I do protest, I never injured thee,
But love thee better than thou canst devise,
Till though shalt know the reason of my love:
And so, good Capulet— which name I tender
As dearly as my own— be satisfied.
Romeo & Juliet; Act III, Scene i
MERCUTIO’S DEATH IN THE STREETS OF Verona has been the most impressionable scene Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet ever left on me. It always struck a strong chord on my imagination, and a lasting illustration on my mind. The transformation love makes on Romeo is all the cause.
Shakespeare here weaves the life-transforming power of love to the life of Romeo. He’s a new man. He enters the scene coming from his spirited high of marrying Juliet earlier that day; the fuming hatred of Verona’s two great families dissolved to nothing even unto memory in him by the intoxications of love (—or perhaps, the sobering reality of love casts the hateful scales from his eyes—), so that he even calls the Capulet, Tybalt, ‘kinsman.’ He sees all things in new; whom yesterday was his sworn-enemy he can only see now as his cherished in-law.
And how naturally that all comes to Romeo. I always loved that. How Romeo is truly made “new baptized” by love, almost to the very spiritual sense of the word. The Gospel speaks of baptism and salvation as a metaphysically life-transforming experience, ‘casting off the old-self’ and being ‘reborn and made new.’ Perhaps these terms apply in the same ways to love. Perhaps Salvation in the Christian rite, is like falling in love, and works much the same way.
Is there, then, a vague reflection of Romeo’s life to the walk of the authentic Christian? Is perhaps the life of the Christian mirrored, or at least following a similar pattern, to the life of the Lover?
Baptism is biblicaly defined as ‘sharing in the death and resurrection of Christ…’—- Paul says, ‘We were burried therefore with him by baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the Glory of the Father, we too walk in newness of life.’ (Rom. 6:4 ESV) A death like this could surely raise a triumph out of the tragedy of Act V.
To add in Shakepeare’s tale the advent of the Resurrection, in a metaphysical sense,Romeo’s death for love could be seen as his final shedding of his ‘old-self’, to come to a final, complete, true Self, a ‘fullness of life’ (—a life of love denied him and Juliet by the World), and to share an eternal newness of life with his true love for eternity.
Perhaps the life of an authentic Christian looks like that of a lover, who’s so passionately in love with their Beloved, that they follow Him faithfully, even to his death and burial. Through their love, and love’s journey, they are transformed from their hurt and homely lives, into some great sainted state of grace, from the turning of the heart within, like the Poet’s all try to deify their lovers. And from Christ’s and the Christian’s baptism into death, like lovers, are born again to live in eternal rapture.
—On the side, this is actually the first time I’m ever returning to read Romeo and Juliet since I was the two protagonists’ young age— and the first time finishing it. Years back, my 9th grade class’ reading of it was cut short before Act III, when we suffered the tragic suicide of a classmate; a very unique boy rather close to many of the teachers, our Lit. teacher being one of them. She couldn’t bring herself to teach the rest of the book, and we read nothing more the rest of the year.