We’ve all heard the phrase love conquers all…but does love excuse all? Maybe not all, but Romeo and Juliet have reasonable excuses for their actions. Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet belong to two feuding families from the 16th century. They are each other’s worst enemies as well as each other’s fated star-crossed lovers. There is an antagonistic environment between the two lovers, brought upon them by an ancient feud so old the families are unsure of the roots of it. In spite of the belief that Romeo and Juliet could stay in line with support from their parents, this belief is mistaken because love has not always been good to them, their parents are not always there for them as they should be, and scientifically speaking, important functions of their brains are underdeveloped.
Romeo and Juliet’s parents were not there for them in the ways they should have been. Without support from their parents, they are never encouraged to do what makes them happy and instead are given everything they have without choice, an example being Juliet’s marriage to her suitor Paris, entirely arranged by her parents. Lord and Lady Capulet push this idea onto her to great extents, her father threatening not to speak to her any longer if she does not marry Paris and continuing by saying her birth is a curse to them: “ … get thee to church o’ Thursday, or never after look me in the face. Speak not: reply not; do not answer me…. and that we have a curse in having her” (III.v. 167-169, 174). It is reasonable that Juliet would quickly fall back on Romeo’s love after hearing these harsh words from her own father. A child needs love to guide and support them throughout the entirety of growing up. In an interview done with Charles Nelson, director of Neurobehavioral Development at the University of Minnesota, he stated that, “Anyone who has a teenager knows that a teenager desperately needs contact with his or her parents. They need to be involved in their family”. Juliet throughout the play is especially seen struggling with connection to her parents, seeing that her closest friend and guardian is Nurse, who was there for her all during childhood and has a very close relationship with Juliet. Nurse appears far more motherly to Juliet than her own mother, seeing as her mother often speaks to her in brevity and is referred to as “Madam” (I.iii.7) by Juliet. Romeo has the same relationship with Friar Lawrence, closer to him then his own father or mother. The pair along with any other given child needs molding and influence from their parents, Charles Nelson says, “All parents of teenagers know and all teachers of teenagers know how crucial it is to guide them, influence them and mold them. As much as they resist being molded and influenced, the fact is they still need it”. Even if Romeo and Juliet were to resist their parents affection, the guidance from them is still vital. The lack of guidance from their parents gives them reason to act out, therefore lessening their responsibility for their actions.
Crucial functions in the brain that control decision making factors in teenagers are still developing. Important changes in the brain are still taking place through adolescence, meaning the behaviors controlled by these parts of the brain are not at full maturity yet. The immaturity in young brains causes teens to act out without thinking about the risks or future consequences. Science and research backs this up, and university professor of psychology Laurence Steinberg states, “Significant changes in brain anatomy and activity are still taking place during young adulthood, especially in prefrontal regions that are important for planning ahead, anticipating the future consequences of one’s decision, controlling impulses, and comparing risk and reward”. Both Romeo and Juliet are at the age that their brain does not balance impulses and risky behavior with the consequences ahead of them, but adults can. Teens especially seem to rush into love and heavily engage themselves with love before understanding how harmful it can be. Again, Charles Nelson says, “But we think the lability itself is probably due to this emotional regulation function done by the frontal cortex… they’re feeling things before they can regulate and even articulate what it is they’re feeling”. The lability demonstrated by Romeo and Juliet is heavily exercised in both of their minds. Romeo makes an impulsive decision to change his name right after he met Juliet for only a night, “I take thee at thy word: Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; Henceforth I never will be Romeo.” (II.ii.50-51). This furthers the proof of Romeo’s quick mindedness and impulsivity towards and in effect of love. While love does not excuse all of Romeo and Juliets actions, modern neuroscience certainly explains why they acted the way they did and suggests that they are not entirely to blame.
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