Classic Remarks is a meme hosted here at Pages Unbound that poses questions each Friday about classic literature and asks participants to engage in ongoing discussions surrounding not only themes in the novels but also questions about canon formation, the “timelessness” of literature, and modes of interpretation. Feel free to comment even if you are not officially participating! This week’s question is:
Is Romeo and Juliet a tragic love story or an ironic comedy? Should we take the play seriously when its protagonists are so young?
I have to admit, I have never been a fan of Romeo and Juliet. I’ve spoken to many others who have a whole narrative about their relationship with the play: They loved in high school, as teenagers, and learned to be more skeptical of it later after more life experience or experience in relationships. Personally, I never thought the story was romantic, though that may have been more my frustration with the characters’ lack of logic rather than actual criticism of the relationship.
In short, the entire tragedy of the play could have been avoided if both Romeo and Juliet had simply slowed down and been more patient. Their deaths come down to impulsive moves and hasty decisions, which I guess I was judgmental of even as a freshman in high school. Why couldn’t these people simply be more rational in love? Humph. Today, that thought still sums up my opinion of Romeo and Juliet as people–they’re overly dramatic and kind of ridiculous. However, I guess that’s not altogether an unbelievable interpretation of young love, even most people wouldn’t take it to the extremes that Romeo and Juliet do. I also don’t think the fact that their deaths were completely unnecessarily and, frankly, partially their own fault makes the story less of a tragedy. They’re very young, and their deaths, no matter how they come about, are sad.
I admittedly haven’t read much academic criticism of the play, so I’m not sure who’s been proposing the whole thing is an ironic comedy. As much as Shakespeare inserts his characteristic humor and dirty jokes, and as much as I want to roll my eyes at many of the characters, so much of it is undeniably sad. So many people, young people, die because of high tempers, a pointless feud, and poor communication. If that’s humor or irony, it’s too dark for my taste.
Romeo and Juliet will never be my favorite Shakespeare play, but I do have increasing respect for it as the years go by. The language, of course, is beautiful, and that helps me buy into the characters even when their actions seems irrational to me. Shakespeare is wonderful at representing human behavior, and I think it’s fair to say that he’s showing us how human irrationality can be actually be moving or sad. It’s not necessarily something we should just sit and laugh and shake our heads at.
If you are participating in the meme this week, please share your link with us in the comments! (No Mr. Linky link-up for this week.)