I feel that anyone who believes Romeo & Juliet is about some kind of Great and Timeless Love TM* needs to see this.
WE WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT THIS TODAY IN MY SHAKESPEARE CLASS.
If you go and actually read what Romeo says to Benvolio in the first scene, you will realize that he is only upset because HE WANTED ROSALINE’S BODY AND SHE SAID NO AND SO ROMEO WAS MOPING AND PITCHING A FIT ABOUT IT. Then, the second he lays eyes on Juliet, he’s basically saying
During the balcony scene, Romeo talks about how he scaled the wall of the garden to see Juliet. That is not romantic. That is disrespectful to her. This is a private area of the Capulet home, and Capulet built the wall around it to protect his daughter. This was a time when a woman’s virtue was the most important thing she owned. If Juliet was found with a man in this very private part of her home, everyone would think she was no longer a virgin, her reputation would be ruined, and it would be much harder, if not impossible, for her father to make a good marriage.
Speaking of good marriages, Count Paris is seen as the bad guy because he “comes between” Romeo and Juliet. Capulet had arranged for Paris to marry Juliet in 2 years time, when she would be 16, in a time when most women were already married and mothers by the time they were Juliet’s age at (almost but not quite) 14. Most fathers would have already had their daughters married by now, but he wants to wait two more years AND PARIS IS OKAY WITH THAT. Not only that, but Paris is young (her father could have had her married to a 60 year old man), titled (he’s a fucking Count), wealthy (again, he’s a count, which means Juliet will have financial stability), and, from what we see of him, he is a very good guy. Capulet could have done a LOT worse in choosing his son-in-law.
Finally, here’s something to consider: Juliet was 13, Romeo was 17. Their relationship lasted 3 days, defied their parents, and ended in the deaths of 6 people.
If I ever hear you say that Romeo and Juliet is the greatest love story ever told, I will bitch slap you.
That is all.
And then, in Shakespeare’s next play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” he basically went out of his way to make fun of the people who thought that Romeo and Juliet was so deep and romantic in writing the “Pyramus and Thisbe” sequence performed by a bunch of lousy, middle-aged men who saw too deep into it.
Rejected dude on the rebound initiates a murder-suicide, OMG GREATEST LOVE STORY EVER TOLD.
Bitch I have a degree in this, so you can fucking try to bitchslap me but I will punch you in the face, because you have serious genuine factual errors and reading comprehension FAIL.
Which is to say, without the nasty attitude, this post is actually wrong about a bunch of stuff.
POINT THE FIRST: Let’s start with the stuff about Juliet and Paris. Let’s also start with this “everything you ‘know’ is actually wrong” problem with the idea that sixteen was a normal marriage age.
It wasn’t. The average age of marriage in Shakespeare’s day and culture was MID-TWENTIES. Marriage of kids younger than that was something the aristocracy did, mostly to secure alliances, and was seen as kind of squicky. Even there, a lot of those young people stayed with their parents until their late teens. It was rare – not Unheard of, but rare – for girls younger than that to be encouraged to have children because, bluntly, IT TENDED TO KILL THEM, and that’s a waste of a good alliance.
Further, Italy was the place where you set stories when you wanted to get away with Ridiculous Edge Cases. You know how, like, _The King and I_ is set in “Siam” so these things can be pushed to their ludicrous and most violent edges? Same with setting shit in Italy. English audiences would go LOL THOSE CRAY ITALIANS AMIRITE and not get hung up on feeling insulted/etc. The fact that Juliet’s thirteen and Paris is going “younger than she are happy mothers made” and her dad’s giving in etc is SUPPOSED to be skeezy as fuck. Paris pushing for her marriage RIGHT AFTER Tybalt dies and, again, her dad giving in is SUPPOSED to look like they’re being assholes, because they ARE. Capulet threatening to throw Juliet out on the street when she doesn’t want to marry Paris isn’t supposed to be “normal”, it’s supposed to make him look like the pride-bound domineering asshole he is.
Same with the whole “walled up young woman” thing: that’s another “those fucking Italians, lol” touch.
Which brings us to POINT THE SECOND: Romeo and Juliet’s love affair didn’t kill no-fucking-body.
THE FEUD killed four people (Mercrutio, Tybalt, Romeo and Juliet) and Paris being a fucking gross and uncompassionate selfrighteous dick killed two more.
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT Mercrutio and Tybalt! The morning after the Capulet party, Tybalt wants to kill Romeo. He wants to kill him, not because of his cousin – as neither he nor anyone else has the FAINTEST IDEA that Romeo and Juliet are in love – but because Romeo showed up at the Capulet party the night before PERIOD.
One: Romeo didn’t even want to go to the party. Mercrutio insisted (and insisted, and insisted) that they gate-crash in masks. Two, Capulet, Tybalt’s uncle and the head of his family and THE GUY IN CHARGE basically told Tybalt to chill out, it’s fine. Tybalt’s devotion to The Feud is so intense that he’s ignoring that because of the ~*insult*~ Romeo has done the Capulets. Three, the Prince just said YESTER-FUCKING-DAY that if he caught anyone feuding again he was going to kill them.
Remember the previous day? When Romeo didn’t know Juliet from Eve nor she from Adam, but we opened the play with servants fantasizing about killing the other sides male servants and raping their female ones? Because of The Feud? Just checking.
Tybalt gives no fucks. Tybalt is going to avenge ~*his family’s honour*~ by at the very least beating the shit out of if not killing Romeo.
And you know what Romeo does *because of his love for and romance with Juliet?*
He refuses to engage. He says no, Tybalt, I know you hate me but I don’t hate you and I’m not going to pay attention to the insults you’re slinging at me, I apologize for wrongs I’ve done, let’s call it all fair. No, I’m still not gonna fight you even if you keep insulting me.
For love of Juliet, Romeo tries like crazy NOT TO FIGHT.
Mercrutio, on the other hand, either can’t stand to see Romeo insulted or thinks because he’s the Prince’s nephew he’s special and the no-brawling rule doesn’t apply to him, pulls out his sword and starts to fight. It’s IRONIC that in trying to stop Tybalt and Mercrutio, Romeo gets in the way of Mercrutio’s parry and gets stabbed, but it’s also Mercrutio’s own damn fault. His “a plague o’both your houses” speech may be very quotable and thunderous, but it’s also hypocritical as hell, considering how DELIGHTED he was to participate in their Feud for his own amusement right up till he got stabbed.
(Watch out for Shakespeare: he likes to do things like that.)
This, really, is the point of the entire prince’s bloodline in this play: they every damn one of them think they can just sort of ignore or deal lightly with the Feud, and the Feud gets them.
So that’s two for the Feud.
Then Juliet fakes her own death. Well, actually, after being told by her father she has no choice but to marry Paris whether she wants to or not, and RIGHT NOW, or he’ll physically throw her out on the streets to starve to death or whore herself, she shows up in Friar Lawrence’s cell saying “fix this or I will fucking kill myself.”
And Friar Lawrence is a coward and fails her. Because here’s the thing: she and Romeo are married. End of story. All Lawrence has to do to FORCE the Prince to get involved and give them protection (or for that matter the local bishops and even the pope) is walk out there and say “they’re married, I witnessed it, we’re done.”
The thing is, this is entirely likely to get the FRIAR into a metric shittonne of trouble. So instead he concocts this huge complicated bullshit plan, and to the appearance of everyone except Lawrence and Juliet, she dies. Then Romeo thinks she’s dead so he kills himself, then she finds him dead and kills HERSELF and wait why was this all a problem in the first place?
OH RIGHT, because of the Feud. (Otherwise frankly the Romeo/Juliet match is fucking AMAZING and would give both families the economic power to dominate Italy. Seriously they’re idiots.)
Now, on his way in to kill himself Romeo also kills Paris and Paris’ servant, in both cases in self-defense. They’re there because despite Juliet rejecting him Paris basically feels a proprietary ownership of her DEAD BODY because her father promised him her living one. Basically.
Just think about that for a while. Think of how GROSS that is. Because it’s really gross.
Those are the only two deaths you can sooooort of blame on the actual romance. I feel they’re more appropriately blamed on patriarchy, but whatever makes you happy.
But. The point is: THIS PLAY IS ABOUT HOW THE FEUD KILLS PEOPLE. Like it literally tells us this in the prologue. “Two households, both alike in dignity/in fair Verona where we lay our scene/from ancient grudge break to new mutiny/where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” Aka “so these two idiot families start brawling and killing each other over an old grudge.” The relevance of the children is not that they were in love: it’s that they were BECAUSE of their parents DOOMED. That’s what “star-crossed” means. It means “you are fucked”. It means “fate says you can’t have this.” Their “misadventured, piteous overthrows” – aka their fucked up, incredibly sad efforts – “doth with their death bury their parents’ strife.”
This is a tragedy about how THEIR PARENTS STRIFE killed them. They’re doomed from the start. And you know what Romeo and Juliet’s romance – their “death-marked love”, which is to say “the love that will get THEM killed” – ACTUALLY FUCKING DOES?
It saves Verona.
“The fearful passage of their death-marked love/and the continuance of their parents’ rage/WHICH BUT THEIR CHILDREN’S END, NAUGHT COULD REMOVE/is now the two-hours’ traffic of our stage.”
Again, translating for those who need it: this really sad and fear-inducing story of their totally fucking doomed romance, and how NOTHING BUT THEM DYING would make their parents stop fighting, is what we’re going to show you in the next two hours.”
People were already dying from the feud. They were being injured. Property was being damaged. Brawls were spreading out and killing innocent bystanders. *The Montagues and Capulets were effectively having a gang war.* What Romeo and Juliet did was *make it stop*. Except that everyone involved, the Prince included, had their heads so far up their asses that nothing but their children killing THEMSELVES because of THE PARENTS’ ACTIONS (or in the Prince’s case two of his relatives getting killed along the way) could make them realize oh shit, this is not good, and make peace.
The Prince reiterates this in his closing remarks, in case anyone missed it, even blaming himself: “and I, for winking at your discords, too have lost a brace of kinsmen.”
Modern readers should actually hone in on this pretty well, because we’re still doing this shit. The publicized suicides of queer kids, of girls who were raped, of trans kids – notice how there are all these things a lot of society was fucking ignoring until those happened?
(And actually killing yourself explicitly to bring attention to the wrongs and abuses being done to you that you cannot escape was a cultural norm even then, and can be found behind a ton of ghost stories and revenge stories. Shakespeare knew what he was doing.)
POINT THE THIRD: let’s talk about Romeo and Rosalind vs Romeo and Juliet.
Some context: Shakespeare is not a boy band. Shakespeare is Fall Out Boy. NEVER take anything he’s saying at surface level. His most famous cycle of sonnets is actually a super bleak charting of the failure of love between an older and younger man that sort of devolves into this sordid triangle between Narrator, Golden Youth and Dark Lady, and that whole “my mistress’ eyes” sonnet is nowhere near as complimentary or appearance-positive as people seem to think it is. (The Narrator – who is a character in his own right – is tearing down other women, not elevating his mistress.)
So there was this guy named Petrarch, who popularized the sonnet to HIS format (in Italian) by writing a whole bunch of poems to Laura, who was unobtainable, not interested in him, and eventually dead. THIS BECAME THE FASHION: devoted love and adoration to this woman you couldn’t have, who didn’t want you, and perferrably died chaste so you could idealize her without fear she’d do something human. And Romeo is ABSOLUTELY being a Pining Petrarchan Lover with Rosalind. He’s also writing cliche drivel so cliche it’s MEANT to sound like cliche drivel, to a woman we never even see on-stage.
Then there’s Juliet. And you know what the BIG difference is with Juliet?
Juliet is right there. She’s *PARTICIPANT*. She is matching him passion for passion and lust for lust and, in poetic form, EVEN LINE FOR LINE. Their speech together COMBINES into sonnets – SHAKESPEAREAN sonnets, aka the form Shakespeare made up for himself because he thought Petrarch’s wasn’t as cool. And suddenly cliches are being thrown out. The cliche was the mistress being the moon: fuck it, Romeo says, Juliet is the SUN; the cliche was to swear by the moon, the stars, and Juliet says no don’t do that, swear by YOU. They even get into blasphemy. Juliet is the OPPOSITE of a Petrarchan mistress: she is right there, she is SO right into Romeo right back, she’s alive, and the more he encounters her and the more she’s human and wanting and silly and joking the more he adores her. He loves her MORE after they’ve fucked, after Juliet is manifestly no longer the chaste unachievable idol.
Is it true love? Who knows. They’re both babies, and it’s a play: conventions of the theatre DO allow for people to fall in love at first sight. But whether it’s love or just infatuation, the point is they’re both right there, they’re both feeling it equally and as partners, and Juliet gets to be a living participant with her own desires.
(Like seriously her wedding-night speech before she finds out Tybalt’s dead is pretty damn sexy, guys.)
And whether or not it’s love or infatuation the play and the text very clearly come together to indicate that what’s between Juliet and Romeo is DIFFERENT than that crap with Rosalind.
POINT THE FOURTH: And minor, but still important – R&J and the Dream were almost certainly written more or less at the same time, and it’s of note that the Play Within The Play in this case both STARTS OUT lacking all the other context thats attached to Romeo and Juliet’s story as I laid out above, but that Bottom et al go on to strip it more and more and more of its meaning and context as they go on, rendering it nothing more than silly melodrama. The joke, thus, is rather more complex.
SUMMARY: Romeo and Juliet is a stunningly rich play that is mostly about how feuds fuck people over badly and how if you have to wait until YOUR KIDS OFF THEMSELVES to figure that out you deserve to lose your children. Romeo and Juliet are victims of the feud and its mindless death-lust, not perpetrators of death on others. They’re not supposed to be figures of ridicule OR representatives of True Love: they’re supposed to make the audience go “oh BABIES, no, you’re going to end so badly” and then be sad when they do.
Also common knowledge about social practices of the past is usually wrong. Thank you and good night.