Autumn 2007

The main subject of Bacon¶s text is that love causes more pain than joy and man is made for greater purposes than to love or be loved. The message of Romeo and Juliet on the other hand is the exact opposite. The young lovers believe love to be worth dying for, and even had the Friar¶s plan worked they still would have given up their lives - in a sense died - to take up new ones. In order to communicate his opinion, Bacon picks up on three other points about love: it is only entertaining on stage; it is greatly exaggerated; love and wisdom cannot coexist. Bacon¶s statements highlight facts about love which influence the reader, thus altering the understanding of Romeo and Juliet, a play which centres on love. It makes one look beneath Shakespeare¶s carefully crafted play, question the fiction from which it is weaved, unpick the threads of love, and realise that perhaps the play only works because it is not real. Bacon opines ³speaking in a perpetual hyperbole´ is a technique which only produces a significant and effective end when the subject considered is love. Hyperbole is intrinsic to Romeo and Juliet, its effect enhancing the brilliance and purity of love and, by contrast, the destructive propensity of hate. For instance the scene of their secret marriage gives a vision into the fruits of love but is closely pursued by the scene of Mercutio¶s death (III.1) dominated by devastation and hate. The serenity of the first makes the successive scene all the darker and after the saturation in vengeance and death, the previous Elysium shimmers nostalgically like an almost-forgotten memory. From this it is suggestible that Bacon is wrong in his generalisation, for Shakespeare¶s use of hyperbole does not only produce an accomplished love-story but also one of hate. It is, however, the exaggeration of both extremes which creates the effect; without one the other would wither and seem an unchecked thought strayed too far on stage. Bacon¶s text, in the mind of Shakespeare¶s audience, makes this ³perpetual hyperbole´ visible all over the play, not just in its overall accomplishment. It extends into the meeting of Romeo and Juliet. It is in their end and in their journey. It is in the friar¶s overzealous encouragement, Capulet¶s overreaction, Romeo¶s banishment, Tybalt¶s tyranny, and Mercutio¶s death. The play is vastly exaggerated but because all is so, none seems out of place, as one would think it might to read Bacon. It can also be seen as condensing the events for the stage, as there is insufficient time to develop Romeo and Juliet¶s love in sight of the audience, or for each character to ponder pointedly over their actions before carrying them out as one might expect. In this sense Bacon is wrong about hyperbole because it is used for many purposes other than love. ³Perpetual hyperbole´ has the added implication of an incompetent misusage whereas Shakespeare deliberately and masterfully wields the technique for his own purpose. Bacon does still succeed however in making the reader greatly aware of the extensive exaggerations in the play. What then, does he mean by his statement about Epicurusµ phrase? Who is the idol to which man subjects? If we follow Bacon¶s idea in the context of the extract, Of Love, he is referring to the complete subjection of the lover to the person they love, as well as the lovers to love itself. If Romeo and Juliet and their idolatry of each other is used as an example, then the early severance of their lives because of love and the waste of man¶s superior purpose1 are one. However, Romeo and Juliet obviously see their love as a superior purpose worth dying for. This leads to the concluding phrase of Bacon¶s extract: ³That it is impossible to love and to be wise´. Are Romeo and Juliet, by enslaving their fates to each other and ignoring their greater purpose, unwise? Had Romeo acted wisely rather than impulsively, he would not have killed Tybalt (III.1), and later, had he waited for wisdom, he would have found his wife alive (V.3). So now Bacon¶s emphasis has taken the hero and heroine and turned them from iconic lovers into injudicious fools. This makes their ultimate sacrifice far from romantic and closer to stupidity. However, Bacon¶s earlier assertion that ³the stage is more beholding to love´ than real life is, restores the balance2. Because they are fictional and are exaggerated for the stage in a way that would not fit reality, their actions cannot be judged with reality as grounding. However, if they strayed into reality they would become the injudicious fools that so nearly ruined the established image of the tragic heroes. They would have no excuse for their rash decisions and headstrong ideas. Their love is like ³a siren´ as Bacon says, leading them down completely the wrong path, ultimately to death but this can be seen as Shakespeare¶s use of hyperbolism to enhance their tragedy. Such a situation would not be fitting for reality. However love does not always have to be labelled and contained by comedy or tragedy in real life. Bacon
1 2 ³man, made for«´ - Bacon ³Perception of the heroes fatal lack of balance does not preclude admiration and sympathy³ - Paul N. Siegel

should have said that love as contrived by playwrights should only occur on stage but love sans hyperbole can be ³beholding´ to life. All of Bacon¶s points are just a channel for him to convey his overall sentiment. On the surface, it seems that he is saying that love is a mediocre settlement of man¶s greater purpose: star-gazing and contemplation of the heavens is man¶s purpose. In his time this would have been the standard view because marriage was to unite two families or to gain influence and money instead of for love3. However, the real message is subtly different: love causes more pain than joy. Though not immediately extractable, it is also in Romeo and Juliet. Despite all their efforts, some force acted against them, and Romeo and Juliet were fated to death because of their emotions. So Bacon has completely reversed the fundamental message of ³the most excellent and lamentable´4 love story from an elevation of mans greatest emotion5, to the dismal philosophy that love is a burden upon men. The impact of this makes one wonder whether Shakespeare was in fact warning his audience against the perils of love rather than just the perils of hate. In conclusion, Bacon opens his reader¶s eyes to new possibilities within Romeo and Juliet and influences the way in which we approach and dissect the text in analysis. The use of hyperbole, usually disguised by its own excess, becomes distinguished and the lack of intersection between fiction and reality grows evermore important. Perhaps this is the case when any text is studied in depth, yet Bacon offers insight into love in general, focusing on love in real life as well as on stage. His observation that love and wisdom do not and cannot coexist alters one¶s perspective of the lovers and of the basis for their sacrifice, leaving the viewer unsettled at the end of the play. However, overarching the arguments he presents about love is Bacon¶s overall message that love causes more pain than joy. This message gains greater emphasis in Romeo and Juliet after reading Bacon, and shakes the quintessential foundation of the play that love is more than life, denying the seed of hope and positivity, that is usually planted inside the audience, growth into the message that love is our purpose.


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³[Contemporaries] would have been surprised, and possibly shocked, at seeing lovers taken so seriously´ - Harry Levin Penguin Romeo and Juliet, ed. T. J. B. Spencer (2005) Of all our emotions ³«the greatest one of these is love´ - the Bible

Bibliography: Harry Levin, µForm and Formality in Romeo and Juliet¶, Shakespeare Quarterly 11 (1960) Francis Bacon, µOf Love¶, edition of Essays (1612) Paul N. Siegel, µChristianity and the Religion of Love in Romeo and Juliet¶, Shakespeare Quarterly 12 (1961) Gayle Whittier, µThe Sonnet¶s Body and the Body Sonnetized in ³Romeo and Juliet´µ, Shakespeare Quarterly 40 (1989) Penguin Romeo and Juliet, ed. T. J. B. Spencer (2005) William Shakespeare: A Textual Companion, Stanley Wells and Gary Taylor, Norton (1997)