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  • Is Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet a pessimistic play since both central characters die in the end?

    Minna Pöntinen 00e

    A certain dose of pessimism is considered by most to be essential to the well-being and survival of an individual. Pessimism is the attitude of realist, and one of the agents that prevent us from burning our wings too often when we hope for things that do not become true. The death of both central characters in the end of any story could make the story feel pessimistic by pointing out that everything is fruitless in the end and that ultimately there’s a high cost to living that everybody must pay. Is this the case with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet?

    The death of young Romeo and his fair Juliet has been long considered as an example of how a play can utilize irony. Irony doesn’t always imply pessimism, for irony can be used not only for lamenting descriptions of how things in life more often seem to go the wrong way than not, but also for educating and even entertaining purposes. However, the two lovers’ death is not a final word on a long chain of events gone wrong, but a warning of the effects of the abandonment of common sense or the partly willful loss of self-control.

    Real pessimism to the play could have been brought by not believing in the ultimate triumph of the humane side of mankind. If Shakespeare would have had the Capulets and Montagues continue holding grudge against each other in spite of the sad, premature death of their children, the play could truly be considered as a pessimistic one. Still, as the tragic incident manages to stop the hatred, this aspect of the play is quite optimistic. In the end, it may be that since it ends the violence, the lovers’ death might be the plot elements which brings most hope into the overall play.

    On the whole, Romeo and Juliet is not a pessimistic play. In many cases, it sets warning examples of how things can turn out should men cast common sense aside. Another point Shakespeare makes with his play is that men should not rely solely on their hearts or their heads, but instead utilize a healthy mixture of them both. This is something that some people may see as pessimism, but in reality it promotes just a healthy, normal and stable attitude towards life.

    © Minna Pöntinen 2009 / minagi (at)