By: Hannah Shreve
A while ago I wrote about the issues with “Romeo and Juliet” by the famous playwright and poet William Shakespeare. There were many obvious issues but after doing more in depth research I realized that I’d missed a lot of equally alarming parts. Last time, I, (as many others do) looked at this story with a critical eye rather than through the eyes of the characters, which reveals far more than what one would expect. It’s all much more realistic if we look at this as a watered down story of first love. *Fair warning, anyone who knows me, or has read some of my other articles knows that I’m pretty cynical and pessimistic. It’s entirely possible that I am seeing this play in such a negative light because of this. So, my views of this play are going to be very different than someone who sees this story in another light, and I would love to hear everyone’s opinions of this play.*
One of the issues that I missed was one of the big recurrences in the play. We saw it in the second scene in act one, when the Capulet servant was inviting people to the big dinner party that kicked the whole story off. We saw it after Romeo and Juliet's first chance meeting, we saw it when Juliet faked her death to evade her arranged marriage with Paris. Messages, the whole play revolves around them, they are there in every important scene but no one, myself included, seems to connect the dots the first time. When the servant was inviting people he asked Romeo to read the list to him since he couldn’t read, that's how Romeo ends up at the Capulet party in the first place. Then we see it after the lovers meet for the first time, they are interrupted by Juliet’s nurse. The nurse is the one who identifies Romeo as Juliet’s new lover at the party. When Friar Lawrence’s warning to Romeo fails to reach him, Romeo finds out on his own, missing the key piece of information that would have kept them all alive. Messages and their significance is a recurring theme in the story.
In the third quatrain of the prologue we see that while their love was written in the stars (hence; star crossed lovers), so was their death. Their relationship was hopeless from the start, it was said that they were destined to meet, fall in love, die, and end the feud. And their death wasn't without reason because it was the only possible way to end the ancient grudge. “The fearful passage of their death-marked love, And the continuance of their parents’ rage, Which, but the childrens’ end, naught could remove.” How many people have missed this? How many people thought that the lover's end was a tragic coincidence? How many think that if they were to do things a bit different they might have survived? Sure, in the real world that was entirely possible, but this is Shakespeare, I think we all know based on “A Midsummer's Night Dream” that he plays by his own rules, so to solve the issues presented, you have to use Shakespearean logic.
What about Lord Capulet? In the beginning he was doing so well! He was one of the most progressive characters in the entire story. In that time marriage was not about love, it was about what benefits it could present to the family, families would marry their daughters off to the richest, most powerful man available. And while that was one of the points that Lord Capulet was trying to achieve he also valued Juliet’s opinion. He told Paris that he need to woo Juliet, because he would not give his daughter away for he feared he might spoil the rest of her life, the way his parents did to his wife, Lady Capulet. “My will to her consent is but a part. And she agreed, within her scope of choice. Lies my fair, according voice” Him caring about his daughter's opinion was really unusual at that time. But after Juliet’s secret marriage to Romeo and she refuses to marry Paris her father's progressive views go out the window. Her consent doesn’t matter anymore and if she refuses to marry Paris he will never look Juliet in the eyes again. Which is extremely manipulative if you ask me. How can you care so much and then the moment she doesn’t agree with his plan, she is an unruly daughter, who does not deserve their time. Not that she ever got much of it to begin with.
At the time, wealthy families normally paid nurses big bucks to raise their kid(s) for them. Meaning that the parents usually have very little to do with their children. They have the child, talk to it every so often, marry it off, and then make sure all other family affairs are in order. This is obviously extremely alarming now, as most kids have very close relationships with their parents. So to see a young Juliet, whose own mother doesn’t remember her age/birthday converse with her mother about marriage is really awkward and unsettling, after all, her parents are practically strangers to her yet they control the majority of her life. That seems pretty crazy, now, but it was the norm then. It’s no wonder the pair made such rash decisions, they weren’t raised by their own parents. They were raised by maids who were paid to care about them, their parents never really knew them. So how were they supposed to feel comfortable coming to their parents to talk about their romance? Feud aside, they probably didn’t feel like this was something they could talk to people about, if their parents don’t know the first thing about them, why would the pair want to talk to their parents about loving someone from the opposite house rather than wanting an arranged marriage like everyone else. In reality, these two keeping their love secret isn’t all that surprising, after all -what would you have done? Also, can we please stop talking about how Juliet should have been smarter? Everyone seems to leave out how she might have felt about the situation, rather, we look at this with a critical, unsympathetic eye. Her choices during the course of the play were be with Romeo or marry some man who went to her father to marry her! It doesn’t matter if that was the norm at the time, Paris never made an effort with Juliet. But Romeo, can you really blame her for falling for Romeo, she didn’t know who Romeo was at the time, but he sought her out, he made an effort to get her affection. While she was slightly indifferent in the beginning, he showed her that he cared. When Romeo wanted to marry her, he asked HER, not her father, HER. He made her feel special and wanted, can we really say the same for Paris?
Spoiler alert for anyone who hasn’t read/seen they play, Mercutio and Tybalt die in street fights. While we never really got to know either characters, we do know Tybalt as the “Saucy boy” as dubbed by Lord Capulet, who was always trying to stir the pot between the two houses. And Mercutio as the popular cousin of Romeo, who was outlandish, wild, and constantly getting in the way. But when they die, personally, I didn’t feel that bad at first. But maybe I should have, because they didn't even know what they were dying for. And if they did, would they have supported it? They were both blissfully unaware of the trouble brewing due to the love between our main characters. They probably thought that they died defending the honour of their house, rather than paving the way for our depressed couple’s untimely death. Had they known would they still have done it? Would they have put themselves in death’s path to allow their respective cousin’s love to blossom? Based on what we know of the characters personality, I don’t think they would have. But I guess we’ll never know.
Last time I wrote about “Romeo and Juliet” I said that the story was 10x more tragic than romantic, and this time, my beliefs are only heightened. Every time I pick up a new detail the story seems to have more to do with hate, and less to do with love. The story begins with a hatred so old no one even knows what started the feud, throughout the story Romeo and Juliet are conflicted, love, stemming from hatred. “My only love, sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is too me. That I must love a loathed enemy.” Per Juliet’s response to the reveal of Romeo’s identity. Hate is what drove Juliet to take the potion that made her appear dead. Love, lust, adrenaline, and sorrow is what drove Romeo to kill himself at the very sight of Juliet's corpse appearing body. Sorrow is what drove the two families to forgive each other for the ancient grudge. Personally, I don’t think love made a guest appearance in this play. Because while love makes people go crazy, it’s more sympathetic than the hatred displayed in this play over and over again. All in all, this story always seems to come back to one thing, lack of acceptance. If the head of the houses had accepted and taken care of their children, no one would have had to die. But life isn’t perfect, and neither is this “love” story.