Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
Publisher: Washington Square Press
First published in 1597
Genres: Classics, Play, Literature, Drama
Buy: Book Depository | Amazon
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare creates a world of violence and generational conflict in which two young people fall in love and die because of that love. The story is rather extraordinary in that the normal problems faced by young lovers are here so very large. It is not simply that the families of Romeo and Juliet disapprove of the lover’s affection for each other; rather, the Montagues and the Capulets are on opposite sides in a blood feud and are trying to kill each other on the streets of Verona. Every time a member of one of the two families dies in the fight, his relatives demand the blood of his killer. Because of the feud, if Romeo is discovered with Juliet by her family, he will be killed. Once Romeo is banished, the only way that Juliet can avoid being married to someone else is to take a potion that apparently kills her, so that she is burried with the bodies of her slain relatives. In this violent, death-filled world, the movement of the story from love at first sight to the union of the lovers in death seems almost inevitable.
What is so striking about this play is that despite its extraordinary setting (one perhaps reflecting Elizabethan attitudes about hot-blooded Italians), it has become the quintessential story of young love. Because most young lovers feel that they have to overcome giant obstacles in order to be together, because they feel that they would rather die than be kept apart, and especially because the language Shakespeare gives his young lovers is so exquisite, allowing them to say to each other just what we would all say to a lover if we only knew how, it is easy to respond to this play as if it were about all young lovers rather than about a particular couple in a very unusual world. (When the play was rewritten in the eighteen century as The History and Fall of Caius Marius, the violent setting became that of a particularly discordant period in classical Rome; when Leonard Berstein rewrote the play as West Side Story, he chose the violent world of New York street gangs.)
I never thought I would find a Shakespearean play gripping, but it actually was! I’ve been meaning to read one for ages but they seem rather difficult to read/understand. But I finally did it and it was actually way easier than I initially thought!
I started reading this because I received from NetGalley a Manga Classic of Romeo and Juliet (thank you again!). And it pushed me to read it and compare them. And I’m so incredibly happy I did! This is my first ever Shakespeare play and I loved it! Also, this edition is great, it really helps with understanding the language and there’s a bunch of information on the beginning and end of the book about Shakespeare himself; an introduction to the play; a modern perspective of the play; and so on. If it’s the first time you’re reading a Shakespeare play, this is a really helpful edition!
As for the story itself, I have a tendency to love tragedy, so for me, this was the perfect one to start with. The classic tragedy of Romeo and Juliet! I really ought to have read this long ago… Anyway, there’s so much more to it than their love, and I had no idea!
So, this is the story of Juliet, a 13- (almost 14) year-old lady from a family called Capulet, and Romeo, who is probably in his 16s or 17s? (they do not say, but he seems older than her) and he’s from a family called Montague. These two families hold a grudge against each other, and hate each other with everything they have. How could Romeo and Juliet’s love ever survive with their families?
Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
There are so many deaths in this book, because of love! They were together so little time and yet they wretched havoc… Ahhh I love tragedies! Okay, I know it’s not (always) their love’s fault that people died, they are just in the middle of it. But that’s what I loved most about this novel! Not their love but the families’ feud. How hate can blind one’s eyes, and doom so many to an early grave, without necessarily meaning it. Especially for the ones they love…
I loved everything in this play! How much depth and meaning it has; how love comes hand in hand with hate; how honor, family, and friendship can drive one to do what they wouldn’t normally do… There’s just so much more to this novel than I thought! Sure, it does have instalove, but it didn’t really bother me. Especially after what Friar Lawrence said, which I felt to be often true:
So soon forsaken? Young men’s love then lies
Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.
There are themes of love, hate, sex, fate, marriage, family… But they are explored in a very different and interesting way, where the language/writing really helps to grip you. I thought I wasn’t going to be a fan of the writing but I really was! It was so poetic and easy to feel!
I would definitely recommend this book if you’re interested in trying out some of Shakespeare’s plays. It’s a very known and truly amazing story about love and hate, packed with action, emotion and obviously tragedy!
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Let’s discuss it in the comments below!