"O Romeo, Romeo … what happened?
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is regarded around the world as a powerful example of true love. The play's magic deeply moves many who see or read it. Some people admire the lovers' determination to die rather than compromise their ideal love; others are struck by the tragic way lasting happiness eludes Romeo and Juliet; and many see reflected in the story hankerings and frustrations experienced in their own lives.
Whatever the cause of the story's appeal, it is interesting to imagine what might have happened if the story had ended in a different way. After all, in romantic stories the hero and heroine often overcome all obstacles, marry, and live "happily ever after."
Let's suppose Friar Lawrence's plan to reunite Juliet with her exiled new husband had worked. His idea was to have her drink a sedative that would make her appear dead. He would then inform Romeo of the ruse and rescue Juliet, with Romeo's help, from the crypt where she would be lying. The couple would then go to the city of Mantua and start a new life together. No tragic endings, no untimely deaths, no irony of destiny.
Let's return to their home some twenty years later to see how "ever after" has favored the fabled lovers.
Upon arriving, we learn that Romeo and Juliet recently had their eighth child, but the neighbors doubt they'll stop there. Having so many kids has taken a toll on poor Juliet. She is no longer the exquisite beauty Romeo first met years ago. She looks tired and aged, and Romeo has begun calling her "Pumpkin." Disposable diapers haven't been invented, nor have canned baby food, coin laundries, or any other modern conveniences. "Happily ever after" has turned into "entanglement ever after."
Juliet is thinking of talking to Romeo about her frustration with the kind of life they now have: their romance is long gone, the routine of everyday life is boring, and she's discovered many defects in Romeo she'd overlooked when they were dating back in Verona, such as his table manners. And, if ignorance is bliss, Juliet is better off not knowing about a couple of love affairs he's been trying to hide.
Romeo hasn't fared that well either. After the Friar failed to get a pardon for him in Verona, the couple settled down in Mantua, where Romeo was unemployed for a while. Finally, he got a job as a town clerk, but that wasn't much help: his wages weren't enough to maintain their former aristocratic standard of living. And having been rejected by their families, he can't expect any support from them.
Looking at himself in the mirror recently, Romeo noticed with dismay his receding hairline, his expanding waistline, and a few other lines in his face. To make things worse, he's been realizing that Juliet isn't the bright angel he had originally thought she was, but rather a short-tempered, spoiled kid completely unprepared for real life. And now, with so many children and all those household chores, she doesn't even have time for him anymore.
Both are going through an early mid-life crisis, and their future doesn't look worth writing about, much less by the great Shakespeare. They are preoccupied with fearful thoughts of unfulfilled dreams, rebellious children, impending old age, inevitable diseases, and finally death.
If this had been the story of Romeo and Juliet, instead of the one in Shakespeare's tragic play, they would never have become famous. Their story would have been just one more among the millions of trivial real-life "love stories" occurring daily around the world.
Now let us analyze Shakespeare's version of the story of Romeo and Juliet from the unique perspective of the ancient wisdom of India. In the renowned Bhagavad-gita (2.62-63), Sri Krsna explains the cycle of entanglement in material life. He begins, "While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them." Romeo fell hard for Juliet simply because he happened to see her at a party; otherwise, he could have gone on enchanted with his girlfriend Rosaline, or he might have found another young love. As Friar Lawrence put it, "Is Rosaline, whom thou didst love so dear, so soon forsaken? Young men's love, then, lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes."
Furthermore, Krsna says, "From such attachment lust develops." Lust is an irresistible impulse to enjoy something, or someone, such as Romeo felt for Rosaline or Juliet. Influenced by lust, Romeo jumped over fences, climbed walls, risked being seen and killed by the Capulets, and arranged an elopement. In less passionate circumstances he himself would have regarded all this as zany behavior unbefitting a respectable Italian gentleman.
Then, "From lust, anger arises, from anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion, bewilderment of memory." Anger manifests because sense objects tend to let us down; either we become bored with them after a while, or our plans to enjoy them fail. In any case, we are unable to enjoy them forever. As for Romeo and Juliet, the dispute between their families prevented them from enjoying each other as they so ardently desired. Anger, delusion, and confusion thus quickly arose in their minds.
From there, "Intelligence is lost and one falls again into the material pool." Because of the many impediments to their happiness, Romeo and Juliet gradually lost their sense of discrimination, and this eventually led to their tragic deaths. To dispel the mystique of the outcome of the story, a modern youth counselor might add that their disregard for their own lives was the result of a combination of adolescent immaturity and a lack of communication at home, factors that lead to suffering or even death for many unfortunate young people today.
Seeing Shakespeare's version of the story in the light of Bhagavad-gita. we can conclude that what touches people is that destiny was unkind to Romeo and Juliet and pushed them too soon into the final stages of the above-mentioned cycle of material entanglement, without their even having enjoyed some of the "normal" pleasure found in the early stages of the cycle. Readers wouldn't be moved by our modified and less exciting version of the story, because the same cycle took a more natural course.
The cycle of entanglement described in Bhagavad-gita is universal, applying to everyone in material life under every circumstance. It would have applied to Romeo and Juliet as individuals even if they had never met each other, if they had gone their own ways after meeting, or if they had had a picture-perfect family life after getting married.
The cycle of entanglement does not discriminate regarding one's sex, religion, time in history, wealth, and so on, and thus it affects all of us when we develop a materialistic approach to happiness. And it starts in a rather innocent way. In everyday life we can't but contemplate other people's appearance, possessions, and social life; we also see the slick new consumer products in the market; and we witness the romance and glitter of TV, cinema, and stories like Romeo and Juliet.We gradually become attached to these objects and begin selecting the ones we think will help us live happily ever after.
Full of energy, we then go out and try to make our dreams a reality. But things get complicated at this point because our narrow-minded optimism often overlooks the frustrating side effects that manifest along with our dreams. The ensuing entanglements often become the predominant factor in our lives. Or we achieve our dreams, only to find that they don't bring us the happiness we thought they would, or that we are unable to hold on to them forever. By then we usually don't have the energy or the direction to start all over again, and so we have to adjust our expectations and learn to live with the realities around us.
Since these are the results of our materialistic attempts to attain happiness, we need to look elsewhere to find lasting satisfaction. Bhagavad-gita warns us that happiness in the material plane is always subjected to the cycle of entanglement in material life. Bhagavad-gita offers us an alternative: finding happiness in a manner befitting our original, spiritual nature.
There is a way of life in which actions don't entangle us further, but gradually liberate us; a way of life in which the world is seen as it really is, and not as it appears to be; a way of life in which we use time to accomplish a higher goal, not just pass it until it's used up; and a way of life in which the pleasures come from within, and not from our interaction with matter. That way of life is a means to self-realization and begins with chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.
For all Romeos, Juliets, and other seekers, we offer a word of advice from Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the Hare Krsna movement: "Material sense pleasures are due to the contact of the material senses with their objects. These pleasures are all temporary because the body itself is temporary. A liberated soul is not interested in anything which is temporary. Knowing well the joys of transcendental pleasures, how can a liberated soul agree to enjoy false pleasure? Those who are trueyogis or learned transcendentalists are not attracted by sense pleasures, which are the causes of continuous material existence. The more one is addicted to material pleasures, the more he is entrapped by material miseries."