Manic Depression – When Romeo and Juliet were Whack

Before there were safe spaces, rehab resorts, anti-depressants, and let us not forget about the current opioid trend, the only thing a manic depressive could do was to act out. This is what made Romeo and Juliet famous. 

Now remember, this acting out was a little dramatic for the Montague and Capulet teenagers who were more in love with the idea of being in love than actually being in love. In modern day, if you were a misunderstood Indigo Child, you could just move out at your parent’s house, get an apartment across town to emotionally implode. Another possibility to get attention might be to create a Tumblr account to post sad, cryptic messages about how nobody understands your abandonment issues with the meager hope that someone might care. 

However, in the 15th century the options weren’t as vast. Back then, when you blew a hormonal gasket, it was a shot of wormwood, and trying to stay positive that the friar kept his cool and the messenger makes it on time.   

William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet is the tragic drama of young lovers from two feuding families. Set in Verona during the Renaissance era, it the story of a forbidden love affair between Romeo Montague, age 16, and Juliet Capulet, age 13.  The play is filled with grand feasts, murderous sword fights, sensational threats and melodramatic betrayals which makes for a great spectacle on stage. 

Romeo and Juliet has been called the greatest love affair of all time.  However, the question remains whether their love for each other was real or just youthful infatuation propelled by the rampant hormones and manic-depressive behavior of bi-polar teenagers rebelling against their parents’ wishes. The article Romeo’s Depression on the internet forum states: ‘Shakespeare depicts the relation between despair and Romeo and Juliet best in the closing lines when the Prince declares, “For never was a story of more woe/ Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” (V, iii, 309-310)’. 

A melancholy Romeo in first introduced in the play after he has been rejected by Rosalind, the woman that he loves. In Act I, Scene I, he complains to his cousins that his thoughts and feelings of love for her have him very confused. He states: ‘O heavy lightness! Serious vanity! Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms! Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health! Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is! This love feel I, that feel no love in this.’ In Act I, Scene 4, he goes on to talk about how his unrequited love is making him more and more depressed. He states: ‘I cannot bound a pitch above dull woe. Under love’s heavy burden do I sink.’ According to this is the depressive episode: ‘It may be helpful to think of the various mood states in manic-depressive illness as a spectrum or continuous range. At one end is severe depression, which shades into moderate depression; then come mild and brief mood disturbances that many people call “the blues,” then normal mood, then hypomania (a mild form of mania), and then mania.’  Romeo, who is already a sensitive young man, becomes more withdrawn as Rosalind’s rejection of him sets in. The article Romeo’s Depression gives insight to his condition: ‘Creating a dark and melancholy space signifies Romeo’s state of mind; he feels trapped by his heart, undeserving of love, and afraid of being turned away.’   

The manic side of this couple is evident in Juliet. In Act I, Scene 3, Juliet is summoned by her mother. She responds: ‘Madam, I am here. What is your will?’ Juliet is completely and weirdly content to be obedient.  Her mother tells her that she is ‘of a pretty age’ and should already be married. Juliet answers: ‘It is an honor that I dream of.’ This is a very emotional and overly blissful reaction to a big life decision which fits into the manic stage of happiness. defines it as: ‘A manic episode is an abnormally elevated, expansive or irritable mood, not related to substance abuse or a medical condition that lasts for at least a week.’ The fact that the span of events of this play is over four days fits this definition. Also, the talk of Juliet being wed to a very distinguished older man named Paris, increases her sense of self-worth because in her society a woman is not judged as an individual but by whose daughter or wife she is. The articleJuliet: What Hypomania, Mania and Mixed State Feels Like: Personal Stories on Living with Bipolar Disorder addresses the onset of hypomania: ‘Manic episodes start out like a powerful rush of ecstasy. One experiences certain bravado and elevated esteem.’ 

Romeo and Juliet are both in vulnerable states when they see each other for the first time at the end of Act I. Romeo has crashed the Capulet party; a dejected young man in search of true love. Juliet who has been over-protected by her parents her entire life, is out on the town feeling very full of herself that she is going to marry. The two meet. They have a brief conversation then they kiss. At this point, Romeo is no longer lovesick over Rosalind. Juliet is not thinking about Paris. They are both suddenly infatuated with each other. Later, they meet again in the famous balcony scene. They declare their undying love for each other. They rebel against their parents who are in a blood feud by secretly marrying the very next day. In Act 3, Scene 5, Romeo and Juliet wake up before dawn after clandestinely spending a night together. Hormones are raging and they exchange some dark dialogue about having to say goodbye being like a death because they love each other so much. Juliet tells Romeo: ‘O God, I have an ill-divining soul! Methinks I see thee, not thou art below, as one dead in the bottom of a tomb.’ Romeo replies: ‘Dry sorrow drinks our blood. Adieu!’ 

From there, Romeo and Juliet feed off of each other’s emotions and the danger that their illicit marriage will be discovered by their warring families. Neither one of them is rational. Together they make more reckless decisions, which creates more trouble for them. 

In a fit of temper, Romeo kills Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. Juliet becomes distraught about it. She then becomes suicidal after her father insists that she marry Paris. The risks of the Romeo and Juliet being together get higher when Romeo is banished to Mantua for the murder of Tybalt where he becomes even more depressed and unable to function. Juliet turns desperate and alienates her one confidant, her nurse. The lovers’ emotional state is now a case of full blown manic-depression. The Psychology Today article, Romeo and Juliet’s Death Trip: Addictive Love and Teen Suicide gives a fitting description: ‘Romeo and Juliet is actually Shakespeare’s case study of what results when two unformed-maladjusted youths meet at vulnerable points in their lives and are then forcibly separated — addiction, withdrawal, suicide.’

 While Romeo and Juliet is a great work of literature, these teenager’s love affair was like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. Events spin out of control as soon as they meet so that in the end, miscommunication, despair, a lonely tomb and a double suicide by poison and stabbing are what puts an end to their mad tea party. Once sworn enemies, the families of the Montagues and the Capulets reconcile their differences, and it is doubtful that anyone brought up the names of Romeo or Juliet at a family dinner again for many years afterward. 

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Bijou Glass

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