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Romeo and Juliet: a timeless and universal story

(This short essay is adapted to a4th or 5th form level)
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is certainly the most famous play in the world. On the five continents of our planet, it is constantly played, adapted for the cinema, and taught in schools.
How can we explain such a success for a play which dates back to1592, which is four hundred years old?  We will see that this can be explained by the fact that the play is both  timeless and universal.

"With love's light wings did I o'erperched these walls" Romeo says to Juliet during the balcony scene. Of course, no young lover today would express himself so poetically.  Language has changed but the feelings Romeo expresses are still exactly the same. An absolute love such as Romeo and Juliet's is possible and every teenager in the world dreams of  finding it one day.
But love is difficult to live for adolescents. Contrarily to adults, they are not the masters of their lives, they cannot do what they want and they often find obstacles on their way to love. Quite often, the parents of one or of both of the lovers don't approve of this love. They oppose it because of  a religion problem, an ethnic problem, an age problem, a money problem, etc. Shakespeare had probably lived some story of this kind himself, as he had married at 18 a young woman who was older than himself and most probably already pregnant (two very shocking things at the time).
So he imagined a story in which the obstacles between the young lovers are insurmountable: the two families are enemies and constantly fight each other. Not only does their stupid hate kill many young people of both families but it makes love between Romeo and Juliet impossible and therefore tragic. It could happen 400 years ago, it can still happen today. It is timeless story.
And this is indeed a situation that repeats itself in all the countries of the world: it is universal. When an Albanian girl from Kosovo falls in love with a Serb today, it is a Romeo and Juliet story. When a black boy from the ghetto and a rich white girl fall in love, it is another version of Romeo and Juliet. Each time teeenagers who are in love find obstacles set up by their parents, by society, by prejudice and intolerence, they remember Shakespeare's masterpiece.

As long as human beings will fight and constitute groups that hate each other, there will be stories of that kind, and adolescents will recognise themselves in " Romeo and Juliet ".
 
 


These illustrations, beautiful water colours, are the work of Maurice Berty for
the Nilsson editions (Paris,  in the 1910's).



 
 
 
 
 

LINKS

Macbeth
a synopsis and a study of the sleep-walking scene
.
Hamlet
a study of Hamlet's love for Ophelia
.

For some information about the great Will and about Stratford where he lived before he became an actor in London:
http://www.in-uk.com/tourist-info-stratford.htm
.
and for a short but interesting biography of Skakespeare, plus a visit of
the Globe Theatre
http://www.where-can-i-find/william.shakespeare.html






danielle.esposito@wanadoo.fr                                                                  Back to home page