Book Discussions · The Classics Club

Romeo and Juliet: Teenagers in Love

Romeo and Juliet, The Balcony Scene by Hans Makart

To simply know a story is to not be in complete possession of its details, tone and nuances until one has read it and experienced it for ones self. I’ve known the story of Romeo and Juliet ever since I can remember. When very young I thought it incredibly sad, and as a young adult I found it absolutely melodramatic (aye, I was never really a teenager). What silliness was this to go and kill ones self because someone one loves is dead? And what unnecessary deaths!

But, now I’ve read Shakespeare’s rendering of this tragedy. And I am not so unforgiving of such a plot (which isn’t really his anyway) as I once was. Perhaps this is because of a little more insight into the likes of Romeo and his Juliet.

To explain this insight allow me to go off (seemingly) at a tangent. For the last month or so my mother and I have been following a teen sit-com called Awkward. It’s about this fifteen year old called Jenna, and her inability to decided which of two boys she loves the best. To me, they are merely children playing at adult games. But the games are so real to these teens, and the hurts and betrayals more keenly felt because of their tender age and lack of maturity to deal with certain situations.

As I read Romeo and Juliet it finally hit home that our young lovers are actually teenagers! Juliet is not yet fourteen and I am assuming Romeo is but two or three years older than she is. Hence, they seem to react to their circumstances like their very lives depended on it (which sadly becomes true). Also, with such parents as Lord and Lady Capulet thrown into the mix, one can’t help but sympathise greatly with this young pair. I wonder…had the Capulets been willing to listen to Juliet when she tried to tell them about Romeo, if things might have turned out for the better? Or…likely not. They are probably more likely to have sent someone out to kill Romeo and thereby free Juliet for Paris. Hmmm…that sounds more like a Capulet.

At the beginning , Romeo seems so fickle in love when he so easily switches from Rosaline to Juliet. Do you think had Rosaline responded to Romeo’s overtures or Juliet been cold to Romeo as was Rosaline, the results of Romeo’s love would have been the same? There is so much passion between Romeo and Juliet that I suspect, had these young lovers not died by the end of the story they likely would have grown tired of each other. Or wait! Maybe not! Two such gentle spirits could not possibly grow cold to each other — perhaps theirs would have deepened to a quieter more steady love. But, obviously, it was not meant to be.

I have often wondered that neither Romeo nor Juliet had the strength to live without the other. Such cowardice? Have any of you watched The Westside Story? It’s a take on Romeo and Juliet. Only it ends differently. Maria (the movie’s Juliet) has the courage to move after her lover’s death, and I have always admired that. However, while reading Romeo and Juliet now, and understanding that our young lovers are mere children, with not much experience and wisdom to guide them out of a helpless situation, made the worse by the feud between their families, I see how things might have com to such an end.

I feel that all this tragedy was really triggered off by Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) and his awful bullying temper. Right form the start he looks like a young man always spoiling for a fight. I suspect, had there been no enormity between the Montagues and the Capulets that Tybalt would have found himself another set of people to be disgruntled with just so that he can have a good fight every now and then. Sheer blood lust. And if only Mercutio had not been a fool to fall for Tybalt’s taunts all would have been well. But then again they are all human.

I begin to appreciate Shakespeare’s insight into human nature. Taking Juliet for instance, it made me smile when she realised that Romeo had overheard her raptures about him, and she frankly tells him that had he not beard her she would have played hard to get. I wonder how that would have turned out? And then when she hears of  Tybalt’s death by Romeo’s hand, her anger and pain, thinking she was deceived by Romeo, only to realise again how much she loves him and to see that had it not been Tybalt who died it would have been her Romeo. I loved the way Shakespeare wrote that scene, as well as the one where just as she is about to take the sleeping potion the friar gave her, how doubts and fears assail her. It was all so natural.

Then there is Friar Lawrence, poor man. Full of wisdom and yet fate interfered to make wisdom void in saving the young lovers. I found myself constantly nodding my head in solemn agreement with him every time he tried to reason with either Romeo or Juliet or both of them. I like practical people!

Another thing that caught my attention toward the middle of the play was the language and structure. I complained in a previous post that Shakespeare’s language could be too crude and vulgar for my taste. But then I was speedily put in my place by the sheer poetic exchanges between Romeo and Juliet — music tripping out of the mouths of babes. I loved reading these exchanges, and sometimes found myself re-reading them aloud just to feel the words and the sentiments behind them. Then there was the prose oft used between Romeo’s friends, and the coarser poetry of the older Capulets. In other words, Shakespeare’s use of language and poetry add to the over all make up of his characters.

Also, being aware of the end there was much foreshadowing and premonition through out the play that I found very uncanny…especially when these premonitions came from the young couple. There is so much more that I would have loved to write about what I’ve thought of this play. But this post is already too long and I am not done yet. Following are quotes from this play that are very familiar and are a part of the English language now.

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet; (Act 2, Sc 2, l. 43-44)

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; (Act 2, Sc 2, l. 133-134)

Good night, good night: parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night, till it be morrow. (Act 2, Sc 2, l. 185-186)

…they stumble that run fast. (Act 2, Sc 3, l. 93)

The rest are short phrases: “Scurvy knave!”; “fools paradise”; “it were a very gross kind of behaviour”; “fortune’s fool”.

My favourite lines:

O! She doth teach the torches to burn bright.
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear;at
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! (Act 1, Sc 5, l. 44-47)

It took me a few scenes to get into trying to visualise the whole play on stage. It made understanding easier. Then I remembered mom’s talking of the 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet and decided to look up the scene where the two first meet. It is absolutely adorable and I just have to share it with you all. I will quote that brief scene first before leaving you with the video.

Romeo: If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this;
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Juliet: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrim’s hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss.
Romeo: Have not saints lips, and holy palmer’s too?
Juliet: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
Romeo: O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purg’d.
Juliet: Then have my lips the sin that they have took.
Romeo: Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urg’d!
Give me my sin again.

This scene made sense to me after I watched this!

What did you folk think? The perfect actors to play these roles, and brings home more strongly to one that these plays are meant to be watched not read!

On a different note…does anyone have any idea why. in the midst of Italian names, there are some very British ones like Peter, Gregory, Sampson and even Friar John?

I’ve read this play for Let’s Read Plays and The Classics Club.

I’ve given this play 4/5 stars on Goodreads. Would have preferred to have given it 4.5/5 though.


30 thoughts on “Romeo and Juliet: Teenagers in Love

  1. It;s the first Shakespeare play that I read. The “Ethiop’s ear” part is beautiful of course, and I also love the pun with the word ‘lie’, as in “Dreamers often lie/In their bed asleep when they do dream things true.”

    By the way, have you watched the opera by Gounod? The duet “Ange adorable” for the part in above video is so beautiful.

    1. Ah yes…I missed that pun!

      And nope. For that matter I haven’t watched anything with a whiff of Romeo and Juliet…save The Westside Story. And I wouldn’t have watched even that had I known it ended sadly! Now, however, I’m willing to watch anything that portrays this play well.😀 Thanks for the suggestion, btw…I’ll see if I can locate the opera on YouTube.

  2. I love that film version of Romeo and Juliet. I still cry every time I see the play in film or on the stage, but now I cry for entirely different reasons than I did when I was a teenager. Now that I know that it’s possible to live without a significant other (something I will be experiencing probably in the near future), it makes me cry to think what might have been. I kind of think that R & J is a dangerous play for impressionable young people because I don’t think they pay attention to the cautionary message of the play. I know I did not when I was a teen.

    Great post!

    1. Wow! I didn’t think of this play as being dangerously impressionable to youth. You’re quite right!

      I’m hoping to borrow my mom’s copy of the 1968 version and see if I can watch the the 1996 one sometime too. That one also looks promising!

  3. I remember, too, thinking this must be the ultimate tragic love story when I was a kid and hadn’t actually read it. You just hear the title and feel like sighing a melancholy sigh for the “star-crossed lovers.”

    The first time I actually read Romeo and Juliet (it might’ve been my first time reading Shakespeare at all) was in eighth grade, and by the time we watched the ’68 film (I will always remember the teacher, who’d made us get permission slips signed by our parents before watching the movie, realizing a second too late that the sex scene was coming up and jumping out of her seat with a “Woooah Nellie!” to swing the little TV stand around and hit fast forward😀 ) it had mellowed from the super-deep legend of my imagination to just one of those things you read at school.

    Looking back on it all, I really like your interpretation of the characters as teenagers — their reactions and decisions do make more sense when we remember how teenagers actually experience the world. Just look at my own cringe-inducing diaries from middle- and high-school (er, then again, maybe don’t…) — the capital letters, the exclamation points, the giant swirly font with which seventh-grade Nerija rejoiced that that one eighth-grade boy smiled at her today!!! and she couldn’t POSSIBLY imagine liking ANY other boy EVER!!!


    1. Lol! How true!…thanks for sharing those little anecdote, Nerija!😀 I was really surprised that a fifteen year old went in the nude for this movie at that time. Then I remembered that the 60s and 70s was the period of hippie freedom, right? It made sense then…especially when I espied an interview video for Romeo and Juliet where Olivia Hussey was happily smoking a cigarette!

  4. Your question about the English names made me curious — I looked up the names and all of them with the exception of Samson are derived from a Latin name. This may sound silly, but I was just wondering if he liked the sound of the English name better? Samson or Sampson is a Hebrew name — it’s been a long time since I read this play or watched the movie so I don’t remember what type of character Samson was. Did he have any characteristics like Samson in The Old Testament? I was wondering if that’s why he used that name. I really need to reread this play or just watch the movie again. The 1968 version is my favorite!

    1. Sampson doesn’t really have much of a role. He merely appears in one scene, and I don’t think there is anything Samson-like about him. Even then, I think I would be very surprised if Shakespeare made anything Biblical of his characters. Somehow, I’ve never connected any thing of Shakespeare’s to the Bible before…save that they’ve both (speaking of the KJV Bible of course) contributed to the English language greatly. Hmmm…but then again, I guess it should not be surprising as the KJV was in print only after 1611?

      In response to your next post…I think you might have hit the nail on the head. Considering the diversity of Shakespeare’s audience, it would make sense that he would have some common English names mixed into the Italian setting so as not to alienate the groundlings. Thank you so much, Joon!🙂

      1. In the play I’m reading, Macbeth, I’ve noticed some types from biblical characters, and some concepts, too. But then again, there are similar characters and concepts in text recorded earlier, than the Old Testament. I have a lot to learn.🙂

        1. Is that so? I do not recall making any biblical inferences from Macbeth when I studied it. I intend reading it again sometime…it should be interesting to see what I can make of it. Like you said, there are some things that are universal and not exclusive to the Biblical texts.😀

          1. Yes, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth reminded me of Ahab and Jezebel. I was wondering if Shakespeare was inspired by those two biblical characters?😀

          2. I read somewhere, only a day or two ago, that it is quite likely Shakespeare was influenced by the Bible because of some other version that was around…a Latin version maybe? I forget where I picked this up from. The article, or whatever it was, was rather specific. So, I see how you could be right!😀

  5. Oh I love Romeo and Juliet, somehow I find hope within the play. Have you seen the 1996 version? One of my favourite movies as well, so gorgeous and needless to say Danes and DiCaprio are amazing actors.

    1. Oh! I’m interested in your remark of hope. How exactly do you perceive that? Am curious.🙂

      As to the 1996 version…nope. I haven’t seen any version for the matter, and hope to watch both this version and the 1968 version now that I appreciate the play.😀

  6. Romeo and Juliet will be my next tragedy in my list. Thanks for sharing several passages from the play, now I can’t wait any longer to read it. Must wait till May next year though! :))

  7. Not one of my favorite plays (I prefer West Side Story), but I watched the 1996 movie version last year and the character motivations made some more sense to me than they had previously. I probably should reread it again sometime to see if I change my mind on reviewing Shakespeare’s actual words rather than merely my memory of the plot. Glad you enjoyed it!

    1. I know what you mean. I was telling mom that I had to force myself to imagine the play being staged or as a movie in order to understand it. The movie excerpts I viewed also helped…they were encouraging.😀

  8. Dear Risa

    I realize this is an old article but I only just found it and I wanted to say I enjoyed your comments on Romeo and Juliet very much. Most people give up on Shakespeare after high school.

    I must confess, that like most writers, I don’t get out much, even on the ether. It is time I did. So here I am making comments on your comments.

    It is quite special to experience a story again years later and see it with different eyes. And likewise I was always bothered by the unnecessary deaths at first. But the more I looked the more I remembered the purpose of such a story. As a warning about passions exploding into fateful moments of love or violence.

    As you said, one’s feelings about the ending changes with more insight into the characters.

    I read Arthur Brooks “The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet” and although the basic plot is there Shakespeare refined it masterfully, the most important feature being the foreshortening of the timeline, however his words are what make it soar.

    Romeo was passionately obsessed. He offered himself to Rosaline who wasn’t interested. When he danced with Juliet he knew she was looking for the same kind of passionate experience.

    Their ages are definitely relevant. This is first love with all the flowers and music.

    They were meant to die needlessly. Remember that each one of them, separately, tried to kill themselves before getting anywhere near the tomb.

    The play doesn’t end with their deaths. It ends when the feuding fathers shake hands and vow to pay homage to the lovers. That is where it started. Feuding families whose feud destroys what they love.

    Tybalt was too full of family rivalry to ignore Romeo’s insult of coming to the party. And it was Romeo’s passion which led him to sneak into enemy territory to look for Rosaline.

    When Tybalt sees him next he demands Romeo answer for the insult but Romeo has just come from marrying Juliet and is floating on air. Tybalt is so insulting that his best friend takes up the challenge and dies.

    The moment you mentioned, the moment when Juliet hears of Tybalt’s death and struggles with her feelings about Romeo’s role in it is an extraordinary moment indeed.

    The feud scars everything. Friar Lawrence agreed to the marriage in hopes of mending this dangerous rivalry.

    Your comment about poetry makes me pause because the project I have been working on over the last few years are prose editions of Shakespeare where rhyme and rhythm had to be sacrificed for clarity.

    The premonition moment that gets me every time is when Romeo is in Mantua and recalls his dream about Juliet finding him dead “– strange dream that has a dead man thinking – and breathed such life with kisses on my lips that I revived and was an emperor.”
    When I understood that moment I understood the ending. They are together and he is her emperor of love.

    Something I have noticed in my readings, which even applies to the writings of Shakespearean scholars, some words that were common then are vulgar now and vice versa.

    Anyway, I enjoyed your article and hope you enjoyed my comments.


    1. Thank you so much for stopping by, JAG, and for the valuable, informative comment. I’m off to check out Madmen Have No Ears… I don’t read any prose based on Shakespeare’s plays simply because it doesn’t make any sense to do so. Shakespeare himself borrowed his stories. His work lies in the delivery, or so I believe.

      As regards the vulgarity of words…I agree with that. However, it was not so much his words that found vulgar than the meaning behind those words. To be more clear, I guess when I think of the past I think of etiquette and chivalry, and don’t really expect crudity. Which is rather naive, of course. So, it does come as a shock when I find that there isn’t much different from then and now…and that, in a way, I find a little disappointing. More like having my bubble burst.

  9. Dear Risa

    I understand your concerns about the delivery and that is the biggest hurdle I face, so let me tempt you with a prose edition of a play no one knows much about, called ‘Cymbeline’. Let ‘Imogen’ be your introduction into what I do.

    The cover was meant to harken back to the time period and promise battle scenes between British and Roman troops, but like all good tales a love story is its spine.

    The big question will always be: WHY?

    Here goes.
    I wanted to write a screenplay using the framework of the most beloved story of all time but so many others had used and misused the name, claiming to be the same, yet distorting the real story. The most recent film invented new characters and relationships and quite frankly should not have been called Romeo and Juliet.

    Zeffirelli’s film version came closest but most other attempts modernize the story which distorts the atmosphere surrounding the characters who live and breath in a world of walled and gated cities, a world where women carry knives for self defense and men always wear swords, a world whose pace is set by the wind.

    So I watched the movie again and reread R&J to get a general sense of it and realized how much was left out and altered. Even though Z. had grounded the story in its time period, the bits he left out changed the meanings of other scenes.

    I delved further, reading Brooke’s ‘The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet’, reading the commentary of scholars from 1595 – 1950, oh the power of the internet which gave me access to all those documents, the writings of renowned scholars who commented on Shakespeare’s words or phrases and their meaning.

    It came as an interesting surprise to see these scholars argue in print about particular words and their meanings, sniping at one another, such as these entries regarding Sampson’s comment ‘I will be cruel’:

    19. I will be cruel) COLL. (ed. 1), “civil” perhaps a misprint for ‘cruel’; but Sampson may mean to speak ironically.
    DEL., Irony here in Sampson’s mouth would be out of place. [ Ulr.]
    COLL., (ed. 2), “cruel” the emendation of the (MS.). The misprint of ‘civil’ for “cruel” is allowed to remain in Greene and Lodge’s “Looking Glass for London and England” (Dyce’s edit. i, 74), “And play the civil wanton” for “cruel wanton.”
    DYCE (ed. 2), “cruel.” On this word Coll. (ed. 2) has a note, in which he shows his ignorance of our old language. (The foregoing note of Coli. quoted.] The passage in question is,
    “Madam, unless you coy it trick and trim,
    And play the civil wanton ere you yield,” etc.:
    where “civil” means grave, sober. The same author in his ‘Never too Late,’ speaking of the courtesans of Troynovant ( i.e., London), tells us that “she that holdeth in her eie most civility, hath oft in hir heart most dishonestie, being like the pyrit stone that is fier without and frost within.” See my ‘Account of Green and his Writings’, p. 8, ed. 1861.

    Such insights into so many differing opinions changed my tactics and I did what I expect every good teacher who has ever taught Shakespeare has suggested. Wrote out a translation of every word and phrase. It was as flat and dull as you would expect. The imagery had been destroyed.
    There are dozens of these kind of simplistic translations available on the internet for students. I wanted to go beyond that.

    I wanted to celebrate the wordplay, wordplay that often played with terms or words no longer in use after 400 years or whose meaning has changed, so, where necessary, I altered words or phrases to make them more familiar to a 21st century reader.
    Instead of clearcutting the garden I trimmed the hedges and showcased the flowers.

    I changed ‘thou art’ to ‘you are’, being careful to use the derogatory ‘boy’ when ‘thee’ was meant for underlings.

    I thought it best to publish this prose version of the story. That was ‘Madmen Have No Ears.’ Now I have done the same for ‘Cymbeline’ and published ‘Imogen’.
    I gave them titles different from their plays because they are not Shakespeare, they are prose interpretations.

    How can I get the book to you?

    Write your passion,


    1. “I gave them titles different from their plays because they are not Shakespeare, they are prose interpretations.”

      That’s an interesting way of putting it…and truthful! I am intrigued.

      Do you have a kindle / e-book version of your play?

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