Valentine’s Day; a holiday chock full of passion, romance, and chocolate. For some, the day is awaited with eager anticipation of receiving flowers, gorging ourselves heart-shaped candy, and spending time with a loved one. For the rest, we barricade ourselves in our room with a bowl of popcorn and nurse our lonely hearts by binge-watching Netflix. But what ever happened to good ol’ romance? Where are the heartfelt declarations of love? Perhaps you fill this void by reading Shakespeare’s celebrated Romeo and Juliet, a tale of star-crossed lovers destined for tragedy.
Well, this year I highly encourage you to reconsider your choice of literary satisfaction, because I’m here to tell you 6 things that are wrong with Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and trust me; after this, you won’t be longing for a Romeo to come clambering up your balcony any time soon.
1.They knew each other for a day
I can’t even imagine going on a date with someone I’ve known for less than a day, let alone marrying them. For those of you who might be a bit fuzzy on the finer details, the timeline of Romeo and Juliet goes like this; on Sunday night, Romeo goes to the Capulet’s party. He and Juliet lock eyes and fall passionately in love. They get married the next day and die a few days later. The end.
This famous Shakespearean tragedy was based on Arthur Brooke’s 1562 narrative poem, Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet, which was taken from another fable, which was taken from another. Seriously, the story behind this play is ancient. Shakespeare published his play thirty-five years later, in 1597. Brooke’s version may be a little drier, but their relationship took place over nine months, which allowed for a more development than Shakespeare’s condensed version, which happened in less than a week.
2. Juliet is the rebound
After Romeo gets friend-zoned by Rosaline (who has taken a vow of chastity), his Montague bros take him out to a party to forget about her, “By giving liberty unto thine eyes. / Examine other beauties” (1.2.225). Here he sees Juliet and enters into a whirlwind romance that seems completely unrealistic today, unless you need a green card or get drunk in Vegas and make questionable decisions. And even if he does truly love her, our precious, naïve Juliet is nonetheless Romeo’s rebound in an attempt to mend his broken heart and piece together his shattered manhood.
3. In Romeo’s case, “creepy” is often mistaken for “romantic”
Sure we all know Romeo’s legendary pickup line: “O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do / They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair” (1.5.102). But using religion to coerce her? Okay, I might be exaggerating, but doesn’t this seem a bit like Romeo is forcing himself on her? And this is not the only time he does it.
After the party ends, Romeo creeps around Juliet’s backyard until he sees her on the balcony. He does not tell her that he is there, but listens to her private musings. Upon his exposure, Juliet says, “What man art thou that thus bescreened in night / So stumbles on my counsel?” which is pretty much saying “WTF dude?”
Romeo proceeds to flatter her with words of love that—let’s be honest, would probably win over anybody, male or female—until he forces her to say the big ILY. At first Juliet shows promising signs of sensibility and refuses him, saying, “Although I joy in thee / I have no joy of this contract tonight; / It is too rash, to unadvised, too sudden” (2.2.116-118). However, Romeo then guilt’s her into professing her love, crying, “O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?” and asking for “Th’ exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine” until she finally gives in (2.2.125-127). Keep in mind, this takes place only hours after they met.
Okay, so this one isn’t bashing on Romeo, but on Juliet’s other suitor, Paris (if you can even call them suitors). At first, Capulet, Juliet’s father, wants Paris to “woo” Juliet because he values her consent. Juliet’s mother thinks he’s beautiful, so she cannot fathom why Juliet would be opposed to the marriage. Later, when Juliet is upset about Romeo’s banishment and Tybalt’s death, Paris (now with her father’s blessing) tries to force her into a marriage, which makes her take ridiculously extreme measures to get out of it. Neither Paris nor Romeo actually court Juliet, which makes me kind of feel bad for the girl.
5. Family does not seem to be a priority
Romeo finally gets over Rosaline by latching onto Juliet, who is none other than Rosaline’s cousin! (Somebody has a thing for Capulets)
There’s also the whole thing that hey, nobody else—not even Juliet’s trusted nurse—thinks this relationship is a good idea, but they do it anyway! YOLO
Granted, there are a lot of great themes in this play, such as the pointlessness of blind hatred perceived through the feud between the Capulets and Montagues. This tension culminates in the scene where the two sides fight for their pride, which only leads to meaningless death and suffering. Tybalt of the Capulets hates Romeo because he’s a Montague, and because Romeo won’t fight him (none of them know of his marriage to Juliet), his friend Mercutio impulsively decides to fight Tybalt himself, and is promptly killed. In a fit of rage, Romeo kills Tybalt, Juliet’s beloved cousin, to avenge his friend’s death. Apparently “an eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind” hadn’t been written yet. (Gandhi, by the way, and he was born in 1869)
Juliet basically says, “Romeo killed my cousin, my childhood companion, my own flesh and blood! But then again, Tybalt would have killed Romeo, who I have been married to for three hours and have known for about a day, so you know, the pros outweigh the cons.” Basically. Loosely translated. Anyway, then she doesn’t even want to mourn Tybalt’s death: “Wash they his wounds with tears? Mine shall be spent, / When theirs are dry, for Romeo’s banishment” (3.2.130-131). She won’t cry for her dead cousin, but will for her banished husband of three hours? I don’t know about you guys, but I think she really needs to sort out her priorities. (Harry Potter, anyone?)
6. Pretty much every one dies because of two kids’ infatuation with each other
I mean seriously, why is something so violent, corrupt and bloody considered one of the greatest love stories of all time? I guess there are the good elements, that love conquers all (except, you know, death), tragedy can bring people together, the individual versus society, and the inevitability of fate, but seriously; do yourself a favor and read Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice. They’re much more satisfying.
Written by Jennifer Rohrbach
Used the Bloomsbury Arden Shakespeare 2012 edition