Please use this blog to help us remember Joshua Lee Anderson, who made the tragic and fatal decision to take his life on Wednesday, March 18, 2009. Please post any memories or thoughts you may have in the comments.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Teenage suicidal ideation in Romeo and Juliet

Most are probably familiar with this tragic play.  As young "star-crossed" lovers, unable to be together due to a long-standing feud between families, Romeo and Juliet would rather die than be apart.  The expression of their love is excessively romantic:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep.  The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite (II,II, 133-135).
Heaven is here,
Where Juliet lives (III,III, 29-30).
They are idealistic, romantic, "all in", and willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice for their love.  

I find, however, in the suicidal ideation quotes below, their self-annihilating thoughts come from immature teen brains: impetuous and impulsive.  The tragic and irrevocable deeds are fueled by a black and white perspective, typical of teens.   If they can't be together, they don't want to live; it's as simple as that. 

It begins with Juliet.
If all else fails, myself have power to die (III,V, 243).
When Romeo hears of Juliet's "death", he goes to the apothecary for poison.
Let me have a dram of poison, such soon-speeding gear
As will disperse itself through all the veins
That the life-weary taker may fall dead,
And that the trunk may be discharged of breath (V, I, 61-64).
He is a young man and yet describes himself as "life-weary".  How can this be?

Profound speech by Romeo as he leaves with the poison:
There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls,
Doing more murder in this loathsome world,
Than these poor compounds that thou mayst not sell.
I sell thee poison.  Thou hast sold me none.
Come, cordial and not poison, go with me
To Juliet's grave, for there must I use thee (V, I, 82-88).
He has turned away from life, for who would want to live in a "loathsome world" where gold truly is the root of all evil?  He longs to be reunited with Juliet.

As he opens her tomb:
Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death,
Gorged with the dearest morsel of the earth
Thus I enforce thy rotten jaws to open,
And in despite I'll cram thee with more food! (V, III, 45-48).
The tomb has "eaten" Juliet and he will soon give it more food - himself.

After Romeo opens the tomb and sees Juliet; a haunting speech in which he justifies suicide:
Ah, dear Juliet,
Why art thou yet so fair?  Shall I believe
That unsubstantial death is amorous,
And that the lean abhorred monster keeps
Thee here in dark to be his paramour?
For fear of that, I still will stay with thee,
And never from this palace of dim night
Depart again.  Here, here will I remain
With worms that are thy chamber maids.  Oh, here
Will I set up my everlasting rest,
And shake the yoke of inauspicious starts
From this world-wearied flesh.  Eyes, look your last.
Arms, take your last embrace.  And, lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death.
(kisses Juliet, takes out the poison)  
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy seasick, weary bark.
Here's to my love! (drinks the poison) O true apothecary,
Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavory guide,
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die (V, III, 101-120).
He imagines that Death desires his beloved and so she needs his protection.  Once again, he describes himself as "world-wearied".

Juliet - after she awakens from supposed death and sees a dead Romeo:
What here?  A cup closed in my true love's hand?
Poison, I see hath been his timeless end...
I will kiss thy lips,
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them,
To make me die with a restorative.
Thy lips are warm. 
O happy dagger,
This is thy sheath.  There rust and let me die (V, III, 161-170)
I find these passages haunting.  Although fiction and written over four hundred years ago, I think it shows that when desperate, the teenage mind can fixate on death as the ONLY solution.  

In order to prevent teenage suicides in our time, this is what needs to stop.  We must get it into our youth's developing minds that suicide is NEVER an option to their problem.  What if Josh had known this?  Would he be here today?   

1 comment:

Clara Lim said...

Hi there :) I totally agree with you on this. One of the issues I have with Romeo and Juliet is how they resorted to committing suicide. I found it sad how they were forced to feel there was no other way out but I find it upsetting that almost no one else really brought out the topic of suicide here. They just sort of gloss over that and deem it as an act of passionate love. But people don't take the time to also warn others that that's not the way to do things.

I also agree with you on the impulsive part. The thing that's been haunting me is how people can see it as an act of passionate love. I suppose I can understand why they do, but they sort of forget about the impulsiveness part. One of the themes in this play is the impulsiveness of youths and Shakespeare makes that very obvious. So, like you, I's rather see it as an act of sheer impulsiveness and extreme emotions rather than love.

Thanks for posting this. I was beginning to think that I was the only one who thought of their deaths this way :)