Feb 25 2011 9:00am

Romeo and Juliet: Spoiled Brats or Supercouple?

Olivia Hussey as Juliet Capulet in 1968’s Romeo and JulietAt 13 years old, Juliet’s got it all figured out. Yup, at the ripe old age of 13. At 13, I had New Kids on The Block and Bon Jovi posters hanging on my walls. Not to mention zits, braces, and over-teased hair. Thinking about those days, I knew it all too. Didn’t you?

There was a boy I was madly in love with. Madly, I tell you. We weren’t from the same neighborhood, so we’d meet up at the roller skating rink (that’s where we met originally, actually). It was our hangout, along with 20 or so other teens. When said love of my life, at the time, and I broke up . . . I may as well have been Juliet. I was heartbroken. Looking back on those emotions, however young and naïve, I have to say, I was in love. Young love, but love nonetheless.

If I'd lived in 16th-century Italy with my Roller-Romeo, I may have died trying to be with him for eternity just as the tragic Juliet did. Now think about what you know now at your heightened age of superior intelligence and experience and answer me this: What the heck would you say to Juliet to try and talk her out of marrying Romeo? Would it have worked?

The more I think of their sad, sad, story, the more I wonder—what about Romeo and Juliet makes them top the lists of the Best Couples in Romance time and time again?

It’s not like they had a lifetime together with history and memories to build on. I believe the tale spans a couple of days, less than a month at the most. Even at thirteen, Roller Romeo and I hung out for a whole spring before we kissed.

So is it the plot that has inducted these teens into the Romantic Couples Hall of Fame?

Don’t shoot me, but I believe it to be so . . . “For never was a story of more woe, than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” (Dude, I’m a poet . . .)

Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + JulietNow, they met at a party and something sparked: attraction, puberty, the spiked punch, who knows. So she’s madly in love with a boy she just met, and they make plans to marry in secret. Plus—bonus!—they can neatly end the feud that’s been going on between their families for years. Smitten, they cannot keep their hands off of each other, but alas, curfew. Forced to separate, they part ways, but Romeo cannot stay away from his Verona babe. He goes to her balcony and overhears Juliet talking to herself . . . out loud . . . about him. (No red flags there, questioning Juliet’s sanity). Romeo is a horny 14-year old, so he takes it in stride. Imagine, if you will, the modern version: Juliet in a Justin Beiber t-shirt, removing her retainer, and applying Clearasil. Romeo wearing a Harry Potter t-shirt, listening to his iPod, cruising to Juliet’s on his skateboard . . . look at the 13 and 14 year olds today, I’m just sayin’.

They actually marry and do the deed to consummate it (My daughter is twelve; I shudder at the thought). As head over heels in love with Roller-Romeo as I was, getting felt up was a big deal back then. Something that a guilt-ridden, repressed Catholic knew you’d burn in hell for.

So, the teenage lovers are married, but marriage is far from bliss. (We could have told them that!) The ongoing family feud has Romeo breaking up a fight between his cousin and Juliet’s. Romeo didn’t do such a good job because his cousin gets whacked. Enraged, Romeo stabs Juliet’s cousin out of vengeance.

Juliet, sad and distraught, forgives her groom. Guess the nookie was that good? Romeo is banished from town, and they cannot be with each other. So Juliet fakes her death so she can sneak off to be with Romeo forever. Romeo doesn’t get the memo that she really isn’t dead and thus goes to her heavily sedated body, believing she has truly met her maker, and kills himself. Well, when Juliet finally wakes up, she finds a dead Romeo. Life is not worth living without him, so she takes his dagger and joins him in the afterlife. 

No HEA here. But the tragedy of it all is what makes this tale timeless.

Today, the couple can’t truly be taken seriously. First of all, their age alone disqualifies them. Juliet talks to herself  all the time and mouths off to her mother. Romeo has impulse-control issues, topped off with a lack of anger management. Today, they’d be too self-indulged to kill themselves. Worse, they’d end up on reality TV. Romeo and Juliet could be the next stars of 16 and Pregnant or, worse, The Jersey Shore . . .

Being 30-something, I see Romeo and Juliet as two spoiled brats who were told “no” and ended up completely destroying themselves in the process of getting what they wanted. Because we all know that, as a teenager, there is no way you are falling in love instantaneously at a party one night and killing yourself over it by the next weekend. No sane person would do that, anyway.

So, this timeless tale is really about the tragedy. How circumstance after tragic circumstance crumbled on top of one another, making a HEA far from possible. The more I think about it, Romeo and Juliet should not be read by teens in high school. I read it my freshmen year, at 14. I thought it to be so tragically beautiful (BTW, I love that phrase tragically beautiful; it’s mine, so back off). Anyhoo . . . thinking about Romeo and Juliet as an adult and especially as a parent, I see it as a tragic waste of life, the result of poor parenting and mentally unstable youth left to their own devices. It may not be a tale about love at all. Infatuation, attraction, wanting love so badly you jump at the first chance . . . ’tis a heap of tragedy, weaved together by great lines and tension.

So, for me, Romeo and Juliet as a couple should not be amongst the Romantic Elite. They are not an Uber-couple of Romance. Not at all. Not even close.

Chemistry: A single HA out of a full HA-CHA-CHA. Underage smooshing is not for me.

Tension: 3 of out 3 MUSCLE KNOTS

Conclusion: 0 out of 3 SIGHS, more like 3 out of 3 WTFs!

Did you know that the play Romeo & Juliet by William Shakespeare was an adaptation of well-known poems and stories? We forget the man was a playwright and that many plays of the time were based on existing tales.

Charli Mac, Aspiring Author, Mother, Wife & Part-Time Clown, Twitter @CharliMacs

Subscribe to this conversation (must be logged in):
Victoria Janssen
1. VictoriaJanssen
If those kids had cell phones, what tragedies could've been averted!
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I guess it speaks to the impatience of youth, but every time I wonder--couldn't one of them have just waited? But then it wouldn't be a tragedy. So maybe not.
3. ragshop
But had they been 28 & 30 say, and fate had intervened as it does, and could easily do, would we then have considered them a romantic couple?
Wendy the Super Librarian
4. SuperWendy
I often say that Romeo & Juliet is a story about two stupid teenagers who were unwilling and unable to talk to each other. If only they had sat down and had a 5 minute conversation with each other, tragedy would have been averted.

Of course then Shakespeare's play would have consisted of half an Act. Decisions, decisions.....
5. G Jillian Stone
Provocative blog, Charli!

How many times have you read a romance novel where if the characters just checked-in with each other the misunderstanding could have been averted? Most romance novels in the genre today use similar plot devices to give the story tension/conflict, only today, most everyone wants an HEA.

Hm-mm. what does that say about us? Are we a happier lot than most 16th century play goers? Have we conquered our teen sex/pregnanacy issues? Moral lessons often come from tragic stories. What teaches more? Tragedy or HEA?
6. DougT
Hi Charli,

Great post, but I disagree on a couple of points. I think that at 13 or 14, that first time you fall in love is THE great love of your life. At that age you have nothing to judge that love against--it is automatically an 11.

Also, I am willing to accept the meet on Fri, marry by Mon, and double suicide by Fri premiss. Why? He's 14 and horny, she's 13 and talks to herself--that's why.
7. EC Spurlock
Keep in mind that in this time period, children as young as 7 years old (considered the age of majority then) were married off to seal alliances between powerful families, often to men decades older than themselves. Juliet's mother makes a point of telling her, "Girls younger than you are already mothers." Juliet at 13 was already perilously close to being an "old maid". And I think there were plans to marry her off to someone else woven into the play, as I recall. Seriously, if you were 13, would you rather marry some 40-ish dotard your parents picked out for you, or a hot kid your own age that you picked for yourself?
8. GMLPenn
Good points, EC Spurlock. RE: Shakespeare basing this play on previous poems, etc.: I've read (one of) the poem(s) Romeo & Juliet was based on -- and it has NONE of the power or beauty of his play. (I've also read the legend/folktale Hamlet was based on, and though it has its own power, Shakespeare completely surpassed it for beauty.)
Charli Mac
9. CharliMac
Getting all of the points here. I know the time period and yes, to marry at that age or sooner was expected.

However, regardless of the time period, they are not a romantic couple. They are a tragic couple. IMHO.

My thoughts on R&J are not a reflection of Shakespeare's ability. They way he weaved tales and words is truly breathtaking.

1200, 1500, 1800, 2100, any century...13 years of life of is far too few to have the world figured out. I cannot fathom the teens of previous eras having some deeper emotional intelligence or maturity. I just don't see it. Maybe others can but I can't.

@EC Gees, married off at 7! I am glad to be a woman living today.

@ Doug LOL, yes. Put it that way I can see why they offed themselves. At 13 Roller Romeo was not the great love of my life. The guy I met at 16 was.

@G Jillian I agree, tragic endings make you ponder more and reflect on it all. HEA's make your heart smile.

@Wendy proper communication would make for far less tragic tales...

@ragshop at 28 Juliet would have thought Romeo a stalker and needy. LOL.

@Mframpton Oh, the same goes for Jack and Rose. If only he'd have grabbed a chair before sinking into icy waters. Fate is needed for the tragedy. For me their ages had them acting impulsively hence the tragedy.

@Victoria Bah! If they had cell phones those sneaky buggers would've been sexting the whole time!
10. Tracy Kelly
Love the comment about cell phones. Things would be completely different.

When i was 13, i fell in love with "the love of my life" but when i look back and realize how different true love is, it makes me laugh. They could have grown and been much different people.
Olivia Waite
11. O.Waite
I think part of the tragedy IS the fact that they can't communicate. As in, physically. Juliet's locked in the house, and Romeo's a dead man if he shows his face. There are no cell phones, no email, no privacy in the postal system, no trusted go-betweens aside from some guy hired by Friar Lawrence who, let's face it, kind of drops the ball and is not as fast as rumors spread by talkative servants. Hence Romeo's colossal freakout.

And I agree with CharliMac that they're more a tragic than a romantic couple -- but the verse! Whenever they meet (that thing about lips and saints and kissing, and in the morning after they consummate the marriage), they're trading off lines of formal rhyming poetry (a sonnet and an aubade, specifically) like it's no big thing. They improv complex poetic forms together! Which means they're on the same page mentally and emotionally and even in regards to imagery and metaphor and wordplay.

And if that's not romantic, I don't know what is.

This has been your daily dose of lit geek pedantry, brought to you by an unrecovered Shakespeare junkie.
Charli Mac
12. CharliMac
@Tracy Kelly Yeah, my roller romeo and I would've been divorced!

@O.Waite yes, the musical verse and melodic words make you swoon. But, it was an older white dude penning those words. Can't imagine what a real 14 year old man-boy would've said at the time...

Maybe that's the point of all this . Shakespeare was an older man writing about young love. Maybe if 14 again that's what he would've said to his Juliet.

If I could go back and express to roller romeo how I felt at the time with all this knowledge know, damn straight it would be more poetic, profound, and meaninful. Instead I said stuff like, you're cool to hang with and I really like you and stuff. And these phrases were probably littered with euphemisms like- chill, wurd, sike, and mackin'. Fo' reals.

So, were the words penned by Sir William romantic? No diggity, no doubt.

Was the tale laced with tragedy, pining, and star crossed angst? Wurd to ya mutha.

Were Romeo and Juliet a romantic couple? NOT!
13. elleoneiram
Romeo and Juliet may act like young teens, but they don't exactly talk like most kids their age. Also, I'm curious as to why no one has mentioned the divide between houses. I think that's why they're deemed one of the most romantic couples. In the context of their circumstances, as crazy as they were, their love was pure and innocent in comparison to the war between their families. They represent those who can see beyond feuds and prejudices (if not past their hormones). Of course, then Romeo got swept up in it all, but he and Juliet were never less than victims of blind passion and a terrible feud.
Charli Mac
14. CharliMac
Yes @elleoneiram the feud is the story, the tragedy of why they can't love. They were innocent victims to poorly behaved adults.

Now, as to how they did not speak like teens of their time you have to give credit to Shakespeare on that one. An adult male gave them their lines, not a fellow teen.

The whole point of this post was to examine why they make list after list of the most romantic literary couples of all time. That I just don't see, now as an adult. As a freshmen in high school I felt differently, that they were so tragically in love, but I also thought they were dumb, and still do.
Olivia Waite
15. O.Waite
So an adult male writes a tragic romance between teenagers from feuding houses -- and he makes the teenage girl the rational, clever problem-solver while the boy's heedless and impulse-driven.

That's kind of awesome, actually.
Charli Mac
16. CharliMac
@O. Waite yes it is totally awesome. Girls carry the burden of teenage boy shenanigans . Sad thing is Juliet's burden was death. Modern day Juliet would be on Mtv's 16 and preggers.
Keira Gillett
17. Keira
I made a video about the top ten romance heroes ever and I put Romeo on it only because everybody has a passing familiarity with him. As I stated in the video there's a reason he's number 10 instead of say number 1 and that's because he's so dumb he gets himself and his heroine killed. :P
Charli Mac
18. CharliMac
@Keira yes, this couple keeps making various lists because of their popularity. Most have read it in high school and have prolly seen a movie version. Popularity doesn't guarantee substance!
19. Elizabeth K. Mahon
I've had the luxury of playing Juliet on stage, and I have to say from my perspective, she's the one who really drives the play and makes most of the decisions. She proposes to Romeo! He would have been happyto do the deed without marriage. We may not think of their story as a love story but they certainly did. They loved as only two horny teenagers who are being kept apart by their parents can be. Why I think their story endures is because young people in particular can see themselves in their story, there is nothing more painful and heartbreaking then first love. I certainly didn't see Juliet as stuck up or spoiled when I played her. Very sure of herself yes and what she wanted. I remembered feeling exactly as she did when I was 13, and 14. If they had lived, would they have lived happily ever after? Probably not, Romeo in particular is pretty fickle. He was in love with someone else at the beginning of the play.
20. Nicciawesome
I've never read the play, I've only seen the movie. But i agree, they are just two pathetic teens wanting to get it on and suicide, after looking at each other for a bunch of seconds! To me, they are clinically insane and should be taken to a hospital. Where were the doctors? If i ever met people like this, I'd advise them to get some help! But again l have not read the play, so i can only judge the movie. P.s. Mercutio is funny:) i know that has nothing to do with pathetic teens, but i just wanted to say that. :)
21. Elisabeth Mycroft
I completely agree with all of your points, especially that teenagers shouldn't be reading this play. When I read it I was just fifteen, and (thank God) I thought it was absolutely ridiculous. My older sister, on the other hand, read it and thought it was romantic and beautiful. I'm eighteen now, and I think teenagers now - for the most part - are getting slightly wiser to the ridiculousness of that entire plot. When my younger sister read it (thirteen) I was in the same room as her while she was reading the play, and I thought she was texting behind her book because she nearly choked on her tea laughing at something - but lo and behold, the source of her snickering was the (in)famous balcony scene.
22. SilverGirl
Honestly, I think Shakespeare intended the play as a satire, or at the very least, a commentary on 'young love'. Even the two adults who help them, the Nurse and Friar Lawrence, are both telling them to slow the !@#$ down, do it right, and that it's insane to go the way they are, but hey, teenagers! I had a whole rant on FB about this and I was pleasantly surprised by how many people agreed with me. If you want to see a true tragic romance from Shakespeare, read 'Othello', who loved 'not wisely, but too well'. That was a couple who could have gone the distance if Iago hadn't found Othello's fatal flaw (jealousy) and played him like a fiddle, but watching Othello and Desdemona torn apart tears your heart with it.

Oh, and 'Romeo And Juliet' takes place over four days, technically a fifth morning for the epilogue. Seven wasn't the age of majority back then, but the age of consent for marriage was twelve for girls, fourteen for boys. Prior to that, you could be betrothed or even married, but consumatting it was a big no-no as far as the Church said.
Post a comment