Tuesday, April 1, 2008

An Economic Way of Thinking about Romeo and Juliet - Act Two

Scene one finds Mercutio and Benvolio seeking for Romeo. They still think he is enamored of Rosaline. But they are wrong. As they disappear, the scene melts into the second scene – the famous balcony scene. And in this scene, there is much ado about choosing. They debate whether to choose other names. They choose to be with one another rather than avoid discovery – even though the choice has a cost. They ultimately choose to marry. The young lovers respond to the incentives – each other’s company and going against the institutions of familial prohibitions. This last choice is not unusual, certainly not for teenagers. And it is a choice grounded in something economists refer to as “psychic income.” This is an emotional profit from an interchange or transaction. And it provides to be as valid an incentive as monetary income. Our lovers choose, and in choosing respond to incentives.

The third scene is fairly short. It takes place in Friar Lawrence’s cell. Romeo arrives and informs the good Friar that Rosaline no longer is the object of his affection. He then requests that the cleric unite him and Juliet in matrimony. A choice thus appears. The good friar’s incentive is to unite two feuding houses and thus restore peace to the city. Given his profession, it’s hard to see how he can resist. (Actually, we can make a case that given his profession it’s hard to see why he would accept.) But incentives act differently on individuals according to their values. Once again, we have incentives (bringing peace to Verona through marriage), and choice (agreeing to unite Romeo and Juliet in matrimony).

Likewise, scene four offers little for us to analyze. A good portion of the scene is made up of taunting and jesting between Mercutio, Benvolio, and Romeo. At some point they are joined by Juliet’s Nurse who brings tidings to Romeo. Romeo, in turn, asks the nurse to bring Juliet to the chambers of Friar Lawrence for the wedding ceremony, and later to provide a rope so that Romeo can scale the Capulet wall and join Juliet for a honeymoon. The nurse readily agrees. The only real example of economic thinking in this scene is a brief speech by Romeo in which he describes the circumstances in which he would draw a weapon and come to the Nurse’s aide. In short, we have some insight into how people choose. Specifically, we now know some of the incentive that would move Romeo to choose to fight. This is not to say it is the only incentive, as we shall see. But, it does allow us to examine some of his values.

Scene five is short but has a clear statement of choice. Juliet’s nurse brings Romeo’s message. She recounts the incentives for choosing Romeo – many of which are physical. And then presents Juliet with the decision, telling her that if she would marry Romeo, she must go to Friar Lawrence’s cell. We are actually left hanging, but Nurse implies that Juliet is leaving, for she goes to find the rope ladder. The incentive (marriage and being with her love) is in place and Juliet chooses.

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