top of page

Distortion to Destiny: The Masks which led to Romeo and Juliet

Shaasvata Nalakumar

Distortion. A word defined as the art of twisting or altering something out of its natural state. A word defined by the negative connotation it carries on its back, especially in modern society. Sci-fi movies, novels, and video games depict this phenomenon through the use of gory monsters, horrific beasts, and unearthly creatures that are all distorted precisely because they challenge and twist the norms of mainstream science concerning what life forms can exist on Earth. The concept is also placed within a negative context due to certain news and media outlets constantly manipulating factual information to promote a heavily biased view. Perhaps modernity is to blame, then – modern society often tends to gnarl and disown concepts of the past to such an extent that said concept is associated with the diction and connotation that modern society has assigned it, which might be crooked. This is the case with the concept of distortion, too. Now, of course, manipulation in the news should indeed be deemed as negative and so should the ghastly, villainous monsters in sci-fi movies. However, society must recognize the positive contexts and connotations in which distortion appears to the same degree they recognize the negative aspects. Ultimately, whilst modernity failed to do this, William Shakespeare succeeded, as his famous tragedy play Romeo and Juliet portrays distortion as an asset. 

Despite Romeo and Juliet being a classic text studied and analyzed in countless English classes, its message on distortion remains to be diffused. The two star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, are born into warring families, with Romeo being a member of the Montague family whilst Juliet is the daughter of Lord and Lady Capulet. Their families’ rivalry over power spans centuries and predates the birth of both Romeo and Juliet. Despite this, Romeo at the age of 17, attends the masquerade ball hosted by Lord Capulet in an attempt to charm Rosaline (his love before Juliet) who is on the guest list. He is comforted by the theme of the masquerade ball as he can swiftly obscure his true identity through masks and costumes. The distortion of identity that the masks initially provide him works to his benefit: Romeo attends the masquerade in a disguise that does more than conceal him, for it is a disguise that protects him from the eyes of certain Capulet family members. Unfortunately,  Tybalt (Juliet’s older cousin) recognized Romeo because he was familiar with his voice and manner of speaking. When Lord Capulet hears of this, he instructs Tybalt not to harm Romeo as it is quite late into the party and he wishes not to cause a scene to maintain a quality reputation amongst his peers. It is crucial to note that Romeo’s mask, his form of distortion, does not reveal his identity, but rather it is the undistorted aspect of his being, his voice, which does this, thus the masks should be deemed as effective. With his twisted identity and concealment, Romeo ignites a misinterpretation amongst the majority of guests at the party, including Juliet herself, thereby facilitating his eventual destiny. 

When young Romeo arrives at the ball, he does not encounter Rosaline (who is another cousin of Juliet’s) as he originally planned, but meets Juliet, his destiny, instead. When the two first meet their masked personas are both distorted from each other, as Romeo is unaware that the girl he is attracted to is in fact the daughter of his family’s enemy. In a way, it leads them to adopt temporary, new characters. They are simply two, young individuals who fell in love at first sight instead of the children of warring enemies. Their masks and costumes are the mediums at play here which enable both parties to engage in playful filtration and discussion, kindling their immediate love for one another. As this happens, the infamous kiss between Romeo and Juliet ensues, marking a pivotal moment in the story and the official beginning of their relationship. The anonymity and freedom permitted by the costumes and masks give both parties the liberty to interact with each other and explore the relationship for a while. To reiterate, they are able to interact as two normal people would do, rather than as two enemies. In sharp contrast to how distortion is used in modern-day media, the masks’ distortion of their identities allows them to eliminate any prejudice or bias against each other and highlights the focus on personality and character instead of a family name. 

In conclusion, Romeo and Juliet portrays how distortion is a tool that can be used to accomplish both positive and negative actions, whilst also shedding light on how modernity as a whole has twisted distortion into a solely negative concept without recognizing the circumstances in which it can be an asset. Sci-fi novels and movies are a great enjoyment to modern society primarily because of their contortive abilities and they should continue to be so, yet society should not be fooled into thinking that distortion only carries a negative connotation or meaning due to modernity’s sci-fi movies or false news spread on the media. Once again, it should be remembered that distortion can be used to perform both beneficial and harmful tasks, and as a result, it should be deemed with an ambivalent point of view.

bottom of page