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For my final paper, I will build upon the idea that I proposed for a possible response to Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.” In order to give my paper depth while maintaining a specific focus, I will explore the occurrences of naming/labeling in both “Romeo and Juliet” and “Julius Caesar,” and analyze how they contribute to violence.
At the beginning of my brainstorming process, I was trying to incorporate too many ideas in order to find an application for today’s world. On Slack, some of the feedback I received focused on allegorical and literal meanings for character’s names. I reached out to my Facebook friends in a post and I had 3 really good responses that mostly focused on the general impact of language. My cousin’s wife, who graduated with an English major a few years ago, messaged me and I found her comments very insightful. She brought up how slurs are offensive to her. She defined a slur as, “a word that demeans or denigrates a person (or people) solely on the basis of their identity, be that race, religion, sexual orientation, disability, etc,” and gave the examples of calling something “gay” or a “Jew” when they really mean that something is ugly, defective, or not optimal. Slurs are different from calling someone a “jerk” or a “loser” because those terms typically describe a person’s individual actions rather than using an entire demographic as a derogatory term. She also said that people who engage in such language colloquially are not typically bad people and would probably never advocate any hateful or violent kind of action towards any group of people. However, by participating in that kind of language, they are reinforcing a culture that says some people are better than others simply by means of who they are, a culture that oftentimes lends itself to discriminatory and even violent acts against others simply by means of who they are.
The most helpful part of our discussion was getting to a point where I could actually articulate the difference between the subjects that participate in a naming/labeling situation. There exist three parties: the speaker, the audience, and the subject. The audience can also serve as the subject (like when Brutus and Antony refer to the Roman audience as “friends” at Caesar’s funeral). With name calling and labeling, certain names are used to either create an association/closeness or a dissociation/distance between the speaker, the audience, and the subject, respectively. With slurring language, the speaker and audience 1) de-humanize a group of people by reducing them to a pejorative, 2) create psychic distance between themselves and the people they are demeaning, and 3) solidify (in their minds) their social position as above that of the people they are demeaning. Different results occur depending on the type of label being assigned and the cause that the speaker has adopted.
In a later conversation with my husband, I compared the violence of Romeo and Juliet to the violence of Julius Caesar, namely Romeo and Juliet’s suicides and the murder of Caesar and subsequent warfare. He recognized that there is an inherent difference between the two types of violence, and we came to the conclusion that while language does not necessarily directly cause violence, the language of naming and labeling can incite extreme emotions. These extreme emotions can then lead to violence. I have yet to do a close reading on Romeo and Juliet, but in Act 2 Scene 2, Romeo calls Juliet “the sun,” and falls further in love with her. Cassius increases Brutus’ extreme feelings of fear of Caesar’s immanent dictatorship (Act 1, Scene 2). Antony increases the Roman public’s extreme rage at Caesar’s murder (Act 3, Scene 2).
After bringing my concept to a better focus, I spent some time researching scholarly articles and watching various movie productions of Julius Caesar. I have already found numerous articles dealing with tragedy and naming in Romeo and Juliet, and there are ample online renditions of both plays. I have yet to decide if I want to bring up Donald Trump’s slurring language and how that affected both the violence and the political outcome of his presidential campaign. I can further develop that idea with the results of the election this evening.
Here is a link to the rendition of Julius Caesar that I have liked best so far: