutional immorality it is better to be civilly disobedient than lose yourself within the machine, after all, “are we not men first and subjects afterwards” (Thoreau 275)? In “Civil Disobedience” Thoreau argues against the fatalist. However, there are copious fatalistic elements within “Romeo and Juliet.” However, last night during mine and Grace’s slack conversation, we questioned the use of Shakespeare’s excessive use of foreshadowing in the play – nearly every scene explicitly hints at what is to come. Why would Shakespeare do this? Does is not hinder suspense? I feel like it challenges the play’s theme of fatalism. Shakespeare’s foreshadowing makes culprits of the audience – we know what is going to happen. While this may suggest a fatalist argument, the audience is also overtly aware of all the ways this tragedy could be avoided. They see the possibilities and yet are helpless to enact them – inspiring indignation against the society that asserts a capital T truth in the face of various individualistic truths. However, this is just an idea I’m toying with at the present – I will need to track the use of foreshadowing in the play. 


  1. I don't really have anything productiva to write other than I think this idea would be such a good paper. I kind of have looked at Romeo and Juliet the same your roommate explained it. But now, maybe I should read it again?

  2. I love this! I think a lot of the time Shakespeare shows the tragedy that comes because of love or passion or loyalty, but that doesn't mean he disapproves of it. I wrote my post of the role of passion in Antony and Cleopatra - similarly, they die because of their love, but they're still written in a way that makes them sympathetic to the audience. The last lines about them are "High events as these / Strikes those that make them; and their story is / No less in pity than his glory which / Brought them to be lamented." So I agree with you that we're supposed to see the beauty as well as the tragedy.

  3. A transcendetalist reading of the play would be really interesting, especially since it is not a reading that immediately jumps out at first glance. You do however have some strong evidence from both the source play and Thoreau's work, and I think if you were careful to back up your claims, this would be a great paper.

  4. I thought it was interesting how you tied it to transcendentalism. When I first saw the title, I thought it might be a bit of a stretch, but it does make a lot of sense. I think that would make an interesting topic of research, and a great paper!

  5. Also I know it hasn't aged well, but the Baz Luhrman adaptation of the play might be useful to you in your discussion of foreshadowing since it heavily underscores the foreshadowing of the play.

  6. This is really interesting, and I can definitely see how themes of societal corruption run through "R&J," but given that both lovers' commit suicide over the other's death, doesn't it contradict the strong individualist themes within the play?

  7. R&J as civil disobedience. Good possibility.