Romeo and Juliet Essay

To express his view of good and evil in every man, William Shakespeare writes lines that Friar Laurence reveals in the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet which compare man to plants, focusing on the common trait they hold of having two contrasting components in their being. Throughout history, there has always been a conflict with the view of goodness and evilness in man. The philosopher Plato believed that man was born with a natural depravity and was basically an untrained animal who needed society’s help to structure, educate, and fulfill his needs. On the other hand, Plato’s pupil Aristotle believed that man is initially born with goodness and virtue. The issue of man’s two sides can be thoroughly discussed over the gothic novel of Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Some critics believe that the “creature” was prone to evil from the onset, that it was innately in his being, while others argue that the treatment the “creature” received from humans pitted him against mankind into an evil and revengeful state. Shakespeare, however, in his extended metaphor comparing man to plants, holds the opinion that there is both decency and infamy in man. His opinion can be compared to the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson, where Dr. Jekyll is innately pure and kind but because he tries to hide the malicious side of his being, it eventually overcomes him completely. Shakespeare wishes to address the idea that evil can destroy a person and overtake them if it is let in and uses his lines of Friar Laurence as an aphorism and a warning to mankind.
The following lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet fully portray the author’s view of a split of innocence and corruption in man, and the thought that evil is likely and able to destroy man from the inside out.
Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence and medicine power.
In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will;
And where the worser is predominant,
Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

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Translated, these lines can be interpreted as follows:
Within the bud of this small flower
Poison lives and medicine has potential power.
In man, like in plants, there is both good and evil components,
And if the evil is stronger and more prevalent,
It is certain the plant will be destroyed.

In the first line, Shakespeare speaks of a new plant, which alludes to a human baby or a child. This is the beginning of his extended metaphor evaluating plants to man. Just like a plant can have malevolent poison or beneficial medicine, man also has an ill and humane side to him. Depending on the course a man takes throughout his life, that evil may overtake and consume him, just as the components of a plant can be fatal depending on how they are used. With this idea, Shakespeare gives us the aphorism that if man does not try to control the amount of evil in his life, he will end up being the tragic hero of these very lines. Through the expression of the words and with the use of extended metaphor, Shakespeare compares man to plants and portrays the central theme that there is both virtue and vice in man, but if the vice is of a greater caliber, it can be the fatal flaw leading to the downfall of man.
Shakespeare hints to his audience the life lesson that one should never let evil be the predominant trait in their character because it will eventually eat them like a cancer from the inside out. By comparing man to plants, he emphasizes the idea that every man has a dual personality holding both good and evil, in the same manner that plants hold medicine and poison within their buds. With the use of extended metaphor, Shakespeare holds the idea throughout that man can be looked at in a similar view to man because they share this characteristic of duality. The aphorism to be shared with his audience is Shakespeare’s premonition of letting too much evil overtake the good in one’s personality because it has the potential to destroy, just as evil took the life of Dr. Jekyll who could not avoid it taking over his being.

Category: Shakespeare