Why I hate Romeo & Juliet

(This rant was previously posted in 2011, it has been revised.)

One of Shakespeare’s most known tragedies, Romeo and Juliet is thrust upon us in our high school composition classes and then mercilessly shoved down our throats as a love to which we should aspire.

It is not romantic.
Romeo at Juliet's Deathbed,
Henry Fuseli, 1809

It’s a story about two children who married on a whim and without their parent’s consent. They barely knew each other and died because they weren’t able to step back and think for half a second.
It is, at its heart, an example of the ways in which parents fail their children.

Romeo is an inconstant fool. He begins the play lovesick over Rosaline and within an act is mooning over Juliet.

Juliet isn’t much better. She meets a boy at a party and is suddenly head over heels for him and vowing her love on a balcony (yes, you know the one).

So, a fickle 15 year old boy and a cripplingly naïve 13 year old girl agree to get married in secret, having known each other all of six hours. They’re young, I know, but their entire situation could have been handled much better from the get go.

At thirteen I probably wanted to marry Mike Ringor (I had a horrible crush) but I’m pretty sure that, even if we were in a time and place where some friar was willing to marry us, I would have at least waited until I’d known him a week. And no offense, Mike, but that would have just been a plain ol’ bad idea.

And then you have a case of tight britches and hot tempers with the whole Tybalt challenges Romeo, Romeo refuses, Mercutio fights instead and is mortally wounded, Romeo slays Tybalt out of grief and guilt… Bob’s your uncle, Sally’s your aunt EVERYONE JUST DEFIED THE PRINCE!!!

Thusly Romeo is exiled, but spends the night and consummates his marriage with Juliet… and then Capulet goes off the deep end, telling Juliet she WILL marry Paris or else be drowned. Which, come on… dude started the play saying she was too young to marry and then, when she seems grief stricken he forces her to get married? I’m not sure how you read that… but daddy might have some issues of his own.

So Juliet goes to the friar for help and like any good man of the faith, he comes up with some grandiose plan that in no way involves being honest, or counsels her to trust in God and her faith, and instead gives her a “drug” that puts her in a coma for 42 hours. I recognize the fact that daddy Capulet probably would have drown her if she came out and told him – “Hey, I can’t marry Paris because... well, you remember that Romeo guy? Yeah….” But she went to a trusted adult – this is what children are supposed to do when they are faced with a problem they cannot handle themselves – and somehow the friar manages to be just as childish in his handling of the situation as the kids are.
And of course we all know what happened then… Romeo doesn’t get the message in time (check your texts, bro), he goes to the crypt with his draught of poison, kills Paris, poisons himself, only to have Juliet wake seconds later to find him dead and kill herself… and THEN the families reconcile.
I don’t know about you, but having the secondary characters learn something from the deaths of two completely naïve children is not what I call a satisfying ending. Stories can have morals yes, but when those morals are ignored and instead the story is twisted around to provide fodder for greeting cards….

I see no real love in this story. I see desperation, control, confusion, and anger… but no love.

The Prince’s ending words are the only part of this that rings true: For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

Comments

  1. I am sorry to hear that this classic tragedy has been shoved down your throat as a love story. When I studied Romeo and Juliet (in the dark ages, to be sure), it was not taught as a love story (and I do not believe scholars consider it to be one) but rather, a cautionary tale. Desperation, control, confusion, and anger were quite the point, resulting in a tragic, albeit late, reconciliation.

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