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Romeo and Juliet has been a world favorite for many years. It has been made into operas and has been the subject for famous orchestral works by Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, and other great composers whose music attempts to capture that unique emotion of first love. What is so appealing about this story is not so much the theme of love but the theme of young love. Juliet is not quite fourteen years old, and Romeo is not too much older. Shakespeare's play seems to be stressing that young love is total and abandoned. It is not self-destructive, but it is reckless and daring, which naturally can lead to all kinds of troubles, as it does in Shakespeare's play.
Romeo daringly crashes a party being given by his family's worst enemies. He falls madly in love with Juliet at first sight. He climbs over the wall into her garden to woo her in the famous balcony scene. Though she is very young and has been docile and obedient up to this time, she falls madly in love with him and agrees to marry him on very slight acquaintance. It is inevitable that their recklessness, motivated by young love, will create problems. They fall madly in love because they are young, and their love creates problems because they are young, inexperienced, passionate, reckless, abandoned. They not only encounter problems they can't cope with because of their youth, but their passionate involvement with each other prevents them from thinking and behaving rationally. Their deaths seem to come as an inevitable conclusion to their star-crossed relationship; it couldn''t end any other way.
Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra are also in love, but they are much older and more worldly wise than Romeo and Juliet. Cleopatra is looking out for her own interests. Antony goes back to Rome and actually marries Octavius' sister. Cleopatra has years of experience in handling men, including Antony's predecessor Julius Caesar. Cleopatra does not commit suicide because of love but because she will not submit to being taken back to Rome as a captive. Antony does not commit suicide because of love but because he has been disgraced and defeated by Octavius and has to take the Roman way out. They do not display the same reckless abandon as Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare seems to be saying that young love is beautiful but unwise.
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