Ah, Shakespeare: the plays everyone read the CliffsNotes to in high school. They were nothing if not filled with love and romance and the occasional Danish ghost. Though most of us read them simply to pass a class, they are actually full of nuggets of wisdom—wisdom that can teach us a lot about relationships and breakups.
Some of these plays were an example of what no to do, while others were examples of what makes a relationship work and what makes a relationships fail.
When the pages are turned, some of the lessons we can learn include:
- Communication is key: William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most iconic love tale ever written. A boy and a girl from warring families fall in love despite the obstacles that stand between them. In order to truly be together, they must flee their families. So, Juliet devises a plan to fake her death by ingesting a pill that will put her in a death—like coma for 48 or so hours. She relies on a messenger to inform Romeo of "the deets" but he doesn't relay the message in time. Romeo, believing Juliet has truly died, ends his life. Juliet awakens to find him dead and subsequently follows suit.
Now, a failure to communicate in a typical relationship isn't likely to lead to a joint suicide, but still its importance can't be ignored. If Romeo and Juliet taught us anything, it taught us this: Communication is the key to a relationship's survival. Without it, the relationship—and perhaps those who are in it—is doomed.
- Jealously gets you nowhere: In Othello, we are introduced to the man who epitomizes the term "being full of shit": Iago, the play’s antagonist. Iago is a master manipulator, manipulating, at one time or another, nearly every other character in the play. His ultimate goal is to trick Othello into believing his new wife, Desdemona, is having an affair. Iago is successful: Othello is ultimately convinced and kills Desdemona; upon realizing her innocence, he kills himself (and a bunch of other people die too).
The biggest mistake Othello made in his relationship was believing the word of another, rather than communicating with his wife. His other mistake is that he allowed his jealously (compounded by his lack of trust in his wife) to convince him of what he feared most (her adultery).
What we can take from this is simple: Jealously gets you nowhere. Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that—more times than not—the person who is jealous really has nothing to be jealous about.
- Relationships are partnerships, not dictatorships: Arguably the most tragic of all of Shakespeare's plays is the tale of Macbeth. It is a story marked by deception, murder (including the murder of children), and immorality. It begins with Macbeth, a Scottish general who is visited by three witches and told that he will someday be king of Scotland (seriously, who hasn't that happened to). While Macbeth is ambitious in his own right, he doesn't begin to pursue the crown until Lady Macbeth challenges his manhood. Urged on by his wife's words, Macbeth sets a plan in motion; it is a plan that ultimately results in the demise of both he and his wife (as well as a slug of others).
What Macbeth taught us is pretty straightforward: A relationship is a partnership, not a dictatorship. Macbeth had reservations about seeking the throne, but his wife (rather than sitting down and making a decision with him), essentially manipulated him into action by touching upon his insecurities. In other words, Lady Macbeth veered away from the partnership, and dictated the situation to her desires. The end result? As mentioned above, it wasn't pretty.
Relationships are partnerships. It isn't about one person's happiness over the other. Both people involved must give, take, and work as a unit. This is important to remember, whether you are in a relationship or hoping to reconcile with an ex. It is also important to remember that decision-making—particularly the life-changing decisions—should be done as one. Working towards that decision should involve communication, not manipulation.
Shakespeare was nothing if not in touch with true human emotions and their eventual outcomes: Jealously, insecurity, manipulation, and a lack of communication are all things the above plays had in common. And that, in the end, is why they are all categorized as tragedies.
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