William Shakespeare is probably most famous for his love story, Romeo & Juliet, the story of a Montague and a Capulet who, despite both of their families hating each other, fall in love and die for one another. Sounds romantic, right? Well, resident author Sabrina Jeffries stopped by XOXO After Dark to give her thoughts on why Romeo & Juliet should not be considered a romance.
The first time I saw Romeo and Juliet, it was the Zeffirelli film version. I was on a first date with a longtime friend who after that night became my boyfriend. Romantic, right?
Maybe for a teenager. But for an adult, not so much. The young couple ends up dead together after one night of sweet loving. That only sounds appealing when you’re young and think you have nothing to lose.
So let’s put to rest the idea of the play as a romance. Here are five reasons it isn’t a romance, but a pure tragedy.
1. No happy ending. Sorry, but a true romance should end with the couple together and relatively content. Because that’s what romance fiction is about—finding the love of your life. And not a life of a few days, either.
2. Obsessive infatuation. Romeo goes to that party at the Capulets because he’s pursuing a different Capulet—Rosaline. He’s mad with love for her . . . until he sees fair Juliet. He’s “in love” with two women in one night. Can anyone say “fickle”? Even the friar who marries him and Juliet calls him a “young waverer.”
3. An impetuous hero. The man kills Tybalt. I get that he does it to avenge his kinsman, but an eye for an eye wasn’t acceptable even then, because, as one of my favorite songs says, “An eye for an eye / That was all that filled their minds / And another eye for another eye / Till everyone was blind.” You can’t run a society that way.
4. A really young heroine. We know for sure she’s not quite fourteen. Guesses for his age lie somewhere between sixteen and twenty-one. When Romeo says he’s “in love” and she reciprocates, the friar says, “O, she knew well / Thy love did read by rote and could not spell.” She has no idea what real love is because she’s too young to understand it. She has no one to compare him to.
5. A deeply tragic message. The play isn’t about true love: it’s about how first love gets trampled under the old grudges and biases of people who hate for little reason. So it’s a great play, with a profound message. It just isn’t a romance.
I’ve felt this way for a long time. That’s why my premise for Stormswept, a book I initially wrote twenty years ago and have revised for this reissue, originated from the question: “What happened if Romeo went off to Mantua and didn’t return for six years?” But my star-crossed Welsh and English lovers from feuding families end up happily married in the end. Because my heart keeps hoping that a little distance and maturity between Romeo and Juliet might have prevented the tragedy. And then it would be a romance!
So how do you feel about Romeo and Juliet? A favorite? Not a favorite? Do you think it’s a romance?