The Romeo and Juliet Effect

So on my way to work this morning I’m listening to an audiobook in my car all about motivation, will power and stuff like that – how the brain works kind of stuff.  And in a chapter about how you can’t tell your brain “Stop thinking about X” I get to this:

This might explain what psychologists know as the well-known “Romeo and Juliet” effect, where love for another person only becomes stronger when it is forbidden.(*)

Ummm……huh?  I’m trying to decide if that’s psychobabble for “We are saying this *about* the characters of Romeo and Juliet”, in other words they fell that deeply in love precisely because they could not be together … or else if this is just a modern acknowledgment of a modern idea, and they’ve simply slapped a cliche onto it.

What do you think?  Am I reading too much into it, in the hopes of pulling a blog post out of it?  Or do you think that Romeo liked that girl at the party, and when he learned that she was a Capulet, only then did he think “I can’t live without her!”

Somehow I don’t think the text supports that.  Granted, I think that every 13yr old who thinks she is in love with the gangsta down the street and whose parents say she can’t see him anymore?  So she climbs out her bedroom window to go hang out with him?  That, I think, is the Romeo and Juliet effect.  And that’s not at all what Shakespeare was talking about.

(*) From memory, of course, so nobody pick on the book for any lapses in grammar – that’s my fault.

3 thoughts on “The Romeo and Juliet Effect

  1. Well, I mean, honestly; correct me if I'm wrong, it's been awhile since I've read it, but…they meet and are entranced before they know who the other is. Juliet is dealing with Paris and Romeo is focused on finding Rosaline. They are already smitten before they realize the Capulet/Montague connection. So how can it be the Romeo & Juliet effect? They fell in love and then were forbidden from it. I guess one can make the argument that it strengthened the desire to be in love; because it was forbidden. Who knows? I think there are better Shakespeare's for romance anyway.

  2. It was "love at first" sight before they knew the circumstances. Their love transcended those circumstances; it didn't exist to spite them.
    I suppose it could be argued that circumstances, once they had a bearing, might have served as a catalyst to enhance their desire for one another. However, that's pure theoretical supposition on the part of the analyst.

    I think the term may have been co-opted simply based upon the situation of R&J without actually analyzing those two personally in relation to it. Then again, you never know when it comes to psychologists and *their* egos. Ernest Jones saddled Hamlet with an Oedipus complex that he can't seem to shake, having no other basis for it than his mentor's
    (Freud) theoretical musings.

  3. My guess would be that the psychologists are not necessarily trying to propose an analysis of R&J so much as they're using them as a cultural shorthand for forbidden love.

    Having said that, I think R&J's circumstances certainly had an effect on their love. I mean, sure they are smitten immediately at the party, but once they find out who they actually are, it increases the tension and emotion in everything they do (balcony scene, duel with Tybalt, etc).

    thanks Chelzra — i think "smitten" is the perfect word
    also, thanks JM — "catalyst" is the perfect word there too.

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