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Summary of Freud’s theory:-
Sigmund Freud proposed a revolutionary theory in the 1920s which tackled various predominant phenomena and also challenged preconceived notions of the world and the human mind. Freud claimed the personality of a human is complex and isn’t made up of a single component. In ‘Ego and the id’, Freud postulated the human mind or the human psyche is a sum of three parts. (Which may be equal or unequal.) The three parts being the ego, the id, and the superego. These three components work together (often not in harmony) to create complex human behavior. Each of these three elements of the personality emerges at different points in life. Freud also stated that the human mind can be divided into the conscious and the unconscious. The three elements of the mind reside in either the conscious or unconscious part of our minds/psyche.
The id is the component of the present personality from infancy/birth. The id makes up the primal component of the personality. The id can be described as an infinite source of primal energy within the mind. The id requires all the primal urges to be fulfilled. Whether it be thirst. Hunger or sexual desire. It is driven by the pleasure principle. The Id primarily resides within the unconscious part of the brain.
The ego is a part of the personality which deals with reality. Often times, the desires of the id may cross boundaries and maybe unquenchable. It’s the job of the ego to keep the id in check and make sure its desires are satisfied in a realistic way. The ego works on the reality principle. Ego is a part of the conscious mind.
The superego is the part of the mind which develops last. It is influenced by the outside world. (Mainly parents and society.) The superego is responsible for morality and judgment. The superego can often be described as the more mature part of the brain which behaves like a rulebook and often guides the ego away from the desires of the id. The superego is responsible for a civilized behavior of the human. The superego transcends both the conscious and the unconscious.
The interaction between these three components is often chaotic. Considering the different aspects that these elements deal with, there is a high probability of conflict arising. The superego can be an enemy to the id, and ego might act as a mediator. According to Freud, the key to a healthy personality is striking a perfect balance between these three components of the personality.
With Freud’s theory as a map, let’s perform a psychoanalysis of the story of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo and Juliet was a play written by William Shakespeare in the 1500s. It is the most renowned story depicting tragedy and true love.
In the beginning, it is observed that Romeo switches from loving Rosaline to loving Juliet unhesitantly at first glance. This instance of instant infatuation or a strong attraction towards a female can be on account of the id. The id is responsible for sexual desire and is primal in nature. This is an incident of ‘Love at first sight’ can be evidence of the id being superior/having a major stake in the mind of Romeo. It is further seen that Romeo acts on basic instincts and approaches Juliet without thinking about the consequences of a Montague family member interacting with a Capulet.(“O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? Deny thy father and refuse thy name, / Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, / And I’ll no longer be a Capulet” ) The lack of societal awareness or consequential thinking in Romeo can be a result of an underdeveloped superego. The relationship of Romeo and Juliet at its infancy seems to be driven by sexual instinct highlighting the weak ego and superego of both the individuals.
An assumption can be made that Romeo’s Id is that he’s in love with the concept of being in love. A trace of sexual desire can also be assumed.
It is to be noted that Romeo’s love for Rosaline seemed like a childish one as compared to his love for Juliet. When it comes to Juliet, Romeo’s love is strengthened and his poetic ability is also improved. It can be observed as the Id being denied love or satisfaction for its primal desires with Rosaline and hence it shifts towards Juliet. The denial that came before makes the desire to acquire Juliet much more intense. Responding to this demand of the Id, ego gives in and suggests Romeo to court for marriage to secure the relationship with Juliet. Here, we can observe the ego obeying the demands of the Id in a much more realistic way. It can also be observed as the superego justifying the desires of the Id and suggesting marriage in order to fit in the desires of Id with society.
Through a different lens, it can be observed that Romeo’s denial of a duel with Tybalt (Romeo’s brother in law) can be a result of the actions of the superego. A lack of desire to duel and incite violence depicts that the Id might not be the strongest after all. But the conflict that inspires Romeo to assault and kill Tybalt suggests otherwise. Romeo’s killing of Tybalt was a pure act of revenge. Revenge can be described as the intense desire of the Id which the ego cannot help but suffice. The guilt and shame that follows are a result of the superego.
If the superego somehow satisfied the libidinal energy that arose between the two (Romeo and Juliet), the story would end in a not-so-tragic way.
From these instances, we can draw a few conclusions. Romeo’s id is fuelled by sexual desire. Romeo has been denied love(by Rosaline) once and cannot afford to go through that phase again. Both Romeo and Juliet are driven by sexual instinct (libido). Romeo’s ego is his endless and relentless approach to marry and ‘acquire’ Juliet at any cost. Whereas Romeo’s superego seems to be driven by Thanatos. The desire to end it all or the death instinct. This instinct drives self-destructive and violent behavior.
Freud suggests/theorizes all instincts can be categorized as parts of two types i.e. the death instinct (Thanatos) or the life instinct (Eros). Life instincts are instincts that evolved/exist to reproduce and carry the species forward (sexual desire). Death instincts are thrill-seeking instincts that mostly result in violence and self-destructive behavior. Humans function well when these two drives are in harmony. According to Freud, the want/desire to die must be tackled by eros before it becomes a conscious thought. An astute example of an imbalance of Eros and Thanatos in the life of Juliet is seen when she threatens her nurse that she’d rather die than marry count Paris (“O sweet my mother, cast me not away. Delay this marriage for a month, a week, / Or, if you do not, make the bridal bed / In that dim monument where Tybalt lies”). Romeo killing Tybalt is another example of Thanatos dominating the life of Romeo. The death instinct mostly arises right after the trauma. (The death of Mercutio.)
Romeo seeming eager to perform suicide after hearing about the death of Juliet is also an example of the death instinct being unbalanced by eros. ( “Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight. Let’s see for means. (O mischief, thou art swift/To enter in the thoughts of desperate men”). Romeo refers to ‘mischiefs’ as death instincts or Thanatos.
Another observation that could be made is that. The desire of the id is strong enough to convince the ego for suicide. Through death, Romeo could reconcile with Juliet in the afterlife and the desires of the Id would be satisfied. Whereas, Juliet’s desire to kill herself upon the sight of a dead Romeo could also be driven by the superego. (guilt)
The main dysfunction in the lives of both Romeo and Juliet is the conflict between various components. The conflict between the id, ego, and superego results in extreme, erratic and instinctual behavior of both the protagonists. The imbalance in eros and Thanatos was also a major factor which led to the tragic ending of their lives. The superego could’ve resolved this conflict through sublimation. (The defense mechanism that transforms socially unacceptable impulses or idealizations into socially acceptable actions.). But this conflict is resolved non-normatively i.e. through the failure of sublimation which caused the unfortunate demise of the protagonists. This is a story about the victory of Thanatos over Eros. Life thrives when there is a balance between the two. The conflict between the ego, id, and superego in Romeo and Juliet fuelled in the imbalance of these two instincts. Another possible explanation could be the age and stage of life they were in. Juliet was 13 years old and hence pretty immature. Freud states that during the adolescent stage of life, an individual goes through various psychosexual changes.
The death of Juliet could be a result of immaturity and a weak ego and superego. The death of Romeo, on the other hand, could be a result of the conflict in his mind.
In conclusion, Romeo and Juliet are the ideal examples of instinct expressed unhealthily. Romeo and Juliet is a story about ‘Sex and death.’ It expressed how an underdeveloped ego and superego could ruin the life of an individual. Driven by sexual instincts, Romeo and Juliet set out against the world in a reckless and unplanned way. Friar Laurence was a beacon of hope that proved helpless to the two love-crazed individuals. Romeo, blinded by his love for Juliet (charged with sexual desire) couldn’t gauge/predict Friar Laurence’s plan. Romeo and Juliet is a story of the triumph of Thanatos over Eros. The story instructs us to keep our desires in check and make sure the actions we take are socially acceptable. One should also be aware of the consequences that may arise due to instinctual actions. The triumph of Thanatos over Eros is bad thing. One should avoid instinctual behavior and always think things through.
The balance between Thanatos and Eros is what helps life thrive.
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Cherry, Kendra. “What Are Life and Death Instincts?” Verywell. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Sex and Death in Romeo and Juliet.” Shmoop.com. Shmoop