Feeling nostalgic, I settled in for a self-indulgent viewing of Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet (yes Leonardo DiCaprio movies were a major influence on my teen years), and I had two thoughts. The first of which was “Paul Rudd?” Dude had some douchey roles before the world realized he was funny. The second of which is that Shakespeare (or at least misinterpretation of Shakespeare) is solely responsible for everything that is wrong with romantic ideals. I know I’m not the first to realize this, but those kids were nuts. In less than 24 hours of their meet cute they decide they are so madly in love that they must marry, consequences of death, banishment and estranged families be damned.
At least they had their hormones and teenage stupidity to blame. But our dear Friar Lawrence was apparently sampling his potions to the point where he thought their union was a brilliant idea. I understand his desire to make peace between the Montagues and Capulets with their “love,” but trusting a couple of hyper emotional adolescents to end an age-old, violent feud between equally hyper emotional families pushes the bounds of irresponsible to deluded.
The general population actually understands that had Romeo and Juliet lived they would have fallen into a spiral of resentment. Juliet would lose her youthful bloom and Romeo would take to traipsing around fair Verona with his bros likely reconnecting with that little vixen Rosaline along the way. Still, despite this realistic lens, it’s still considered a beautiful story of romance and doomed love.
Maybe it isn’t actually about the magnetic love between two dramatic minors. Maybe Shakespeare was trying to tell us that bad things happen when we let passion control our actions (yeah I know this isn’t a grand epiphany). Throughout the entire play there are approximately 765 occasions where a level head would have prevented every subsequent tragedy. So why is it we overlook the transparent cautionary elements to embrace only the ooey gooey desperate love between two individuals who don’t have sense enough to realize that half a conversation does not lay the proper groundwork for a happy marriage?
As a 13-year-old girlie exploring the pages of Shakespeare, I was mostly too distracted by the poetry of the story to attempt to uncover a deeper moral than something purely romantic. (Say what you will about Shakespeare, the man could turn a phrase.) As an adult, perhaps it’s just easier to brush over the themes of consequence and focus on the strength of their “love.” Maybe I underestimate how many people actually understand that love, in fact, is not the play’s “most important theme.” (However, if Spark Notes says it, it must be true.) Though perhaps the more likely answer is that the play really is just about two crazy kids who found love fast and early and my cynical perspective is wrongly skewing my understanding of the themes. That or I just really like the idea that rash decisions lead to a situation in which “all art punish’ed” because it’s a damn cool line.