Tag Archives: balance

The Use of Opposites in “Romeo and Juliet” by William Shakespeare

We all know the story about the “pair of star-crossed lovers.” It has almost become cliché, which was why I’ve been putting off reading it again. But since one of my goals is to cover all of Shakespeare’s work on this blog, I figured I might as well reread and write about this play.

As I was going through it and taking notes, a motif became apparent to me that seemed like an interesting topic to write about, and that is the use of opposites within the text.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare employs opposites to create tension in the language. These opposites also serve as metaphors symbolizing the contrary forces that are pulling at the characters in the play. And while these opposites are constantly at odds with each other, they are both necessary for maintaining a balance. Essentially, we need to learn how to deal with opposites in a constructive way if we want to maintain healthy relationships and a stable society.

So let’s look at some examples from the text.

During the first scene of the play, Romeo expresses the inner turmoil caused by his unrequited love for Rosaline by using a string of opposites.

Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O anything, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.

(Act I: scene i)

In Act II, Friar Laurence delivers a soliloquy regarding opposites in nature. One gets that sense that opposing forces are part of the divine order of things in the world, that you cannot have the glory of a sunrise without the darkness of night, or life without death, or growth without decay.

The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light,
And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels
From forth day’s path and Titan’s fiery wheels:
Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye,
The day to cheer and night’s dank dew to dry,
I must up-fill this osier cage of ours
With baleful weeds and precious-juiced flowers.
The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave that is her womb,
And from her womb children of divers kind
We sucking on her natural bosom find,
Many for many virtues excellent,
None but for some and yet all different.
O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
In herbs, plants, stones, and their true qualities:
For nought so vile that on the earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give,
Nor aught so good but strain’d from that fair use
Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse:
Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
And vice sometimes by action dignified.
Within the infant rind of this small flower
Poison hath residence and medicine power:
For this, being smelt, with that part cheers each part;
Being tasted, slays all senses with the heart.
Two such opposed kings encamp them still
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.

(Act II: scene iii)

Finally, we see Juliet using opposites to describe her struggle with conflicting emotions regarding Romeo. On the one hand, she loves him as a husband and soul mate, but at the same time she has feelings of hate and anger at the fact that Romeo killed Tybalt.

O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
Dove-feather’d raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem’st,
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell,
When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend
In moral paradise of such sweet flesh?
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!

(Act III: scene ii)

Our world seems much divided today. The Montagues and Capulets could symbolize any opposing groups: Democrats and Republicans, pro-life and pro-choice, for vaccines and against vaccines, the list could go on indefinitely. But what we need to learn from this play is that if we fail to reconcile our differences, then we will ultimately destroy ourselves, and people on both sides of the debates will suffer.

Thanks for stopping by, and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 42” by Lao Tzu

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Tao gave birth to One,
One gave birth to Two,
Two gave birth to Three,
Three gave birth to all the myriad things.

All the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their embrace,
Deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital Breaths.

What is more loathed by men than to be “helpless,” “little,” and “worthless”?
And yet these are the very names the princes and barons call themselves.

Truly, one may gain by losing;
And one may lose by gaining.

What another has taught let me repeat:
“A man of violence will come to a violent end.”
Whoever said this can be my teacher and my father.

As I began reading this passage, my mind was spinning with mystical symbolism. The first stanza, in my interpretation, presented occult idea of emanation as expressed in kabbalah, in Plotinus, in Christian mysticism, and so forth. I immediately began formulating my blog post in my mind, but as I reached the end, I knew that I would have to shift the focus of this post.

“A man of violence will come to a violent end.” How true. And it is a message that has been told over and over: “Those who live by the sword, will die by the sword.” “We reap what we sow.” “Instant karma’s gonna get you.” And yet, we still read about mass shootings on a regular basis. Violence and weapons proliferation have never been successful deterrents against aggression. And violence is not limited to gun violence against other people; it is also violence against our planet and the environment. If we continue to decimate the earth, we will ultimately decimate ourselves. We will reap what we sow. Personally, I would rather sow something beneficial.

Thanks for reading my musings. May you do great things.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 41” by Lao Tzu

When a wise scholar hears the Tao,
He practises it diligently.
When a mediocre scholar hears the Tao,
He wavers between belief and unbelief.
When a worthless scholar hears the Tao,
He laughs boisterously at it.
But if such a one does not laugh at it,
The Tao would not be the Tao!

The wise men of old have truly said:

The bright Way looks dim.
The progressive Way looks retrograde.
The smooth Way looks rugged.
High Virtue looks like an abyss.
Great whiteness looks spotted.
Abundant Virtue looks deficient.
Established Virtue looks shabby.
Solid Virtue looks as though melted.
Great squareness has no corners.
Great talents ripen late.
Great sound is silent.
Great Form is shapeless.

The Tao is hidden and nameless;
Yet it alone knows how to render help and to fulfill.

This passage can be summed up in a single line from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: “All that glisters is not gold—.” Things are never all they appear. But Lao Tzu is also incorporating the yin and yang into his metaphors. Everything by natures also contains its opposite. Great squareness has no corners. Great sound is silent. In other words, nothing can exist without the opposite to balance it. The wise scholar cannot exist without the worthless one. There can be no life without death, and no death without life. There can be no peace without war, and no war without peace. There can be no light without darkness.

I feel like this is all I need to say about this passage. It is simple and yet profound, which is the genius of Lao Tzu. Thanks for stopping by.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 39” by Lao Tzu

From of old there are not lacking things that have attained Oneness.
The sky attained Oneness and became clear;
The earth attained Oneness and became calm;
The spirits attained Oneness and became charged with mystical powers;
The fountains attained Oneness and became full;
The ten thousand creatures attained Oneness and became reproductive;
Barons and princes attained Oneness and became sovereign rulers of the world.
All of them are what they are by virtue of Oneness.

If the sky were not clear, it would be likely to fall to pieces;
If the earth were not calm, it would be likely to burst into bits;
If the spirits were not charged with mystical powers, they would be likely to cease from being;
If the fountains were not full, they would be likely to dry up;
If the ten thousand creatures were not reproductive, they would be likely to come to extinction;
If the barons and princes were not the sovereign rulers, they would be likely to stumble and fall.

Truly, humility is the root from which greatness springs,
And the high must be built upon the foundation of the low.

That is why barons and princes style themselves “The Helpless One,” “The Little One,” and “The Worthless One.”
Perhaps they too realize their dependence on the lowly.

Truly, too much honour means no honour.
It is not wise to shine like jade and resound like stone-chimes.

I found this passage to be challenging, but after reading it a couple times, I think I finally understand the essence.

Nothing can attain its fullness or true nature unless it is aligned with the One, or the divine source of all being. Essentially, this means everything must exist in balance with itself and the world around it. To be in balance is to accept your dependence upon other people and upon nature in general. Regardless of how great or powerful a person or thing may appear, it is always dependent upon other things to support it. A mountain could not reach the skies without a firm foundation on the earth. Likewise, elevated individuals could not reach their heights without the support of the people around them.

In Western culture, especially here in the United States, importance is placed on the individual, and the rights of the individual. This, in my opinion, has contributed to the social issues that we are grappling with. Eventually, we must learn to live in balance and think of ourselves as one with the people around us, or we will dry up like the fountain that is not full.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 35” by Lao Tzu

He who holds the Great Symbol will attract all things to him.
They flock to him and receive no harm, for in him they find peace, security and happiness.

Music and dainty dishes can only make a passing guest pause.
But the words of Tao possess lasting effects,
Though they are mild and flavourless,
Though they appeal neither to the eye nor to the ear.

This passage is a wonderful example of the beauty of this text. Lau Tzu expresses a wealth of wisdom in a mere six lines.

In the first stanza, we are presented with a leader who has incorporated balance into his life. The Great Symbol is the yin and yang, representing the balance of opposing energies and ideas. Because this ideal leader embodies balance, people feel comfortable and safe around the leader. They know that this person will govern from a place of fairness and not from ego or the desire for power.

In the second stanza, Lau Tzu uses “music and dainty dishes” as a metaphor for lavish entertainment intended to distract individuals from what is truly important. Truth and wisdom are often less enchanting to the casual observer, but this is the place from where lasting goodness and compassion spring. Sound and steady guidance may be less appealing to the eye or ear, but it is much more appealing to the heart and spirit.

While this passage was intended as guidance for a leader, on a personal level I find it applies to my own spiritual path. It is easy to be dazzled by transcendent visions, or ecstatic states of consciousness, but these can often distract a seeker from the path to wisdom and enlightenment. It is the steady practice of meditation, of incorporating spiritual values into everyday life, that will ultimately bring you the greatest spiritual growth. I have had some intense spiritual experiences in my life, but I try not to focus on recapturing those states. Instead, I do the less appealing spiritual work: study, meditation, self examination, and so forth. I see this passage as an affirmation of the path I am on.

Thanks for sharing in my musings. I would love to hear your thoughts on this passage. Feel free to post in the comments section below. Cheers!

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 34” by Lao Tzu

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The Great Tao is universal like a flood.
How can it be turned to the right or to the left?

All creatures depend on it,
And it denies nothing to anyone.

It does its work,
But it makes no claims for itself.

It clothes and feeds all,
But it does not lord it over them:
Thus, it may be called “the Little.”

All things return to it as to their home,
But it does not lord it over them:
Thus, it may be called “the Great.”

It is just because it does not wish to be great
That its greatness is fully realised.

As I read this passage and contemplated it, I got the sense of the Tao as both the source and the destination. Consider the metaphor that Lao Tzu uses of the flood. All water has the ocean as its source, and all water eventually flows back to the ocean. It is the same with the spirit. All spirits have the Divine as their source, and all spirits return to the Divine. And just as a flood can be both destructive and nourishing, so can the human soul be destructive and nourishing. But ultimately, it is all part of the same flow.

I frequently need to remind myself that there is always a balance between the positive and the negative. So much attention is focused on the negative that it is easy to overlook the fact that there is exactly the same amount of positive in the universe. One can never exceed the other. It then just becomes a question of where do we want to focus our attention. For me, I try to just acknowledge the negative while focusing on the positive. That seems to work best in managing the broad swings of the pendulum.

Thanks for taking the time to read my musings, and I hope you have a blessed day.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 19” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

Drop wisdom, abandon cleverness,
And the people will be benefited a hundredfold.

Drop humanity, abandon justice,
And the people will return to their natural affections.

Drop shrewdness, abandon sharpness,
And robbers and thieves will cease to be.

These three are the criss-cross of Tao,
And are not sufficient in themselves.
Therefore, they should be subordinated
To a Higher principle:
See the Simple and embrace the Primal,
Diminish the self and curb the desires!

This passage appears to be related to Chapter 18. The difference appears to be that this chapter seems to be directed at leaders and how to apply the Taoist principles when governing.

By imposing one’s wisdom and cleverness upon others, you deny people the chance to learn and develop on their own.  By forcing one’s ideas of humanity and justice upon others, you deny them the chance to develop compassion and empathy. Finally, when ruling shrewdly and with sharp discipline, people will become resentful and will ultimately steal from you or openly rebel.

It seems counterintuitive that doing things which seem positive will foster negative results, but this is what the Tao teaches. Everything balances itself, and there must always be equal amounts of positive and negative energy. So, “diminish the self and curb the desires” and allow nature to guide individuals as it deems fit.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 18” by Lao Tzu

LaoTzu

When the Great Tao was abandoned,
There appeared humanity and justice.
When intelligence and wit arose,
There appeared great hypocrites.
When the six relations lost their harmony,
There appeared filial piety and paternal kindness.
When darkness and disorder began to reign in a kingdom,
There appeared the loyal ministers.

This is a very short but powerful passage describing something that I see manifesting every day. This chapter describes how nature is constantly adjusting itself to maintain a balance.

In the passage, Lau Tzu provides examples of instances where things happen—whether they be positive or negative—and as a result, the opposite occurs to a degree equivalent with the original occurrence. The reason for this is because yin and yang must remain in balance; one cannot assume dominance over the other. Nature maintains a perfect equilibrium, regardless of what we as humans do.

We see examples of this in our present world. Politically, one party moves farther to an extreme, and consequently, the opposing party moves farther to their extreme. Environmentally, humans attempt to subjugate nature, and nature in turn unleashes more powerful storms. Economically, wealth increases for some, and proportionally decreases for others. The examples go on and on.

I used to be very concerned about what was happening in the world; but now, I am less concerned. It is not that I am apathetic or do not feel sadness when I see what humans are doing to themselves and the planet, I just also see nature responding and correcting. Humanity may not survive in its current state, or may not survive at all, but nature will continue and maintain harmony. I hope we can realize this and learn to live in balance, but whether we do or not remains to be seen.

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“Sonnet 19: Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws” by William Shakespeare

Portrait of a Young Man: Piero di Cosimo

Portrait of a Young Man: Piero di Cosimo

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;
Make glad and sorry seasons as thou fleet’st,
And do whate’er thou wilt, swift-footed Time,
To the wide world and all her fading sweets;
But I forbid thee one most heinous crime:
O, carve not with thy hours my love’s fair brow,
Nor draw no lines there with thine antique pen;
Him in thy course untainted do allow
For beauty’s pattern to succeeding men.
Yet, do thy worst, old Time: despite thy wrong,
My love shall in my verse ever live young.

This is another romantic fair youth sonnet in which Shakespeare expresses his longing to immortalize the young man’s beauty through poetry. But I noticed something interesting about this sonnet which I feel gives some insight into the fair youth and why Shakespeare found him so attractive. The key is in the first four lines:

Devouring Time, blunt thou the lion’s paws,
And make the earth devour her own sweet brood;
Pluck the keen teeth from the fierce tiger’s jaws,
And burn the long-lived phoenix in her blood;

Here we have four metaphors, two symbolizing masculine strength and beauty, and two representing feminine. In lines 1 and 3, the lion and the tiger symbolize the masculine, images of strength, manly grace, and power. In lines 2 and 4, we have the earth and the phoenix, feminine symbols of beauty associated with creation and rebirth. The fact that Shakespeare vacillates between the masculine and feminine implies that the young man to whom the sonnet is composed possesses a balance of masculine and feminine qualities, allowing him to transcend the concept of gender-based beauty. And because the youth’s physical traits encompass both masculine and feminine beauty, he becomes, in Shakespeare’s eyes, the paragon of what human beauty should be.

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“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 3” by Lao Tzu

TaoTehChing

By not exalting the talented you will cause the people to cease from rivalry and contention.
By not prizing goods hard to get, you will cause the people to cease from robbing and stealing.
By not displaying what is desirable, you will cause the people’s hearts to remain undisturbed.

Therefore, the Sage’s way of governing begins by

Emptying the heart of desires,
Filling the belly with food,
Weakening the ambitions,
Toughening the bones.

In this way he will cause the people to remain without knowledge and without desire, and prevent the knowing ones from any ado.

Practice Non-Ado, and everything will be in order.

As I read this, I thought about just how different the paradigm or our western consumer society is from the way of governing depicted here. Our society feeds on the stirring of people’s desires. We feed our society with a constant stream of imagery about how their life should be, about the status they should attain, where they should live, what they should eat, the right clothes to wear. On and on it goes, like a carrot dangling in front of a horse, always within sight but never within reach.

It is a sad truth that a society built upon constant craving and wants cannot sustain itself. We will eventually deplete all our resources and collapse upon ourselves.

Will we be able to stop filling our hearts with desire and instead practice contentment with what we have? Will we start to feed the hungry within our society instead of hoarding for ourselves? Will we start educating people to think about the common good instead of personal and individual ambition? And will we finally find a way to strengthen our society from the inside, to toughen the bones that frame our civilization?

These are difficult if not impossible questions to answer. But by at least thinking about them and discussing them, we take the first step toward a more spiritual and sustainable culture.

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