Author Archives: jrrohrbach

6 Things Wrong with Shakespeare’s “Epic Romance” Romeo and Juliet

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.

4. Marriage

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

The Grimmer Side of the Brothers Grimm

Happily ever after? This writer’s trip to Germany revealed that even the most well-known fairy tales hold some very dark secrets.

If you grew up reading bedtime stories every night and obsessively watching Disney movies as I did, you probably know who the Grimm Brothers are. Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm collected hundreds of German stories, fairy tales and folklore in the 1800s. Because most of these were passed down orally through the generations, and only existed in that format, the brothers published them in books so that the stories could be enjoyed for centuries to come.

Author's photo of a home of in Kassel where a woman affiliated with the Brothers lived!

Author’s photo of a home of in Kassel, Germany where a woman affiliated with the Brothers lived!

I recently participated in a homestay in Kassel, Germany, a beautiful town that the brothers called home for 30 years. Despite studying law at the University of Marburg, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm are best known for publishing the book Kinder und Hausmärchen (translated to Children’s and Household Tales) in 1812 and various editions afterwards. Some of the more well-known fairy tales published by the Grimm’s include Cinderella, Rapunzel, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood, Tom Thumb, and Snow White. If you were to look at a list of Grimm fairy tales (in fact, I’ll leave a link here you’d surely recognize a few titles. However, these are not the same heart-warming, happy-ending stories you’re used to hearing.

For example, let’s take a look at Cinderella. We all know and love the Disney version of the beautiful orphan girl and her wicked stepmother and step-sisters. We sympathize with her underdog situation and dogged spirit. We cry with her when her dress is ruined and rejoice when the fairy Godmother appears. We root for Cinderella to beat the odds and end up with her prince to live happily ever after.

However, in the Grimm version there is no fairy Godmother, but two white doves. When Cinderella’s stepsisters try on her golden slipper (another difference), their feet are too big. One sister cuts off a toe and the other cuts off her heel. And at Cinderella’s wedding, they get their eyes pecked out by pigeons.

A little different, right? Many of these original stories are darker than their modern counterparts. Over time, the stories evolved and softened to appeal to a younger audience, children who could still be enraptured by magic and fantasy. But the first tales are downright disturbing; trickery, thievery, and murder are just a few of the themes you might find in the Kinder und Hausmärchen.

Because of the mature content of these fairy tales, I would exercise caution before using one as a bedtime story. For those of us who are a bit older and arguably wiser, Grimm’s fairy tales offer a different perspective from the stories we’ve grown up with. So if you’re ever in the mood for some twisted entertainment, or just feel like ruining your childhood, give these stories a read!

Aerial view of Kassel, Germany from the Herkules Monument that overlooks the city

Author’s photo of an aerial view of Kassel from the Herkules Monument that overlooks the city


Written by Jennifer Rohrbach

Young Adult Literature: Renewing Popular Interest in Books

Anyone with a high school education has probably heard of the ‘greats’ in classic literature, such as The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby. And sure, if you are an avid reader, you most likely appreciate sophisticated prose. However, in the past fourteen years, the world has experienced a new kind of literary boom with the eruption of the Young Adult genre. This breed of literature, frequently referred to as YA lit, has experienced an exponential rise to fame, riding on the tailwind of books like The Hunger Games, Twilight, and the Harry Potter series.

This evolving genre is “on a roller coaster that only goes up, my friend.” The YA motif has expanded into the realms of realistic fiction, fantasy, and adventure. The variety of subjects YA lit offers has blurred the lines between fiction and non-fiction and the lines that separate young adult and adult readership.

Jennifer Lynn Barnes, a young adult author, says, “Just like adolescence is between childhood and adulthood, paranormal, or other, is between human and supernatural. Teens are caught between two worlds, childhood and adulthood, and in YA, they can navigate those two worlds and sometimes dualities of other worlds.”

The term ‘young adult’ was coined in the 1960s and originally referenced teens ages 12-18. Now that term has stretched to include readers from 10-29. Furthermore, “16-to 29-year-olds are the largest group checking out books from their local libraries,”, and a 2012 survey even found that 55% of YA books are bought by people older than 18, and 28% by those between 30 and 44 years old.

However, because of its ‘young adult’ label, the YA lit community is facing backlash from people who believe that individuals should not read YA lit if they are out of the acceptable age range, despite the fact that the range is intended to identify a target audience, not place limitations. Blogger Ruth Graham claims that “Adults should feel embarrassed about reading literature written for children,” because of its “maudlin teen dramas” and endings that are “far too simple.” Opinions like these give young adult literature a negative stigma. While some books may have contrived plots or clichéd characters, the entire genre should not be condemned. YA books explore legitimate topics and controversies in language that is understandable and situations that are relatable. Meaningful themes teach readers valuable life lessons that they might not receive otherwise.

Adults should not be embarrassed to read YA books, because the experiences of adolescence are not something you endure and forget. They stay with you forever. Reading a novel considered to be ‘young adult’ allows adults to revisit those emotions, and remind them every so often that they did not instantly jump from 13 to 30.

Young adult literature creates a deeper love of all literature that allows readers to transition from works by J.K. Rowling and Stephanie Meyer to the lasting classics of J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee. In today’s society, it is far too easy for teens to choose a video game over a printed piece of literature. YA lit is taking the world by storm, which means more teenagers are reading, and that is pretty amazing.

by Jennifer Rohrbach