To Die or Not To Die (for Love)


Literary critics and everyday folks have heralded Shakespeare's romantic tragedy "Romeo and Juliet" as the quintessential love story for centuries. It has found its way into the way we think, our music and even into bronze as a statue in New York City's Central Park.

I have a problem with Bruno Mars. More specifically, I have a problem with the music producers and executives who heard his lyrics and instantly thought, "hit record," and with the listening public for so eagerly agreeing with them. The cynical side of me hears him sing, "her hair, her hair, falls perfectly without her trying," and wants to scream: "Are you blind? Don't you see the hair products on your bathroom counter?"

If the clichés ended with that one song, I would probably give Mars a pass. Who among us hasn't giddily yelled an exhausted phrase when love is new? But in "Grenade," the singer vows he'd "catch a grenade" for the woman he loves. A grenade? Really? Where is he taking this girl that grenade catching would even become a reality? This vow to die for love begs the question: Has he not heard about Romeo and Juliet?

When Romeo hears of Juliet's untimely passing, he searches out an apothecary who deals in death, but he waits to consume the poison until he sees Juliet's cold, listless body. Moments later, Juliet awakens to find Romeo's lifeless corpse by her side and, without a moment's pause, drives her lover's dagger directly into her heart.

"Romeo and Juliet" is a tragedy. Why, then, is this the quintessential tale of love—the gold standard against which all other anecdotal love stories are compared?

Shakespeare knew what purveyors of pop culture don't: When a couple is torn apart by death, the one left standing, alone, is the real victim.

Before "Romeo and Juliet," the Greeks gave us Orpheus and Eurydice, ripped apart when Eurydice, trying to flee a would-be attacker, stepped on a poisonous snake and died. Heartbroken, Orpheus played such sorrowful music the gods all wept and agreed to let Orpheus visit the underworld to retrieve his love—under one condition: He was to walk in front of her and not look at her face until they reached sunlight. Overcome by joy and anticipation, Orpheus turned his gaze a second too soon, and the gods violently pulled Eurydice back to the underworld forever.

Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Orpheus sought neither poison nor dagger. He turned, rather, to music. His mourning created a hauntingly plaintive song, one he repeated without end until his own death years later. Now that is love.

To mourn, Sigmund Freud said, is not a task entered into with a deadline or end point in mind. It is work itself—the work of a lifetime. Prior to Juliet's perceived death, Romeo angrily proclaimed that no life existed beyond Verona's walls, which, quite literally, kept Juliet captive. It's not surprising, then, that he succumbs to the desire to join her in death.

Juliet had already proved the strength of her desire to be reunited with Romeo when she willingly drank an unknown substance in the hopes it would feign her death until Romeo could rescue her. Remaining true to herself, when she finds his dead body lying beside her, she immediately reaches for an instrument of death. Neither Romeo nor Juliet could bear the enormous burden of mourning. An entire lifetime passed in the few moments they spent in the company of the other's corpse.

Which is, I suppose, why I am annoyed with the likes of Bruno Mars. Offering to die for your love is a completely selfish act, one lacking the honor it seemingly commands. A more genuine act would be to protect your partner from grief's unbearable weight.

So Bruno, should someone throw a grenade in your direction, for whatever unimaginable reason, do your love a favor: Lob it toward her, then run like hell.


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