And of course, there are all the people out there who are clutching at their foreheads in awe, wondering how I got through high school and two years of college as an English major without reading this. Well, it was never in my required reading.
Wow, that is a terrible excuse. King Lear was never in my required reading in high school but I devoured that in one day, and I read Merchant of Venice to take a break from Les Miserables, unabridged. I've also read other works of Shakespeare on my own and had some assigned reading of Shakespeare, but I'd never read this one.
This may be because I've never really been into romances, and so naturally I shied away from what has been marketed as one of the greatest love stories of all time. I mean, who cares when there's Agatha Christie to be had?
But then I suddenly realized that I had never actually read it.
I think this pin on Pinterest awakened me to that rather glaring fact. How could I call myself a respectable English major when I hadn't even read Romeo and Juliet? Fie and for shame! I had to find out about those six people who died.
Admittedly, though, I started this with mounds of skepticism. And here's what I discovered.
There's a reason this play has been so popular for so many years. Reading this kind of reminded me of reading The Tale of Two Cities for the first time, because I had also picked that book up with apprehension, and now it is my favorite novel. I'm not saying that R&J has taken a place in top ten list, but I certainly enjoyed reading it.
First of all, it's so much more than just a love story. Cue the witty quotes:
"Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?" (I must forever use this quote.)
"Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance." (Considering that it was Mercutio who said this, I'm guessing Romeo is not the greatest dancer in the world.)
Bevolio: By my head, here come the Capulets.
Mercutio: By my heel, I care not.
(Mercutio to Romeo) "And, to sink in it, should you burden love; too great oppression for a tender thing." (Ouch, Mercutio. Did you just call Romeo a sissy?)
Nurse: My fan, Peter
Mercutio: Good Peter, to hide her face; for her fan's the fairer face. (Tut, tut, Mercutio!)
"I will bite thee by the ear for that jest." (Guess who said it!)
In case you couldn't guess Mercutio was my favorite character. He provided a lot of wit and humor. When he was one of the six ill-fated ones, I was pretty cut up about it. (And no, that was not meant to be a pun. I just now realized that it could be construed as one, but that's just how it came out.)
Yes, R&J is a good deal more than just romance. There's plenty of swordfighting, too. In fact, you practically can't even walk down the street in Verona without getting entangled in some random clash of blades. Even though there's an official rule that says the Montagues and the Capulets have to play nicely with each other, they basically all just ignore the rule and carve each other up with their swords. The prince must be too scared of them, because he doesn't call out the guards or do anything proactive to stop them. I suppose he figures that in time they'll just kill each other off and there will be peace again in Verona.
Yes, that is a picture of Verona. It has now made my ever-growing list of places that I want to visit someday. Many of said places are settings for books I have read before. And the reason it's so nice is because the Montagues and Capulets are all dead and not messing up the sidewalks with their battles anymore.
Now, what did I think about the actual Romeo and Juliet part of the story? All right, it could have been worse. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but since they had to gush over each other, at least they did it in beautiful poetic language and iambic pentameter. I have a great love and respect for iambic pentameter. Naturally I understand that not everyone in Shakespeare's day went around talking like that, but I like to imagine that they did, because it certainly would have sounded swell.
Oh, and let me just take a moment to answer the people who get all heated up about Romeo and Juliet being teenagers. I don't think it's right to class this with lame teen romances for several reasons. One, Shakespeare did not write lame teen romances. Two, in his day people matured a lot more quickly than they do nowadays. Life-spans were shorter, so people got married earlier. Juliet's mother even mentions that she was married by the time she was Juliet's age, and both of her parents are urging her towards the altar through the whole play. So I think the argument that they were too young is pointless.
However, I do believe that their romance happened too fast. I mean, who marries a man they just met?
Um, moving on. But seriously, that's basically what happened. That's a little lame.
Now, I was a little easier on Juliet than on Romeo. After all, Romeo had been swooning over Rosaline up until he met Juliet. Really, Romeo?
Also, I do believe in love at first sight (my own parents are living proof), but there's got to be some, er, actual conversation and discovering of the moral character and annoying habits and likes and dislikes and hobbies and, well, you should sort of KNOW the person you're going to marry before you just up and marry him.
Putting that unimportant quibble aside,though, I will just gush over the beautiful language and the iambic pentameter in my mind. Come on, guys. Even if you absolutely hate the story, the actual words are so lovely.
As for the death at the end, I guess I was sort of caught up in the story, because even though I knew that those two end up killing each other, I was sort of hoping that it would all work out in the end and that they would ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. HA! When Romeo pries open the grave and sees Juliet there, I think I sort of just set my teeth because I knew what was coming next.
And then Romeo drank the poison and I did an Elsa facepalm.
Really? Did you just drink that poison, you cowardly fool? SHE'S NOT REALLY DEAD.
Oh, wait, now she is. Yep, she just stabbed herself, even though Friar Lawrence told her she could become a nun. I'm sorry, Lawrence, old buddy, but you should not go around telling young women, who incidentally just realized that their husbands killed themselves, to become nuns. I think that's what pushed her over the edge. She probably realized that Friar Lawrence was right. Her parents would probably make her go into a convent, and she would have to live for the rest of her life with all that regret. I felt sorry enough for her that I could sort of understand why she stabbed herself. I'm not saying that I would do the same in her position, but then, it's highly unlikely that I will ever find myself in Juliet's position in any way, shape, or form.
And then, I almost felt like laughing when the watchmen stumbled across the scene and the head watchmen said, "Oh, go get the Montagues and the Capulets." (To paraphrase) Yes, surely bringing the two heads of the leading feuding families of Verona and showing them their children lying dead is going to solve everything.
One last thing that I must mention is what I realized as I was reading this. There are a few lines like, "Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast," "These violent delights have violent ends," and "Love moderately. Long love doth so. Too swift arrives too tardy as too slow," that made me realize that Shakespeare is not advocating Romeo and Juliet's actions. He even makes Romeo a rather unlikable character. We're not supposed to follow the example. This play is a cautionary tale, a "look and see what happens when you try to do this foolish stuff" story.
I would say that it's a love story, but, like so many other famous love stories, it ends tragically because the characters chiefly concerned end up doing selfish things. If Romeo had waited just a little bit, the tragic ending would have been quite different.
Juliet lying drugged in the crypt did remind me of Valentine in The Count of Monte Cristo. Just saying. I bet Alexandre Dumas read this story and enjoyed it so much that he alluded to it just for fun. Wouldn't that be kind of neat?
All right, I'll stop now.
Thanks for reading, and God bless,