Departures

(In celebration of the recent 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, I’ve devoted a post to the first play I read by him: Romeo and Juliet.)

Loved ones should not have to part. No bigger tragedy exists, especially when the separation will be for an extended time or even permanent. Of course, Shakespeare is the undeniable king of tragedy, so it fits that he has written several scenes in his plays that captures those sentiments exactly.

Unfortunately, Romeo and Juliet has become such a cultural staple that it has lost some of its power, becoming symmetrical more with pathos than transcendent art. The funny thing is, my attraction to the play when I was a fourteen-year-old Freshmen in English class was not the “sappy” love story, but the poetry of the whole thing. The poetry that could reflect with such joyful creativity the real emotional life of real people. It was the genius of Shakespeare: the mirroring of love and hate and grief in language. So, it is with this attitude that I must approach Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Taking Romeo and Juliet from a new angle brings back all of its old power.

Speaking of departures and grief in particular, the scene where Romeo must leave Juliet after spending the night with her packs a punch when you read it with desperation rather than with the playful lover bantering that it suggests on the surface. In Kenneth Koch’s “Making Your Own Days,” he chooses Act 3, Scene 5 for its’ superb poetry, but one can make a case that this scene also portrays two people who love each very much despite the fact that they must separate and they have no idea if they will ever see each other again in life.

All of a sudden, Juliet’s joking about the bird singing outside of their window is not just a cute verbal flourish. It is, for lack of a better term, desperation to keep her loved one with her for as long as she can, because she hasn’t been with him for long enough (it’s never long enough when you want to be with someone) and she unconsciously suspects that it will be the last time they will be together. On the other hand, though Romeo sees that he has to be practical about the matter (after all, he will be killed if he is caught), it’s blatently obvious that he doesn’t want to leave either. If Juliet is desperate, then he is grieved, speaking a few times of their “woes.”

The tragedy is that their fears are real. They do not meet again while both are still alive. In fact, the “loss” of Juliet prompts Romeo to take his own life. And have we not all felt in our melodramatic moments that the loss of someone, the departure of a loved one or friend, made us feel like we wanted to die, too? Separations can be likened to death on an emotionally level. And is it not true that death is the most devastating separation? The hopelessness, the powerlessness that accompanies it…I wonder how humans can stand it. How have we stood it?

Recently, I learned that some dear friends of mine were moving away–far away–across the Atlantic for good. It was as if I had paused while the world continue to rush on around me. It took several days for the idea that I would probably not see them again for a long time–if ever again in person–to settle itself in my brain. Separations happen all the time, but when it happens to you and people you care very much about…

You see why I say that loved ones should not part.

But life must go on. Loved ones do part. We all have our own paths and we must follow our own opportunities for growth. The lesson here is to never take for granted the friends and family you have while they are with you. You never know how much time you have.

Do you have any Shakespearian insights to share?

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