A New Take on Romeo and Juliet

by Lisa Rosen on August 29, 2011

I realized something important–life-changing, in fact–on my run yesterday.

We’ve been reading Romeo and Juliet all wrong.

Remember when your high school English teacher got all weepy about the beauty of young love, the tragedy of their untimely deaths, the grief and passion of life in Verona, as painted by The Bard?

Dude.  She was reading the play all wrong.


No, really.   Bear with me for a second.

Juliet is thirteen years old, right?  Have you ever met a thirteen-year-old girl?  I have.  I’ve met quite a few, as a matter of fact, and I’d like to let you in on a little secret:  in their minds, they’re all Juliet.  Deep in their souls, they truly believe that boys should tremble before their beauty.  That families will feud and duel and die in their honor.  That theirs is the most romantic, most passionate, most noble love in the  history of the world. (21st century girls are too jaded to admit any of this, of course, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think it–just spend a few days with one.  You’ll see.)

And when that perfect boy, the one she’s certain is the One and Only, breaks up with her, because soccer season is starting, or a new girl showed up at the pool, or his mom said he was too young to “date”?  It’s the End. Of. The. World.  Her heart is broken, she’ll never get over him; now she knows the real meaning of loss.

It’s all so tragic.

The real tragedy, in my mind, is when the parents jump on the bandwagon (see:  Montagues and Capulets.  Also, the soccer mom in your book club who has called three psychologists, two pediatricians, and a chiropractor, wondering what to do about the untimely end of her daughter’s deep and meaningful relationship.)

It all makes so much more sense as a parody, when you think about it:  Shakespeare, bless his heart, was pointing out the absurdity of life with teens.  Romeo and Juliet is meant to be a comfort to us poor parents–see, he seems to be saying, it could be so much worse.  At least you’re not the beleaguered Mrs. Capulet, having to contend with the family feud, the wayward nanny, and that irrepressible Mercutio riling up the neighborhood.

What’s a good 16th-century parent to do?

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