Shakespeare's Innocent Victims
I've just received an e-mail from someone who is puzzled by the death of the innocent character of Paris in Romeo and Juliet. I replied in the broader sense of why the innocent suffer in Shakespeare's plays.
Here's the text of the e-mail:
I'm attending the Tennessee Shakespeare Company's summer camp this week, and I told the gentlemen in charge about your book on R and J. We both agreed that your view was highly plausible. However, we were also a little confused, because if most of the guilty characters in the play died, what was the reason for Paris's death? He seemed completely innocent. Was he killed because Romeo was blinded by wild rage? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!
Here's my response:
Paris is an innocent victim, as are Hamlet and Ophelia and Cordelia, and all of the hapless victims of the pathological Macbeths. Here is what I say about the deaths of Hamlet and Ophelia in Through Shakespeare's Eyes:
But what of Hamlet's death? And what of Ophelia's? Can we really be satisfied by their destruction? Perhaps not. In an ideal world, the innocent would not fall victim to the sins of others. But we live not in an ideal world but in a fallen one, and this is the world in which Shakespeare and all his characters reside. Shakespeare is not writing Christian fantasy but Christian realism, and this entails martyrdom and suffering on the part of the innocent. This is the real world in which Shakespeare found himself, a world in which people he knew were brutally executed merely for being Catholic priests. Why would the playwright whitewash such grim realities from his plays? And why would we want him to? Hamlet is not a fairy story .... There is no guaranteed "happy ending" in this life, and if we are indeed to live "happily ever after", it is in the next life, not in this one. "Happily ever after" happens offstage, after the final curtain has fallen, and Shakespeare's great gift is the way in which he is always pointing offstage to the deeper reality that is beyond it.