Star-cross’d Lovers Take Their Life

17 Oct

Romeo and Juliet is not a love story.

Their romance is probably passing fancy:

Juliet takes up with Romeo to rebel against her tyrannical parents; Romeo rebounds from his infatuation with Rosaline by wooing Juliet.

Their fling unforgivably makes worms’ meat of beloved bad boy, Mercutio.

This is a play is about the dangerous world of teenagers: their insecurities, their urgent passions, their impatience, the desperate decisions they hastily make.

This is a play about the years when emotions gallop apace like fiery-footed steeds.

The play itself gallops apace.  We want to slow these teens down, to tell them that there is a tomorrow.  That not all is lost.  That there’s help.

They gallop apace.

Romeo and Juliet do not have to be soulmates to make their suicides a tragedy.  It is tragedy enough that they die so young, by their own hands.    It is tragedy enough that they die so unnecessarily.  A perfect love is incidental.

Let’s not romanticize their deaths (and minimize our responsibility) by proclaiming that they died in the name of love.

They died because Verona failed its youth.  They died because an ancient grudge–poisonous and pointless–declared that it is unnatural for a Capulet to love a Montague.

One benign prince, a busybody nurse and a friar with an imagination cannot make up for cousins, college roommates and a popular culture that dictate whom one may love and whom one may not love.

All are responsible, says the prince at the end of the play.  Some shall be pardoned and some punished.

Most recently, we lay our scene at Rutgers University and the George Washington Bridge.

Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things.


45 Responses to “Star-cross’d Lovers Take Their Life”

  1. Paul Costopoulos October 17, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    Suicide is always a senseless act, it is even more so when teens and even pre-teens are involved. Whenever a suicide occurs everybody scrambles to question why it happened and how it could have been prevented. Self-blame and blames are distributed most generously.
    Even in specialized institutions manned by professional suicides still occur. Romeo and Juliet is dangerous in that it romanticizes suicide and in some way glorifies it; same for some epic tales of historic gestures, think Massada. Many vulnerable individuals can’t see the differences and are led to act thinking they are posing a glorious gesture that will teach THEM (howmever them may be) a good lesson.
    Suicide-Action is one organism dedicated to education and prevention…but even the best informed can be fooled.
    As for the Rutgers/Washington bridge kid, in my book, he was murdered just as if those stupid asses had pushed him off the bridge aided by all the homophobes around.

    • jenny October 18, 2010 at 5:07 am #

      Paul, Romeo and Juliet is a dangerous play, in so many ways. Of course, that is the very reason to see it, read it, think about it.

      Teenage suicide is particularly terrifying to me. Actually, all teenage recklessness is terrifying (and mesmerizing) to me. And I remember being there.

      Your last sentence is so impassioned. I don’t think I could have said it so directly, but you’re right.

  2. Andreas Kluth October 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    What a great connection you’ve made (once again) between the timeless and archetypal of literature and current event of precise relevance.

    • jenny October 18, 2010 at 5:14 am #

      This connection is obvious.

      I’ve heard the argument that America invented adolescence, but it doesn’t ring true to me.

  3. Geraldine October 18, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    Hi Jenny,
    So much on death….I have experienced the loss of someone by this way in the recent past. If only these poor souls knew it’s an amputation for everyone else. The suffering must be too great to think beyond it.

    Incomprehensible to me the ’emptiness’ of those Rutger students.

    • jenny October 18, 2010 at 8:42 pm #

      Hi Geraldine,

      Sorry to greet you with such a somber topic.

      Strangely, death does seem to be on the docket this week. Probably every week.

      Speaking of death, I saw NEVER LET ME GO this weekend and I am very much under its spell. I’m getting the book immediately. Not a happy story, but I was utterly taken with it.

  4. Man of Roma October 19, 2010 at 9:53 am #

    Excellent post. This comment is maybe flippant but I have always thought how fragile young people can be. They can renounce to life in certain difficult social conditions since their emotions are too potent and they cannot know how long life can be and how almost anything can be healed in some way. They can die of shame etc., or for idealism, leaving horrible pain behind.

    It happened to a young Greek man, Kostas Georgakis, who was exactly my age, and who burned himself alive in Genova for protest against the Greek colonels.

    I met his father in Corfu by chance, ten years after Kostas’ death. I cannot forget that poor old man’s eyes, expressing infinite pain.

    • jenny October 19, 2010 at 5:18 pm #

      Not flippant at all. Just the opposite. And so true.

      Thanks for reading. Not a lot here that brings cheer.

    • Geraldine October 19, 2010 at 6:33 pm #

      “expressing infinite pain” Like your Maestro, MOR.

      • Man of Roma October 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

        Thank you Geraldine.

  5. Mr. Crotchety October 19, 2010 at 10:00 am #

    Brilliant. Are you the first person to make this connection?

    • jenny October 19, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

      Thank you, Mr. C. I want to enjoy your response, but the circumstances are no good.

      I can’t really imagine that I’m the only person to think along these lines. It’s all right there.

  6. Cheri October 19, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    Romeo and Juliet were not privy to You Tube, sexting, or the internet.

    Their tragic story is so much more potent than the coarse hatred that permeates modern culture.

    Although I see the comparison you make, the circumstances don’t mesh for me.

    The timing problems, the Friars, the families, Mercutio…young love realized…none of this seems to mesh with the horrible brash, cheap, and voyeuristic tragedy we read about last week.

    • jenny October 20, 2010 at 6:31 am #

      I’m sorry it doesn’t work for you, Cheri.

      You tube, sexting and the internet are immaterial; Verona’s youth (who wantonly killed each other on the streets) would have enjoyed them all.

      “If-love-be-rough-with-you-be-rough-with-love” Mercutio would have been a champion of all of them.

      That’s how I read the play. By the way, I find Juliet’s parents brash and cheap, and I actually kinda think that the nurse and the Friar were a bit voyeuristic, now that I think about it.

      The potency of the comparison, for me, is the tragic loss of impetuous youth in a culture of coarse hatred.

    • Andreas Kluth October 20, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

      The analogy, subtly drawn, does work for me. One is asked to translate from one context to another. Those of us who read the classics for lessons in today’s world do that instinctively. Jenny does it skillfully here.

      • Cheri October 22, 2010 at 10:38 am #

        I, too, read the classics for lessons and have tried (sometimes successfully, sometimes not) to help kids relate them to our modern experience.

        But not all modern experiences bring classics to mind.

        How about the murder of that girl in Aruba? The parents, the keystone cops and the bungled investigation, sex, the Aruban environment? Can we relate that to Romeo and Juliet?


        I just indicated that the connection here didn’t really “mesh” for me. It was not in any way an indictment on Jenny’s terrific writing or ideas.

      • jenny October 22, 2010 at 5:07 pm #


        You are not addressing me, but I’d like to answer anyway.

        Your “doesn’t mesh” response is, of course, an indictment of this particular post. You find either this particular “idea” or this particular “writing” not so “terrific”. That’s OK, really.

        I’d like, though, to separate the issues. If the writing and the analogy don’t work for you, then they will not work for others as well. Let’s strip them away.

        The basic ideas are more important to me that my vain attempts at artful expression, so let me set forth the core ideas, and we’ll see if we can agree:

        1. Homosexual boys in the throes of the first crazy sexual attractions are just as innocent as heterosexuals in the same boat. Their suicides are a tragedy.

        2. A culture of homophobia bears substantial responsibility for these boys’ deaths.

        That’s the burden of my point for now. We’ll leave Romeo and Juliet for another day.

        We have a modern tragedy on our hands, with or without a connection to the classics.

        I would prefer a comedy, but, as we know, comedies end in weddings, and weddings are off-limit for some.

        Surely, you will not mind that I have spoken to you directly and honestly, without the expected ladylike politeness and fear of confrontation. I hope.

  7. Cheri October 20, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    True enough, your last sentence.

    And I suppose, not much has changed when it comes to a “culture of coarse hatred”.

    But then again, the news media presents to us time and time again all that is coarse and hateful, usually leaving out the sweet stories of volunteers working overtime to make silken the rough patches of the quilt.

    The folks in East Oakland, in San Francisco, in San Rafael–those folks whose efforts usually go by unreported.

    I meet people at least once a week whose contributions in a quiet way not only neutralize the hatred that does exist and that the news media needs for business, but also restore the goodness we all need to move forward and make this a better place to live.

  8. Man of Roma October 20, 2010 at 10:22 am #


    I don’t think you two basically disagree.

    Simplifying, Jenny, by reminding the Prince’s words (“some shall be pardon’d and some punished”) underlines the responsibilities of the culture – whose coarse tendencies are international, not only American by the way. Cheri in the end agrees but observes that not everyone is coarse and there are still good people around.

    And also the Prince kind of agrees. If some will be pardoned they were not as bad as the others.

  9. Philippe October 20, 2010 at 9:10 pm #

    Cheri’s remark, “….I meet people at least once a week whose contributions in a quiet way not only neutralize the hatred that does exist and that the news media needs for business……..” is worth a separate comment thread in itself.

    It’s stating the obvious that the news media, particularly the TV news media, can only survive by spreading alarm and despondency among its viewers to such a degree that they keep coming back for more.

    To be a TV news junkie is to live in a permanent state of terror, but which is nonetheless addictive.

    The TV news is as much intellectual junk-food as potato chips are gastronomical junk-food. As you should throw away the potato chips to regain your physical health, so you should throw away your TV set to regain your mental health.

    So now, I want you all to pick up your TV set, go to your window, open it and shout out, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to watch this junk any more”. Then dump your TV set into the street.

    If we all do this, the quality of TV news will soon improve beyond all recognition.

    • Mr. Crotchety October 21, 2010 at 7:11 am #


  10. jenny October 21, 2010 at 7:59 am #

    Thank you, everybody, for reading.

    I have had Michael Cunningham’s words on my mind since reading them on the Hannibal Blog. He’s right that we all have large and difficult lives. It’s astonishing that you “make room in all that for this”.

    Philippe – The slightest allusion to NETWORK puts me in a holiday humor and I happily do exactly as you ask.

  11. Philippe October 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm #

    “……He’s right that we all have large and difficult lives. It’s astonishing that you ‘make room in all that for this’……..”

    This quote of Michael Cunningham’s that you cited, put me in mind of Solzhenitsyn’s novel, “The First Circle”, which, as I feel sure you know, is set in a Gulag prison camp.

    The central characters – despite being in a state of semi-starvation, exhaustion, and expecting to die soon without seeing freedom again – nonetheless get together regularly to discuss metaphysics, literature, and all the other things which nourish the spirit and the educated mind.

    They made room for all this because it was what kept the flame of their spiritual selves flickering. They knew that should this flame ever go out, they would be dead, even though they might still be breathing.

  12. Geraldine October 21, 2010 at 3:47 pm #

    Funny you should say this, Philippe. I was thinking of Solzhenitsyn all day today in the gulag with the ice crystals on the windows and
    how he still found beauty in their shapes and in the shared crusts. Beauty for the eyes even in such stark misery! Such depth.

    I agreee with Philippe that you comments on the patchwork of contributions of ordinary people deserves a separate thread.
    There is an old, old proverb, perhaps from the Jewish faith, or mythology which says that as long as there are nine good people in the world we are saved from self-destuction. I guess it means the works of good people grow exponentially. I shall take a chariot to MoR or Andreas’ to find the answer….

    This is a wonderful post; a pleasure to read. I found the film you referred to and plan to see it! 🙂

  13. jenny October 22, 2010 at 6:10 am #

    Be forewarned: NEVER LET ME GO will not make you feel good.

    You describe to Cheri, here, nothing less than the fabulous story of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. I love this story because Abraham argues with God. I think he begins by asking: “What if there are fifty virtuous men in Sodom? Will you not spare the city for their sake?”

    And, from there, Abraham gradually wheedles a commitment to spare the cities for the sake of just ten virtuous men. So, we have Abraham to thank for keeping the bar fairly low.

    And I think it’s the beginning of the kind of relationship with a deity that Bashevis Singer’s Tevye popularized.


    This may be the first time that mention of Solzhenitsyn has reminded me of Woody Allen. Ha! Here’s my (via Allen) take on why we all keep coming back to a very imperfect medium:

    We need the eggs. 🙂

  14. Geraldine October 22, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    Thank you, Jenny.

  15. Cheri October 22, 2010 at 9:06 pm #

    I agree with points #1 and #2.
    Indictment is a very strong word, not the tone I intended to create when saying the post’s connections to the Rutger’s suicide and Romeo and Juliet didn’t “mesh” with me.

    Suicide is tragic, no matter what the circumstances.

    And yes. Direct communication works for me just fine.

    • jenny October 23, 2010 at 6:40 am #

      Thanks. This had bothered me because I could not tell whether your objection truly was to the literary comparison I (perhaps unwisely) chose, or, in reality, to the ideas about the suicides. Then, I began to feel that my choice of form may have done a disservice to the suicides by providing a distraction. And that there may be some vanity in addressing a serious matter in anything other than a straight-forward manner. I still prefer to look at things through a prism, rather than head-on, but there’s stuff for me to think about here.

      Shocker: my problem is with myself, not with you.

  16. dafna October 23, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    dear cheri and jenny,

    “…If the writing and the analogy don’t work for you, then they will not work for others as well…”

    it really did not work for me, so much that i would have been moved to write one of richard’s “spontaneous” posts if i had the vocabulary to convey how much the analogy disturbed me. (this is not a self-depricating cop out, i really lack both jenny and cheri’s skill in expressive writing) so please pardon me if this becomes unfocused. (you might notice how many times i have clicked/come back to this post?)

    jenny, this is just a blog and you are still only a “thumbnail” portrait so the issue also is within “myself” and perhaps a little bit also with a society that puts more emphasis on the act of suicide rather then it’s underlying causes… depression in the form of mental illness. the only part of the post that worked for me was that teens committed suicide and that is tragic.

    i felt some deeper understanding with cheri’s comment “suicide is tragic, no matter what the circumstances.” and paul, who speaks of “vulnerable individuals”.

    who are these Vulnerables? the blog is tagged, teen and suicide and therefore that is the focus. but teens are not even in the largest category of suicides, it just appears more shocking because the popular platitude is “it will get better”. if you know anyone in the throws of such pain, that is about as useful as saying “pass the bread”.

    on the subject of suicide, i do not find it at all shocking that someone should end their life after the loss of a close companion. everyone, including animals, is in need of companionship to tether them to this world. the elderly commit suicide after the loss of a significant other at a higher rate than any other category. it is not uncommon for animals after a loss of a companion to simply “give-up” and die.

    how do animals relate? because in many cases of suicide, it is not really death that is the objective but a release from the pain. the individual has simply come to the conclusion that there is no other way out. for teens this may be a knee jerk conclusion, for others it is after a long struggle to “treat” the symptoms has failed.

    my son and two close friends keep me tethered to this world because i struggle everyday with physical pain and the emotional pain of depression. with such a small support system, i am one of the “Vulnerables” to which paul refers. take these few human connections away and my own threshold may be reached. it is part of the human condition to have a threshold at which our natural emotions can become “unnatural”. and in a sad catch-22, the longer they remain in this state, the less likely they are to return to their “proper” god given function.

    also there is a very large part of the population that do not view suicide as a tragedy because there is an inability to relate. what could possible cause someone to give up on life? it is “Unimaginable” therefore a folly to be mocked.

    lastly, and not to hi-jack the topic, but the obese and many “minorities” are subject to a culture of coarse hatred, yet their suicide rates are lower than others.

    the greater issue which i think can be applied to gay teen suicide, is that suicide is a symptom of depression, something to which all humans are vulnerable to different degrees.

    this topic is very dear to me, so hopefully there is some clarity in what i’ve written.

    direct works for me also, thanks to cheri for putting her finger on what was disturbing me about the metaphor.

  17. dafna October 23, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    oh darn… i did not realize the length 😦

  18. jenny October 23, 2010 at 6:50 pm #

    Dear Dafna,

    I had no plan to disturb you when I wrote this piece. I hope that is clear.

    And, I welcome your comments of any length, at any time. What a beautiful concept, the marketplace of ideas, no?

    I don’t like to disappoint, but if I tried to write in such a way as to satisfy everybody, it would be as dull as dish water. Anyway, I couldn’t begin to guess how to please people.

    I truly do wish you well.


    • Andreas Kluth October 26, 2010 at 6:27 pm #

      Welcome to blogging, Jenny. For you’ve only REALLY started blogging now, if you get my meaning.
      The test is where you allow your writing to go next. Caution and dish water, or damn the torpedoes and increasing excellence, at the expense of….

      • dafna October 26, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

        nonsense, at the expense of what?

        at the expense of a few readers who don’t like an analogy?


        thanks for being a gracious blog master and open to the possibility that you might learn as much from your readers as they learn from you in this market place of ideas.

      • jenny October 27, 2010 at 6:54 am #

        @dafna: I certainly do learn from both blog posts and readers’ comments, and not just here. Could we please have a laugh at this bit of friction?


        “The test is where you allow your writing to go next…”

        A test? Did you smile when you wrote this sentence? This has a whiff of quests and heroes and…the monomyth. I find myself, now, in the most curious predicament:

        I may be a dog (this is the internet), but let’s assume for the sake of this bit of fun that I am, indeed, woman.

        It is my nature, as dictated by the heavy hand of our tournament species past, to seek group solidarity. That calls for caution and dish water.

        If I try to ignore the evolutionary biology smack-down, there is still archetype to consider. The feminine version of heroism demands that I seek a boon not of my own personal excellence, but of group harmony. Again, bring me dish water! (By the way, that image works well with female gender roles, doesn’t it?)

        What to do?

        The alternative is to extrapolate (though it impugns my femininity) my own story from the tales of the male archetypes…and I believe this is how I began reading your blog. 🙂

        All of this is to say, Andreas, that if I manage to produce anything just a jot brighter than dish water, it is a triumph of the highest order, a victory of will over biology. (Wo)man v. nature.

        (This was intended to be funny, by the way; though it has been explained to me that when a woman is funny, that, too, is kinda butch.)

        You are a mensch, Andreas, in every possible way. Thanks.

  19. Chris October 27, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    Oh my god, YES! … *ahem* erhm, I mean … thought-provoking post. Ah, jeez … is it wrong to feel a thrill from a post about suicide?

    I have always called shenanigans on the whole “true love” thing concerning Romeo and Juliet. They’re teenagers, for crying out loud. Romeo went to that Capulet party moping for Rosaline. No way; they’re love was teenage hormones. The tragedy came from the fact that the feud (what I’ll call their “social context”) could not allow them to be teenagers in love. It forced them onto a melodramatic plane where secrecy, veils of lies, murder (Mercutio, Tybalt), and finally suicide became inevitable.

    Having known people who have committed suicide, I’ve come to view it as the ultimate (and final) act of desperation, bringing a person to a place where they can’t see any way out of their pain, desperation, humiliation. It’s an indictment of the society that brought them to that place.

    I almost feel bad feeling so good about reading this post. Almost. I must come back here….

  20. jenny October 28, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    Chris, you are a very welcome guest. I hope you will stop by again. This is a blog about nothing, but that worked for Seinfeld, right? You might like my snark-filled (and short!) review of Eat, Pray, Love:

    I love R&J, by the way; I would love to see it on stage with more sweat and less treacle. In fact, I’d like to see it advertised that way: R&J, now with more sweat and less treacle!

    I genuinely want to hear your thoughts about Psyche, so please do weigh in on the HB when you have a moment. I’m still trying to sort it out, in my own cheap psyche.

  21. Chris October 28, 2010 at 10:54 am #

    Alas, the only time I read the play when I was in high school, surrounded by unsympathetic ears to my interpretation. Thus, the play is tainted by frustration and eye-rolling (at the true-love-ness of it (or, rather, the true-love-ness others hoisted onto it)). But I’d be first in line for any play that boasted: “Now with more sweat and less treacle!”

    And, fear not, my Psyche comment is coming. I’ve finally figured out a way to approach it, if you will, which means brilliance can’t be far off! Right? Anyone? … anyone …?

  22. Andreas Kluth October 28, 2010 at 11:44 am #

    As so often on these internets, I began shrinking and shriveling as I read the comments directed at me above — or perhaps not at “me” but at, oh whatever, … — and then, hurrah, I was called … a “mensch”.

    By the blog mistress, no less.

    A mensch a mensch a mensch, I’m feeling all menschevik, immenschly ueber-dimenschionally menschlich. Let’s mensch together.

    • dafna October 28, 2010 at 12:57 pm #

      yes, of course A – you are a total mensch!

      really? “…shriveling and shrinking…” from my questions alone or from the dog reference also? where did this dog reference originate anyhow?

      i will answer for my words… because i have asked myself my own intent immediately after seeing jenny perceive “tension” in the comment.

      andreas, i perceived your comment well intentioned over-all. one writer giving advice to another, but also a bit serious. which would usually prompt me to make a fart joke or insert a humorous youtube video but instead i asked, “at what expense?”

      the hannibal blog was the first blog where i learned how adept the blog master and other responders where at handling…well just about anything. so i clicked and found the connected blogs who each have their own unique way of responding to even the most contrary people.

      truly in all the time i have been following this web of blogs, i have not perceived any risk? perhaps that is the issue, you wrote “expense”, i heard, “cost, risk, harm”. even so “i don’t get it”. that’s all.

      jenny does not seem in the least bit distressed by a diverging opinion. also her blog maintains a conversational tone which i admire… and she neither digs too deep nor shy’s away from what some consider “hot” topics.

      dear jenny,

      this was not the first time i found one of your extended metaphors (analogies?) confounding…
      it was just the first time i found it personal enough to post a comment. for my part,
      i do not hold society entirely responsible for my own condition. there is most certainly a universal biological component to suicide.

      • Andreas Kluth October 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

        I personally didn’t actually feel the alleged tension. I was just, as the Brits say, taking the piss. (Doesn’t really translate into American.)

        “At the expense of …”…. WHAT?, you ask.

        I hadn’t even decided that, given the mixed and sorry metaphors that preceded it. At the expense of those torpedoes, I suppose. Flak. Criticism.

        I had actually lost interest in the subject of the post, and was talking purely about Jenny as a talented but evolving writer. (As you know, dafna, this topic of writing and the written word fascinates me.)

        The experience of any writer sooner or later has to overcome the loss of control over the words written. The writer’s words will be understood and misunderstood, but also take on all sorts of other meanings that are genuinely perplexing to the writer.

        And the next step is the one that matters. How will that writer react? Some close up, recoil, hide, stop writing, write dish water. Others forge ahead, learn (yes) from the reactions, but become bolder, take educated risks, digest the failures….

        Now, more importantly, regarding that dog reference:

        It comes from a famous New Yorker cartoon. from the early 90s, when people (at least New Yorker readers) were just learning what the internet is.

  23. jenny October 29, 2010 at 8:02 am #

    @Chris: I await brilliance.

    @Andreas: The blog mistress might have spared you needless shrinkage by menschioning upfront that she is only poking fun at herself. She prefers, proud lady that she is, to acknowledge unsavory truths in a jest.

    @Dafna: I spent a good bit of time this morning writing a veritable manifesto explaining why I do what I do here, as if I were Nicolas Friggin Boileau. Oh, please.

    Here’s the thing: I’m not a writer. This is a lark, an experiment. Of course, you and others will be confounded by my efforts. The medium is confusing. It lets all kinds of people (even dogs) put their words out there, as wacky as they might be.


    • jenny October 29, 2010 at 4:12 pm #

      Dafna —

      Gut shabbos. 🙂

      • dafna October 29, 2010 at 6:17 pm #

        asalamalakum and allaha ismarladik jenny 🙂

    • Chris November 5, 2010 at 10:52 am #

      Heh, blarg … see, this is my problem: I have this raging ego that likes to talk big until people start awaiting brilliance. Then they hear what I actually have to say….

      Oh well; comment submitted. I hope it makes the grade.

      • jenny November 6, 2010 at 7:31 am #

        Your comment is very smart, Chris. And I enjoyed reading it.

        To start with Star Wars and end with Hamlet…well, a willow cabin at your gate make me I might. 🙂

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