O Romeo, Romeo,who art thou Romeo?
Will you deny thy fame and refuse thy name?
WITH DUE APOLOGIES to William Shakespeare... but few names have come down lines of literature and been adopted as thoroughly by colloquialists as Romeo. So one must stop to ask, who is Romeo? Did he rise from Ovid’s Metamorphoses only to be adopted by Shakespeare? Did Shakespeare ordain him to be the lover in the most tragic of tales—where both lovers must die? And who is Romeo today? Can we recognise him by the look in his eye? Can Romeo be spotted more easily in Uttar Pradesh than elsewhere? Does he have a weakness for green parks and water bodies? Is he prone to hide beneath umbrellas? And snuggle on benches? And how do we tell him apart from the Capulets and Montagues? Is it simply by his proclivity for the ladies? Romeo, we shall be as bold to say, is he who knows his mind, chooses his own path and picks love over convention.
But it is, perhaps, best to step back a bit. Romeo is best known to us as the son of the Montagues. One day he chances upon a feast held by the Capulets. There he sees Juliet, a Capulet, and love happens. By the end of the feast, the two are besotted, and only then do they discover that their families are arch enemies. On learning this, Juliet bemoans, “My only love sprung from my only hate! / Too early seen unknown, and known too late! / Prodigious birth of love it is to me, / That I must love a loathed enemy.”
For the last 500 years, ‘Romeo’ has been symbolic of younger generations who refuse to be cowed down by the diktats of family or caucus
Loving a loathed enemy is what has ensured the longevity of Romeo. Starting from the 16th-century till today, ‘Romeo’ is a threat to the establishment (the powers that be and parental order) because he dares to defy, and chooses to follow his heart. The enmity of the Capulets and Montagues has plagued the streets of Verona. Yet the lovers decide to look past this and follow their own passions.
For the last 500 years, ‘Romeo’ has been symbolic of younger generations who refuse to be cowed down by the diktats of family or caucus. Of course, defiance never comes cheap. And Romeo must die. As will his Juliet. But in the wake of their death, peace is restored to the state, as the families realise the inanity of hostility and violence.
In India, ‘Roadside Romeo’ is a pejorative term, used to label men who lean against walls and catcall women. The UP government’s anti-Romeo squad supposedly targets these ‘lafangaas’ and ‘protects’ hapless damsels. But these squads are not allowing young men and women to make their own decisions and spend time with who they want. These squads, like the feuding families of Elizabethan England, fear the agency of the young and the brave.
What Romeo represents is love at all cost, love despite the consequences. Romeo tells his Juliet in the play, ‘Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized; / Henceforth I never will be Romeo.’
Romeo represents the idea of love—the messiness, impossibility, and finally, the tragedy of it. And that is why he is a figure to fear and one that the state is so keen to quash.