2014-01-03

Expectations

Part One:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
- William Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet
When I see a bird that walks like a duck and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, I call that bird a duck.
- James Whitcomb Riley

Thus, poetry comes in divers many formulations. We call the latter "the duck test," but to my knowledge we do not call the former "the rose test." We know only that, whatever nomenclature one chooses to adopt, what matters is the thing itself, not its name.

Part Two:
Considering how her story ends, we should use caution when taking relationship advice from Juliet. But, while the odds may have been stacked against her, she had the right idea at least insofar as choosing her beau was concerned. She observed which boy had the qualities she liked, and went for it. It was only later that she discovered that her Romeo was a Montague.

Riley might have said that if Romeo walks like a rose, swims like a rose, and quacks like a rose, Juliet would be right to say he smells like a rose, too. The real proof would be smelling Romeo, but that only came later in the play, and besides that, we can be certain that roses were the only things that smelled like roses in the 17th Century.

Limits of a floral analogy notwithstanding, Juliet is a good example in that she formed her expectation from Romeo's behavior, not his name. It's a lesson I have been applying to my own life for the last short while, and one from which I believe we could all stand to benefit.

It is obvious enough not to judge a book by its cover, but the English language wouldn't have so many aphorisms and famous quotes attached to this lesson if we didn't have to learn it - and re-learn it - so often.

Part Three:
However, I wonder how Juliet's monologue might have unfolded had the thought occurred to her much later in the story, after members of her own family had conspired to keep her from her true love. While a Montague was actively engaged in loving and cherishing her, her own fellow Capulets were plotting against her. What, then, is in a name? Perhaps that wiser Juliet would rather have said:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
The Capulets against their own sweet Juliet.
What's Capulet? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
My heart, it begs me, Be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
As I doff mine, and for each part of thee
Take all myself.
Family is as family does. If every Capulet conspired against her, then which Juliet would stay among her own kin? None. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

There's another one! From the far reaches of antiquity come so many different adages all designed to underscore a simple point: What's true is what we observe to be true. What is a duck is that which behaves like a duck. What is a rose is that which smells like a rose. What is family is that which behaves like a family.

The seedy underbelly of this pure and simple truth is its corollary: That which does not behave like a family should not be deemed so, whether its name is Montague, Capulet, duck, rose, pudding, or McCoy.

Part Four:
Too many Juliets learn the corollary first. They approach the problem backwards. They meet a Montague, and simply start referring to him as "Mr. Capulet." They cannot find the duck they're looking for, so they look around long enough to find the best-looking water fowl in their immediate vicinity. This bird, whatever it is, becomes their duck, their Mr. Capulet.

They can't always legitimately blame "daddy issues," of course, but sometimes they can. If they can, then they've committed the same error with their ersatz Capulet as with the Capulet who raised them. He doesn't act a Capulet, but he's got the name, so these young ladies expect Capulet behavior from him. All the while, neither the real Capulet nor the fake one - the Montague that she has only dubbed a Capulet - is, in fact, a Capulet. Neither is so, that is, if by "Capulet" we mean to describe a man who treats a woman like she's family.

Nor is this situation in any way unique to the world's Juliets. In truth, we all occasionally lose sight of the fact that sometimes the people we call by one name really ought to be given another name entirely. We form our expectations from the name, not the behavior.

Really, though, we ought to do like Juliet.