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YMMV / Romeo and Juliet

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  • Adaptation Displacement:
    • Though Shakespeare's play is the most famous version of the story, variations on it existed prior to said play. See also Older Than They Think below.
    • Thanks to the more famous film adaptations, people are often shocked to discover that Juliet is only thirteen in the text. Most adaptations give her an Age Lift to be around fifteen or sixteen. Ironically the adaptations are more in line with the source material, where Romeo was twenty and Juliet eighteen. Shakespeare made her younger.
  • Alternative Character Interpretation:
    • Academics and tropers are split over the play. Either Romeo and Juliet were in love, but died due to rushing into things and a lot of bad luck, or Romeo just wanted to get into bed with her, or Juliet was looking for a way out of marrying someone she doesn't like and out of her controlling family and Romeo happened to be that way. As far as most of the modern audience is concerned, it's the first one. It could also be argued that what Romeo and Juliet thought was true love was in fact just romantic infatuation intensified by Forbidden Fruit.
    • And perhaps a factor in both their suicides is not just the death of the other partner, but the fact that they've had to grow up in an environment where people are regularly killing each other in the street, and simply looking at Juliet with starry eyes is enough to provoke Tybalt to violence. Romeo may want to die not just because he thinks life is worthless without his beloved, but because he's killed two people (his soliloquy before he takes the poison even has him saying he's punishing himself for killing Tybalt) and lost one of his best friends (both if you go by the Quatro that Benvolio dies too) - as well as being banished from his home and family for the former. Juliet likewise lost her cousin and was about to be forced into a marriage she didn't want, and felt betrayed by her parents and the Nurse (who was her confidant re: Romeo as well). Perhaps dying young seemed preferable to the hellhole that Verona seemed to be descending into.
      • Furthermore, after Romeo's death Juliet's plans to run away with him are scuppered and she would now have to explain to everyone how she's actually still alive and why a member of a rival family is lying dead in her tomb. Considering the amount of grief and stress she's already under – and possibly fear of potential repercussions from either the Montagues or her own family – maybe committing suicide rather than having to face that seemed like a better option to Juliet?
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    • Friar Lawrence. Is he a kindly man of God, trying his best to help the two lovers live happily ever after? Or a Manipulative Bastard who knows full well how dangerous his plans are, but wants peace in his city and is willing to risk two children's lives for the greater good?
    • Tybalt is the closest thing the story has to a main antagonist, but in the Zeffirelli version, when his friends drag him away from his fight with Mercutio, you can see clear shock on his face as he realizes he has actually stabbed Mercutio, suggesting that most of his villainy was nothing more than posturing and that he never meant to really hurt anyone.
    • In the 1978 BBC Television Shakespeare version, following Romeo's line "Good Capulet, whose name I tender as dearly as mine own, be satisfied", Tybalt just turns and starts walking away without so much as a taunt or laugh. This effectively shifts much of his culpability for the ensuing fight onto Mercutio's shoulders, making the latter come across as something of an Asshole Victim.
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    • Paris can vary in characterization depending on how the production presents him. Some will show him as a Jerkass to justify Juliet fleeing her proposal, while others could show him just as yet another victim in the feud. Notably his role in the play is to be an obstacle preventing the lovers from being together, yet not out of any maliciousness of his own. Of course since he's especially keen to marry the thirteen-year-old, there's another possibility...
    • A good case can be made for the play's true villain being Lady Capulet. Lady Montague at least seems like she would rather the feud be over with, but Lady Capulet's spiteful reaction to Tybalt's death is to demand Romeo's death as well - ignoring that Tybalt killed a man himself (after he was warned by the Prince). She also gets a scene where she plots to murder Romeo herself via poisoning - suggesting she's happy to keep influencing the younger generation to keep the violence going. Not to mention that she's such a neglectful mother to Juliet, she pretty much admits she needs the Nurse there (as she understands Juliet better). Juliet tries to appeal to her to at least delay the unexpected marriage with Paris, but it falls on deaf ears - when she herself should know how horrible it was to be such a young mother.
  • Angst Dissonance: Hmm, you're thirteen and being married off to a man who's not only much older but you've never even met - and this marriage decides the fate of your estate and entire family, so there's no getting out of it? And then your cousin dies, and the boy you do like has to get banished because of it? Stupid girl should have just done what her parents ordered.
  • Base-Breaking Character: While Mercutio is often considered the highlight of the play, you'll find just as many people who find him a painful vehicle for a showboat ham actor.
  • Best Known for the Fanservice: The Zeffirelli version's most famous scene is the Romeo and Juliet nudity - coming from a sex scene that is only implied in the play. Also is the urban legend that Olivia Hussey was refused into the premiere for being too young to see her own nude scene.note 
  • Cliché Storm: Even when it was written, the story had been told in various other forms.
  • Critical Research Failure:
    • Not in the work itself, but the countless derivatives and parodies often assume "wherefore" means "where"; it means "why". Juliet, thus, isn't asking "where's Romeo?" but asking "why is Romeo?" Or, to put it another way, she's lamenting that Romeo is a Montague, and thus seemingly out of her reach.
      • Similarly, the phrase "star-cross'd lovers" is typically taken nowadays to mean "two people destined to be together" often with the implication of a happy life for both. In fact, in Shakespeare's time it meant something more along the lines of "a love fated to end badly"; to be "crossed" by the stars (or fate) would not mean living a happy life.
    • The Vietnamese translation of the balcony scene (cited in the national Literature textbook) has two.
      • It translated "But soft!" as if Romeo was shushing someone, when it's just an expression of surprise.
      • The footnote states that the "vestal livery" (changed to "robes of spirit mediums" via Woolseyism) was worn by virgin worshippers of Diana (the moon goddess that Romeo just insulted). The Vestal Virgins actually tended to the fire sacred to the goddess of home and hearth, Vesta.
  • Draco in Leather Pants: Tybalt sometimes receives this treatment. Especially when he's portrayed by a sufficiently attractive or charismatic actor. In the Zeffirelli version, he's played by a young Michael York and given a Adaptational Nice Guy, where he is shocked to have actually killed Mercutio. Alan Rickman has also played the role. In the 1978 version, almost literally, as he's dressed in tight-fitting black pants, with sharply tailored jackets and... very tight vest tops.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Mercutio, who has all the good lines in the early part of the play, making it more jolting when he's killed. His legendary show stealing potential has made him the most popular character of the piece.
    • The Nurse is one of the funniest side characters, and many actresses would rather play the Nurse than Juliet. This is lampshaded in an episode of Pepper Ann where PA gets cast as the Nurse and - initially annoyed at not being Juliet - soon realises what a great part the Nurse is.
    • Benvolio is quite popular for a character that vanishes at the same time Mercutio dies, and even before then only appears in scenes to react to other characters. But he's beloved for being the Only Sane Man and Romeo's playful Deadpan Snarker best friend. Productions and adaptations will usually find a way to feature him in more scenes towards the end.
    • Tybalt's role is actually fairly small on paper, but he's nevertheless quite popular due to his intense, badass nature and the way he completely alters the plot. Most versions will showcase him more with extended duels, and often hinting at more depth than is first apparent.
  • Fanon:
    • Mercutio is Camp Gay. There's nothing in the text that explicitly suggests this, but a number of adaptations have taken this interpretation and ran with it.
    • Rosaline is - along with Benvolio - one of the only sane characters in the play and made the right choice in rejecting Romeo's advances. Everyone else is either feuding or eloping.
    • Strangely, for a character who doesn't even appear in the play, both fanfictions and published adaptations have portrayed Valentine as an agoraphobic recluse, both to justify his absence at the Capulet party and make him a counterpoint to Mercutio.
    • Another common interpretation is that Mercutio is the unworthy heir to Prince Escalus and was raised by him.
  • Fan-Preferred Couple: Benvolio/Rosaline is easily the biggest fanon ship even though the two never interacted throughout the play (and Rosaline doesn't even appear). It has spawned numerous unofficial spin-offs, including: Prince of Shadows, Still Star-Crossed, Rosaline's Ex, and After Juliet. Benvolio/Mercutio follows closely behind despite never really being implied in the text. Mercutio/Romeo also has a fanbase because of their Ho Yay, but Romeo being infatuated with Juliet puts a stopper on this popularity.
  • Foe Yay:
    • Between Romeo and Tybalt. "The reason that I have to love thee," indeed...
    • While evidence in the original text is scarce, many adaptations portray Tybalt and Mercutio this way, often with sexual taunting, sometimes with a "Take That!" Kiss, and once in a film from Quebec, even a BDSM sex scene that leads to Mercutio's death.
    • Some productions play up this aspect between Tybalt and Benvolio as well. Again, there's not a lot of evidence for it in the text but the fact that Tybalt specifically targets Benvolio in the first brawl and even seems to single him out among all other Montagues ("Peace? I hate the word as I hate Hell, all Montagues, and thee [Benvolio]!") has garnered some speculation as to why that might be.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: One of Juliet's lines in Act 2, Scene 2 is "Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say 'ay'." Read this with knowledge of a conversation in Dragon Quest I, in which the princess also asks "Dost thou love me?" and serves as the Trope Namer for But Thou Must!.
  • Ho Yay: Mercutio/Romeo, Mercutio/Benvolio.
  • It Was His Sled: Mercutio dies. The titular couple dying at the end isn't this trope - it's a Foregone Conclusion, since it's stated right in the opening narration that both of them are going to die.
  • Idiot Plot: It might actually be more convenient to list the characters who aren't Too Dumb to Live. The two titular lovers are rushing into a relationship, the Montagues and Capulets are pointlessly making their lives miserable over the sake of a petty feud, Romeo gets Mercutio killed when he won't just come out and say what's happened to Tybalt, and Poor Communication Kills is everywhere. Had anybody sat down and talked things out, there would be no play. But then again, There Are No Therapists and wars have been started over less in real life. However, that's the point; the main theme is about what happens when people allow their petty feuds to destroy those they care about, regardless of the sides they're on.
  • Iron Woobie: The Nurse. Despite having lost her husband, daughter, surrogate daughter and very close kinsman, she is possibly the least angsty character in the play. Her Woobie status is even bigger in the original tale, where she gets banished after the death of the lovers.
  • Memetic Mutation:
    • The balcony scene has some of the most famous lines in the English language, including "Wherefore art thou Romeo?", "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," "What light through yonder window breaks?" and "Parting is such sweet sorrow." That last line is widely used and quoted to express a pair of lovers who have to leave each other for a time.
    • Two pairs of last words have become popular: Mercutio's "A plague o' both your houses!" and Romeo's "Thus, with a kiss, I die."
    • Lord Capulet's interestingly-worded admonishment of Tybalt, "You are a saucy boy." It's often paired with "What, you egg!" from Macbeth as a dialogue, probably because of those lines both being inherently funny.
  • Misaimed Fandom:
    • Thanks to Mainstream Obscurity and a misreading of what the term "Star-Crossed Lovers" means, a number of people think that Romeo and Juliet is the most romantic love story ever written. The play itself is very critical of Romeo and Juliet's relationship, mostly owing to the two of them being lovestruck teenagers who are in way over their heads and making a bad situation even worse. The relationship moves absurdly fast, from "I just met you at a party" to "you are my undying love, marry me" in less than two days, and the Downer Ending where both of them die entirely preventable deaths due to an abysmally bad attempt at explaining exactly what was going on. Far from presenting it as the ultimate love story, the play is instead quite critical of their lovestruck relationship that wasn't all that thought out.
    • Also, there are some people who use Romeo and Juliet as an analogy for even the most mundane problem in their own relationships, ignoring the tragic theme of the play.
    • There's people who assume it's not actually a love story, and that Romeo and Juliet are just stupid teenagers who should have listened to their parents, even though those parents are too busy being locked in a completely pointless feud to really do any sort of parenting, which is a big cause of why Romeo and Juliet's relationship is doomed. This also discounts that their lines about being in love are some of the best poetry Shakespeare's written. Romeo and Juliet mishandled their love for each other, but they were in love (or as "in love" as two teenagers who have barely met can be, at any rate). While Romeo and Juliet might have been acting foolishly, they wouldn't have had to if it weren't for their two families needlessly complicating things.
  • Moral Event Horizon:
    • Depending on how it's staged, Tybalt crosses it by killing Mercutio with a cheap shot, thus setting off a chain of events leading directly to the Downer Ending. This is softened in some adaptations, including the Zeffirelli version, where Tybalt kills him accidentally while trying to knife Romeo (who was trying to intervene) and is somewhat horrified upon realizing who he had wounded. It should be noted that the original script doesn't specify how deliberate it was or who he was trying to stab, just that Mercutio was stabbed under Romeo's arm.
    • Lord Capulet arguably crosses it when he forces Juliet to marry Paris just to gain political power or favor. He'd been uncomfortable with how quickly Paris wanted the marriage at the start of the play, but he basically orders his thirteen-year-old child to suck it up and do it. In the Zeffirelli version he screams abuse at her, and manhandles her at one point. From this point on, Juliet feels her only other option is death, until Friar Laurence convinces her otherwise. Lord Capulet - and indeed his wife too - made their child think death and running away were her only options.
  • Narm: The swordfight between Romeo and Paris ends with the latter getting fatally stabbed. Before he dies, Paris shouts "Oh, I am slain!"
  • Older Than They Think: It was not uncommon for Shakespeare to "borrow" his plots from other works. The story of Romeo and Juliet was heavily based on a poem by the English poet Arthur Brooks called The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet. Brooks in turn got the story from a number of Italian and French novellas about Romeo/Romeus and Juliet/Julietta/Giulietta. These works bears many similarities to the story of "Pyramus and Thisbe" in Ovid's Metamorphoses. In some older versions, Juliet survives the story and becomes a nun.
  • Ron the Death Eater: Some fans tend to be a little too hard on the two lovers. Romeo and Juliet are essentially two kids who want to date and get to know each other better. But because of the stupid feud that their elders have prolonged, they're forced to do some rash and stupid things in the hopes of being together. The Aesop that the young often have to suffer for the mistakes of the old tends to be lost on people who just blame the kids. Not to mention that Juliet is only thirteen and being married off to someone she doesn't even know.
  • Signature Scene:
    • The balcony scene is one of the most often quoted, referenced and parodied scenes in any of Shakespeare's plays. Say "what light through yonder window breaks" and 99% of people will get the reference at once.
    • Romeo and Juliet committing suicide isn't quite as iconic, but it's nevertheless a legendary moment that's been spoiled for everyone before seeing or reading the story. Though of course, the play itself spoils this in the first scene.
    • And coming in behind that, Tybalt and Mercutio's duel, specifically the death of the latter, if only because it cements the major change in tone and story.
  • Strangled by the Red String: Is the Trope Codifier in the Western canon. While it's considered one of Shakespeare's best plays, as well as one of the greatest written works ever, let's face it; the title characters are the textbook definition of this. They fall in Love at First Sight and are immediately making out at the Capulet's party. Okay, not so bad. However, Romeo goes from wangsting over breaking up with Rosaline earlier that afternoon to being engaged to marry Juliet later that night, and Juliet is so in love with him that she's willing to fake her own death to keep from marrying Paris. Lampshaded by Friar Lawrence when he says "Young men's love lies not in their hearts but in their eyes." A popular interpretation is that part of the tragedy is these two kids mistaking their shallow youthful lust for true love. It's worth noting that the original tale the play is based on has the romance unfolding over several months, making it a bit more believable.
  • They Wasted a Perfectly Good Character: Benvolio abruptly vanishes halfway through the play and never factors into the final act at all. It's telling that a lot of productions have him delivering the lines from random Montagues in the final scenes. According to the Quarto 1 version, he died offstage. His exit was to escort Mercutio to the surgeon.
  • Too Cool to Live: Mercutio. Legend goes that Shakespeare once claimed that he "had to kill Mercutio before Mercutio killed him." This is referenced in Shakespeare in Love, where Shakespeare tells the Large Ham leader of the acting company (Ben Affleck) that Mercutio is the lead while the play is still a work in progress.
  • Unintentionally Unsympathetic: For some, it's hard to feel sorry for Romeo and Juliet at the end of the play, considering that their misery is partially their own fault. Of course, very few of Shakespeare's protagonists are written as particularly heroic or worthy of emulation, so it's entirely possible that you're not really supposed to 'feel' for them, necessarily.
  • Values Dissonance:
    • Juliet is only thirteen and already getting married, not to mention her parents are trying to push her into an Arranged Marriage (whether she wants it or not). Whilst the brawls and murders are treated with some gravity, the idea that characters would be easily carrying swords around and killing each other off at the drop of a hat would, likewise, be unthinkable today. Some modern adaptations have the rival families be criminal gangs that would be more inclined to carry weapons and kill at a moment's notice in order to mitigate the latter.
    • Although it's important to keep in mind that a lot of the talk about Juliet's marriage was meant to come off as awful, especially all that jazz about how thirteen-year-olds having babies is awesome. Elizabethans knew darn well that younger than she happy mothers are not made, even without the benefit of modern medicine. Girls of Juliet's high social status certainly married that young for economic or political reasons (see below), but it would have been considered at the very least stupid if not immoral to actually consummate the marriage before a few years had passed. Hell, it's also in the text as Juliet's father is really off-put by Paris' desire to marry Juliet and says they should wait a couple of years at least.
    • Some modern viewers also tend to miss the gravity of Juliet's betrothal to Paris. A betrothal was essentially a business merger - and it meant that the Capulets stood to gain either money or political favour by marrying Juliet to Paris. Juliet refusing to marry him is not simply turning down a date she doesn't like; it's deciding the fate of their entire estate and family. That is what Lord Capulet is so furious about when Juliet tries to delay the marriage.
  • Values Resonance: The moral of the story that parents end up passing on their mistakes to their kids is a timeless one, as is the plot of teenagers Dating What Daddy Hates - and the disastrous results. That's one of the many reasons this play has endured over the years.
  • The Woobie: The main couple, and also Benvolio qualifies; he's the voice of reason among his friends and he has his cousin banished from Verona after the latter kills Tybalt in revenge for Mercutio.
    • Mercutio can also be this depending on how he's played. The Zeffrelli film version of the Queen Mab speech ends with Mercutio in a dark square, angrily shouting at no one in particular, possibly having a panic attack, and when Romeo comes to calm him down he looks absolutely pitiful. Some interpret it as Mercutio lashing out at a society that strangles those who are different, while others say he's spouting anti-love rhetoric because he's been burned a few too many times. Yet others think he's grappling with romantic feelings for Romeo. It's highly implied that he's suffering from either bipolar disorder or paranoid schizophrenia.
  • Woolseyism: The Vietnamese version of the balcony scene changes the reference to the moon and the vestal livery into Chang'e (the East Asian moon goddess) being envious and the robes of spirit mediums.


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