The Complex Nature of Human Selfishness in "Romeo and Juliet"

Categories: Romeo And Juliet

Human beings, the most dominant species on Earth, have long been a subject of fascination and scrutiny. One perplexing aspect of human nature is our propensity for selfishness. Are humans inherently selfish creatures, driven by a desire to elevate themselves above others, or is this inclination a result of societal influences? In this in-depth exploration, we delve into the multifaceted dimensions of human selfishness, drawing insights from two distinct perspectives presented in Shakespeare's timeless classic, "Romeo and Juliet," and Bob Herbert's poignant article, "Romeo and Juliet in Bosnia.

" While some argue that these texts reveal the inherent compassion within humans, a closer examination reveals that they, in fact, shed light on the darker aspects of human nature - our inclination towards recklessness and selfishness.

The Reckless Love in "Romeo and Juliet"

Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is a quintessential portrayal of reckless and selfish love, primarily embodied by the titular characters. Their impulsive and passionate desire to be together, regardless of the consequences, serves as a poignant illustration of human recklessness.

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The narrative unfolds through the lens of Friar Laurence, who inadvertently becomes a witness to their audacious love story.

Romeo and Juliet's imprudent decision to marry, without considering the ongoing feud between their families, exemplifies their recklessness. They enlist Friar Laurence to officiate their union, with little regard for the potential repercussions. Romeo and Juliet's tunnel vision focuses solely on their love, blinding them to the larger context of the Montague-Capulet conflict. This singular fixation on their desires is emblematic of human selfishness.

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Shakespeare reinforces this theme of recklessness and selfishness when Romeo is exiled for his role in Tybalt's death. In despair, Romeo laments that he would rather die than be separated from Juliet. Friar Laurence chastises him, reminding him of the prince's leniency in sparing his life. However, Romeo's response, driven by selfish longing, reveals his failure to appreciate this act of mercy: "O deadly sin! O rude unthankfulness! / Thy fault our law calls death; but the kind Prince, / Taking thy part, hath rushed aside the law, / And turned that black word 'death' to 'banishment.' / This is dear mercy, and thou seest it not" (Shakespeare, Act III, Scene III).

Romeo's myopic focus on his love for Juliet blinds him to the larger picture. His unwillingness to acknowledge the prince's clemency underscores the egocentrism inherent in his character. This moment encapsulates the essence of human selfishness - the inability to appreciate the perspectives and kindness of others when consumed by one's desires.

The Reckless Love in "Romeo and Juliet in Bosnia"

Bob Herbert's article, "Romeo and Juliet in Bosnia," presents another perspective on reckless love and selfishness. Herbert's portrayal of the tragic love story of Bosko and Admira, set against the backdrop of the Bosnian War, provides a unique lens through which to examine human behavior.

While Herbert's interpretation of the lovers' deaths may be viewed as a testament to compassion, it is essential to recognize the parallels between Bosko and Admira's love story and that of Romeo and Juliet. Both couples engage in reckless love, defying societal norms and risking their lives for the sake of their passion. In this context, their actions can be seen as a manifestation of human selfishness - the prioritization of personal desires over rationality and safety.

Bosko and Admira's decision to run away together across a perilous bridge, situated in a no-man's land between the Serb and Muslim lines, mirrors Romeo and Juliet's audacity in pursuing their love despite familial enmity. While Herbert may interpret the lovers' actions as symbols of hope, their recklessness and disregard for the dangers they face align with the theme of human selfishness. Both couples prioritize their love above all else, ignoring the potential consequences of their actions.

It is worth noting that Shakespeare's and Herbert's perspectives diverge, with the former highlighting the tragedy of love's recklessness and the latter emphasizing the potential for compassion amid conflict. However, the underlying thread in both narratives remains the same - the portrayal of human beings as creatures capable of acting impulsively and selfishly in the pursuit of their desires.

Human Selfishness and Shakespeare's Motivation

While some may argue that "Romeo and Juliet" contains elements of compassion, it is crucial to examine the motivation behind Shakespeare's composition. Shakespeare, a prolific playwright of his time, was acutely aware of the preferences and sensibilities of his audience. His decision to conclude the play optimistically, with the reconciliation of feuding families following the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, reflects his understanding of human nature and entertainment value.

Shakespeare's primary aim was not to impart a moral lesson but to provide entertainment to the masses. The tragic ending of the play may have held a more profound reflection of reality, acknowledging the consequences of reckless love, but such a conclusion would have been less appealing to the audience. Therefore, Shakespeare's portrayal of compassion and reconciliation can be interpreted as a reflection of his own selfishness - the desire to cater to popular tastes and secure financial success (Ghose, 2006).

In essence, Shakespeare's artistic choices, while masterful and thought-provoking, do not necessarily reflect a belief in the inherent compassion of humanity. Instead, they reveal the complex interplay between artistic ambition and commercial considerations. Shakespeare's willingness to manipulate the narrative to cater to audience preferences underscores the multifaceted nature of human selfishness.

The Broader Implications of Human Selfishness

Human selfishness, as exemplified in the recklessness and egotism of characters like Romeo, Juliet, Bosko, and Admira, extends beyond the confines of literature and into our daily lives. It is a reflection of the intricate tapestry of human nature, shaped by societal influences, individual desires, and the interplay between the two.

One aspect of human selfishness that transcends literary boundaries is our inclination to seek a longer life span, a desire not shared by other species. This pursuit of longevity, driven by a fear of mortality, has led to unchecked population growth, resulting in the depletion of resources and environmental degradation. In this regard, human selfishness poses a significant threat to our planet's sustainability.

Moreover, our propensity for reckless and selfish behavior is not limited to romantic pursuits. It manifests in various facets of life, from political decisions that prioritize short-term gains over long-term stability to economic practices that exploit resources without regard for future generations. The consequences of such selfishness are felt globally, impacting societies, ecosystems, and the well-being of future generations.


In conclusion, the exploration of human selfishness through the lenses of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Romeo and Juliet in Bosnia" reveals the multifaceted nature of this complex trait. While some may argue that these texts highlight the innate compassion within humans, a closer examination uncovers the presence of recklessness and selfishness in our actions and motivations.

Shakespeare's artistic choices in "Romeo and Juliet," motivated by the desire for commercial success, underscore the interplay between entertainment and human selfishness. Bob Herbert's portrayal of the Bosnian lovers, while emphasizing compassion in the face of conflict, also exposes the recklessness and egotism inherent in their pursuit of love.

Human selfishness, as demonstrated in these texts, extends beyond fiction and infiltrates our daily lives, influencing decisions that impact our planet's sustainability and the well-being of future generations. While the road to change may seem daunting, acknowledging the presence of selfishness within us is the first step towards fostering greater empathy, responsible decision-making, and a more harmonious coexistence.

Updated: Jan 17, 2024
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The Complex Nature of Human Selfishness in "Romeo and Juliet". (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Complex Nature of Human Selfishness in "Romeo and Juliet" essay
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