It honestly wasn't deliberate, but I seem (thus far) to have picked love stories that, when trying to pinpoint why they work or last, these reasons can be boiled down to two. Romeo and Juliet is no different, but I think some of my thoughts on this story are going to be met with much outrage.
So, here we have it, mid-week, and I'm talking about the love story of all love stories. They're a by-word in popular culture, they're often the first play anyone thinks of when they hear the words William Shakespeare, they've been the subject of songs, retellings, adaptations, movies, good God, this list could go on. They're the Romeo and the Juliet, and I don't think anyone can name their child Romeo or Juliet these days without a whole world of connotations (poor little Romeo Beckham; is he ever going to live up to the romantic ideal girls will attach to him?).
Today I'm going back to the original play. A rose by any other name, and all that.
Ah, the lure of the forbidden fruit. This trope hasn't yet gone out of style, and I don't think it will. There will always be a market for forbidden romances, star-crossed lovers, and the like, so if this is what you write, then you can be sure a lot of people will love your story!
I'm not psychology student, so I couldn't really explain why the forbidden is so appealing to us. I just know that it really is, at least to most of us, and this is one of the two core reasons why I think Romeo and Juliet is immortal. While it certainly wasn't the first to set the forbidden trend, it's the story of star-crossed lovers, it's the tale of feuding families and forbidden love and the consequences thereof.
Realistically, would Romeo and Juliet have been half as memorable if it hadn't ended with such devastating tragedy? There's something immeasurably stupid - and therefore tragic and memorable - about such hideous misunderstandings that lead to two suicides that could so easily have been avoided. I'm sure that the frustration many of us feel, that urge to shout for God's sake, Romeo, she's freaking alive, damn you, is part of what makes the story click; as readers, we need to be anguished, and frustrated, and want to shout; we need to be moved.
The deaths themselves have their own merit because, of course, what says true love better than dying because the one you love is dead? It's melodramatic, it's not exactly selfless, and it's certainly not what any of us want to be doing in real life, but it's very appealing to our dramatic souls when we read it and watch it in fiction.
And now, for the controversial part...
What DOESN'T work
What? you cry. There's something about the great romance that is Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet that doesn't work? Well, yes, I think there is.
The characters, quite frankly, suck. Of course, this is purely my opinion, so feel free to tell me I'm being an idiot. I don't mean all the characters, because I rather like Mercutio, the Nurse, and even Benvolio for all his mild-mannered not-doing-much-really-ness.
It's the lovers I find sorely lacking. I mean, this love story has become immortal, legend. But it's not because of Romeo or Juliet. It's because of their circumstances, their tragedy. These characters have nothing memorable or distinctive about them. Romeo appears to be somewhat indecisive, hot-headed, and full of pretty words. Juliet seems to swing like a pendulum between being meek and being rebellious, she's somewhat indecisive, and she's got lots of pretty words in her pretty head too.
What about either of these two, as characters alone, appeals to you? I genuinely can't find anything that appeals to me. The truth is, if someone were to transplant these exact characters into a book or movie today, disguised under different names, I don't think I would think twice about them. I might be mildly entertained by the book, but would then put it down and never again think about these characters or the story, simply because there would be nothing sharp about it, nothing that later clings to you.
Ultimately, I think there's a great formula to be found in Romeo and Juliet, and it's been used countless times, recycled, reused, and we're still not utterly weary of it.
But Romeo and Juliet, minus the italics? Well, they might be the star-crossed lovers, the epitomes of tragedy and of forbidden love. But I think it's been done much, much better elsewhere.
I'd love to know how the rest of you feel about them.