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A Psychological Analysis of Romeo and Juliet

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A Psychological Analysis of Romeo and Juliet

Romeo and Juliet was obviously not written to fit the psychoanalytic model, as the theories of Freud were not developed for centuries after Shakespeare. Shakespeare wrote to Renaissance England, a culture so heavily steeped in Christianity, that it would have blushed at the instinctual and sexual thrust of Freud’s theory. However, in order to keep literature alive and relevant, a culture must continually reinterpret the themes and ideas of past works. While contextual readings assure cultural precision, often these readings guarantee the death of a particular work. Homer’s Iliad, a monument among classical works, is currently not as renowned as Romeo and Juliet because it is so heavily dependent on its cultural context. Just as writers have the liberty to reinterpret works to make them more relevant to their particular time, so to should commentators be allowed to criticize a work with modern ideas. For all the blatant and covert sexual content of Shakespeare’s plays, they are in no way subscribing to a psychoanalytic construction. With that said, a psychoanalytic construction makes this play more relevant to modern readers, as psychoanalytic ideas are so pervasive they are either thoughtlessly accepted or flippantly rejected. Either way, Freudian ideas are a filter through which modern readers can understand the actions of Romeo and Juliet.

The ideas used to interpret this play are not classically Freudian, but rather a more contemporary understanding of psychodynamics as influenced by modern existential theory. The ideas of Ernest Becker, one of the more influential figures in the new psychoanalysis, are used throughout this psychological examination.

Suicide is the doma...

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...t life. Suicide is the most extreme manifestation of this fear of life. A more moderate manifestation of this fear is depression. Early in the play, Romeo is described as having depression like symptoms. As the love affair progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Romeo can not handle life without Juliet. By the end of the play, he kills himself because he can no longer have Juliet. Romeo’s final act of suicide is not completely based on the death of Juliet. The depression he exhibits at the onset of the play is already exhibiting his desire to escape life.

Works Cited

Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. New York: The Free Press, 1973.

Cox, Marjorie C. “Adolescent Processes in Romeo and Juliet.” Psychoanalytic Review 63 (1976). 379-392.

Faber, M.D. “The Adolescent Suicides of Romeo and Juliet.” Psychoanalytic Review 63, (1976). 169-181.

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