Posted: June 18th, 2021
“In time we hate that which we often fear” – William Shakespeare. Shakespeare understood what most do not: the true nature of hatred. Since most people do not realise that their hatred simply masks their fears, they never confront the real problem. Consequently, hate continues to ruin countries, cities and families. This notion of hatred is never more evident than in Shakespeare’s tragic play, Romeo and Juliet. In this play, the characters’ hatred masks their fear of being powerless and drives them to prove their superiority, but this only causes their destruction.
First, characters identify with imaginary labels such as power and courage to mask their self-doubt and to feel belonging. For instance, Tybalt tries to prove his superiority over the Montagues by projecting himself as powerful and socially dominant. When he sees Romeo intruding on the Capulet feast, he insults him as a “slave” (1.5.54) that he should “…by the stock and honour of [his] kin / To strike him dead [he] holds it not a sin” (1.5.56-58). Tybalt belittles the Montagues as worthless slaves that he should punish and kill without guilt.
Therefore, he will rid Verona of their filthiness and prove his social power. Likewise, Sampson pretends to be a courageous warrior to improve his reputation and social standing. To Gregory, Sampson can easily portray himself as “…a tyrant” (1.1.19) that after having “fought with the men, … will be civil with the maids; / [and] cut off their heads” (1.1.20-21). In short, they use their illusions of power and courage to deceive others and themselves into welcoming and accepting them.However, when humiliated, their illusions are destroyed and their insecurities are threatened to be revealed which leaves them defenceless to exclusion. In fact, when Tybalt is stripped of his power and forced into submission, he runs away ashamed to hide his inferiority.
After arguing with Capulet, Tybalt is forced to leave his own banquet which with his “patience perforce with wilful choler meeting” (1.5.88) makes his “… flesh tremble” (1.5.89). Tybalt trembles with rage and shame due to his forced submission to Capulet which proves he has no true social power as he must obey orders not command them. Similarly, Sampson quickly shies away from a fight when confronted by the Montague servants to hide his cowardice. Sampson urges Gregory to fight as he “will [supposedly] back thee” (1.1.35) and to “take the law on [their] sides, let them begin” (1.1.35) although he proclaimed himself a merciless tyrant.
When he is confronted with a fight, Sampson backs away and encourages Gregory to take the lead which proves he is just a narcissistic coward. In other words, when the inferiority and cowardice of characters are exposed, they scramble to hide their true identities.As expected, to regain their lost status, characters resort to aggression to distract others from their vulnerability. For example, Mercutio, feeling offended and disgraced, quickly belittles Tybalt to regain control of the situation and his social power.
Angered by Romeo’s “… calm, dishonourable, vile submission” (3.1.70), Mercutio disgraces Tybalt as a “rat-catcher” (3.1.72) and challenges him to a fight so “‘Alla stoccata’ carries it away” (3.1.71). Mercutio challenges Tybalt to a fight so that people will fear him, remember him as a strong, brave fighter and remember Tybalt as a ‘rat-catcher’. In the same manner, Romeo immediately challenges Tybalt to a duel to avenge Mercutio and justify that he caused his death. Romeo decides that someone needs to “keep [Mercutio] company: / Either thou or [Romeo], or both, must go with him” (3.1.124-125).
Romeo, infuriated, allows his emotions to take control and seeks revenge to justify and compensate for his cowardly submission which caused Mercutio’s death. In other words, characters that lose their illusions of power and courage struggle to feel accepted due to their fear of rejection, so they violently and desperately defend themselves.Undoubtedly, they do not achieve their goal of self-redemption and only continue the cycle of hatred which creates a never-ending path of destruction.
In fact, Mercutio’s violent attempt to gain social power blinds his reason and brings about his social and physical downfall. After being struck, Mercutio exclaims “I am hurt” (3.1.86) while his opponent-Tybalt- has “gone and hath nothing” (3.1.88). Mercutio’s attempt to prove himself powerful ends with his death not Tybalt’s.
This proves that aggression is not the solution and only ensures self destruction. In contrast, Romeo’s mother-Lady Montague- pays the consequence of death for Romeo’s rash decisions. Before discovering his dead son, Montague declares: “…my wife is dead tonight / Grief of my son’s exile hath stopp’d her breath” (5.3.210-211).
Romeo’s impulsive actions, which lead to his exile, causes his mother’s death which proves that when characters resort to violence, they not only unintentionally destroy themselves but take down others too. In other words, when characters project their self-hate unto others through aggression, they cause their own destruction and collateral damage.
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