no of course I’m not offended! and I’m happy to answer your question. Just prepare because this is a long response:
Yes, I am one of “those people.” I think the love that Romeo and Juliet share is beautiful and innocent and pure, and that their fate was a tragedy. But hear me out.
So imagine this: you’re young. Insanely young. You were raised with parents who either ignore your feelings or send somebody else to come console you when you’re sad as if they were sending an errand boy on a chore. Your entire family is at war with another family over a disagreement so old no one really remembers what started it, and despite that, this old, stupid dispute is more important to the adults in your life than actually paying attention to you. You have only one, maybe two friends who practically (or literally) raised you, and even the friends you love are hard to confide in because they too often don’t see things the way you do.
Then you meet someone. Someone you instantly click with and whom you adore with all your heart, but the world you live in is so violent and controlling you can’t be with them just because they’re on the “wrong side” of the feud. So every aspect of your life is under siege, and the one chance at happiness you have is taken away from you because of a feud you don’t care about.
And yeah, maybe you’re both young. Maybe you’re being reckless. Maybe the relationship could potentially dissolve later on. But in this situation, it doesn’t really seem realistic to go “Hmm, so I just fell in love with someone who loves me back and am experiencing pure, utter bliss for the first time in my life. But my family hates them, so I think I’ll just end it with this amazing person that seems to care about me and obey the parents who have emotionally neglected me for my entire life instead.”
So to get at my point, I’m not about to tell you why Romeo and Juliet are or are not the epitome of a perfect couple that every couple should aspire to be. Because here’s the thing: I don’t care about that. Whether Romeo and Juliet’s relationship is “real love” or “just lust” is meaningless to me, and I believe it’s entirely irrelevant when dissecting this story.
What matters is that what they have feels like love to them. What they have is innocent, not because they desire to do nothing but hold hands with each other and cuddle (the opposite is more in affect), but because they were, by the textbook definition, innocent of having committed any crime.
Romeo and Juliet is not a cautionary tale warning against teen love, like most seem to think; it’s a cautionary tale warning against senseless violence. Romeo and Juliet are doing nothing wrong by loving each other. It isn’t even possible for loving another person to be morally wrong in the first place. Technically, the only thing that’s wrong with their relationship is that they made reckless decisions within it, but even those reckless decisions can be blamed on the violence, as they wouldn’t have needed to make those decisions in order to stay together if there hadn’t been fighting in the first place. The only reason they had to rush into marriage was because, logically, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission, and it’s fairly obvious they would have never gotten permission to marry if they had asked for it.
The tragedy is not “these reckless hooligans in love got everybody killed because they couldn’t keep it in their pants.” The tragedy is that the adults are so busy fighting they manage to taint the one nice, healthy source of happiness in their children’s lives. The tragedy lies in the fact that without the violence, Romeo and Juliet would have been able to have a relatively happy relationship (or at least a relationship that ran it’s natural course, whether they ended up breaking up or not).
From the very beginning of the play, Shakespeare very clearly warns the audience that look out guys, this is a story about two cute kids who fall in love but kill themselves because they can’t be together because of how badly their parents fucked all of the shit up. Within the first two lines he’s describing how Romeo and Juliet, so pure in nature, are poisoned by the toxicity of their environment, “where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
The point of the play is how love and hate are two things that cannot exist within the same space, and this is reiterated constantly. When Benvolio tries to explain to Tybalt that he’s trying to keep the peace between the families, Tybalt responds “what, drawn and talk of peace?” This line is perhaps one of the most profound lines and tells so much about the story. It reiterates that you cannot begin to “talk of peace” with a drawn sword. Weapons must be put away for peace and love to thrive.
The love between Romeo and Juliet is pure at heart, but is almost instantly tainted by the violence between their families. Even their first meeting takes place under the threat of Tybalt, who almost attacks Romeo for being there in the first place. As soon as Juliet learns the family Romeo comes from she is in anguish, already feeling the threat of violence in something that shouldn’t be threatened at all.
The violence, in the end, can be blamed entirely on the feuding families. Even Mercutio, who seems to be the one character directly in the middle of every conflict except the one that kills him, realizes in the end in the end that the ones to blame for all of the pain is both families for engaging in the feud, not who started the feud in the first place. “A plague o’ both your houses” is more than just a fun thing to shout when you’re mad at someone: it’s a fair and well thought out response to the injustices of which both families are guilty.
I think if Shakespeare wanted to write a story about how teenage love is stupid, he would have. But he didn’t write about how teenage love is stupid. At least, not in Romeo and Juliet. He wrote about how fast young love appears and disappears and how young people can be very ill-equipped to make good decisions when under pressure, but he does not place the blame on Romeo or Juliet. There simply isn’t enough evidence in the text to support such an argument.
And even if you don’t really believe Romeo and Juliet loved each other, who is anyone to be the judge of that? Love isn’t like taking a test where you have to meet all of the requirements and do things the right way until you can finally deserve to label your feelings for somebody as “love.” Romantic love feels different for different people and the only way anybody knows they’re in love is when it feels like love. So whether you think it’s valid or not, Romeo and Juliet interpreted their feelings as love, and that makes it love because there is no disproving love (except in the case of abuse, in which case it’s fair to say the abuser does not love the abused, but this point is irrelevant as neither of the characters abuse one another in the text).
So back to the main question: is “Romeo and Juliet” the greatest love story of all time? I don’t know. I haven’t read every love story ever written, so I quite honestly am not the right person to answer that question. All I know is that to call “Romeo and Juliet” a love story is an oversimplification. It’s not just a story about love, but a story about hate, and what it can do to people. It’s about how parents need to pay attention to their children because they’re smarter than you think. It’s a cautionary tale that’s anti-violence and pro-love. Parents disregarding and shaming young love because of their own prejudices is not a thing of the past, but perhaps, if more people read “Romeo and Juliet” with an open mind, it could become one.
before discovering lana del rey
after discovering lana del rey