By Raashika Goyal
For Professor Patricia “Patsy” Culbert, as for many millions around the world, the most compelling love story is Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” – as she describes it, “it’s poetry, it’s action on stage, it’s the penultimate love story… it informed for me a sense of the hugeness of love for the rest of my life.” As a fourteen-year-girl, she memorized the entire seven-minute balcony speech, and remembers it to this day. Right as she says this, in characteristic dramatic bravado, she begins to earnestly and vocally flow through the passionate lines, arms open wide, eyes full of theatrical ardor, as if she were living it for the first time.
What speaks to her most about the play, she says, is how powerful Romeo and Juliet’s love is, because it is love against all odds – indeed, the grand passion of love is constantly repressed throughout the drama, tragically ending with both of their deaths. But, she argues, quoting the last words of the play – “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” – the tragedy was an inevitable one, because their love was a confluence of so many different passions that could not coexist. “We finish the play with a feeling that they had a love most of us never get to touch,” Professor Culbert says with fervor – “the grandness of love is only experienced when it’s experienced against all odds.”
Even the novels that profoundly provoke her fall under the same theme of “love that is battered, suppressed, denied, killed – and still survives”: Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, Edith Wharton’s “Age of Innocence”, and Charles Dickens’ “A Bleak House”. All of these depict “the raw passion of love – love that results when we can’t help ourselves.” She’s a romantic, a believer in love at first sight, even though she acknowledges that in that moment, there are so many thoughts an individual has to confront it becomes hard to separate, for example, lust from love. She poignantly justifies her opinion by saying, “sometimes love is wrong, sometimes misguided, sometimes dangerous, but it is one of the things that makes us human.”
When asked what makes love so difficult to describe and capture, Professor Culbert remarks while a sense of love can be captured in an image, in words, a relationship, it’s much bigger than that. It “encompasses so many things – it requires incredible courage, brings to the forefront our fears, offers hope. As an actress,” she adds, “love is probably the hardest thing to portray. Anger is easy – it’s just singular. But the thing with love is, it’s not love until it’s returned. Unrequited love is the saddest thing of all. In order to love a character, you have to love the person portrayed by him. You have to establish that understanding, because love isn’t nonspecific – it’s very specific to time, place, relationship, and your hopes and desires.”
As she looks around the posters in her room, she realizes that all of them consisted of some form of love or another, leading her to squeal, “everything is about love!” Growing up in a religious and spiritual household, Professor Culbert has always viewed love as “something that guides us, an omnipresent spirit that is larger than us, unites all human beings, and sees us for who we truly are.” Love between people is the same way, she concludes, because “really loving somebody means seeing and accepting someone for they are.” She says while she’s been lucky in love throughout her life, being a mother taught her the true strength of love, and allowed her to understand why it’s the most powerful force on Earth.
As a closing statement, Professor Culbert says, with great dignity, “if we don’t have love, we don’t have life – it’s hollow. It doesn’t even have to be a person – it could be a project, an idea you’re pursuing, or a pet. Just something you’re impassioned about, a relationship where it feeds you and you feed it… living a life of love is so important. If we don’t have it, we’re empty. Love fills every need, answers every question, demands our full investment, and gives us reason for life.”