I disagree with my colleague. I think both Romeo and Juliet are far too young to know what love is... my argument is that the young people are in love with the idea of being in love.
Let's think about how this tragedy unfolds. When we meet Romeo, he is mooning over his lost love, Rosaline. He is quite overwrought; he's clearly enjoying, to some extent, the poetric role of the spurned lover. Ah! But then another romantic theme from poetry comes his way in the form of Juliet....yes, yes, love at first sight...blah blah....but what's really going on here? It is is the excitement of the conquest not the actual girl. When they both collapse into their "my only love sprung from my only hate" wailing, well, all the better for it fits even more nicely into their "ideas" about love that both have read about. A rebellion makes the relationship all the more steamy.
Romeo thinks himself a Petrarch, but Juliet is more concerned with getting out from under the thumb of her parents, especially her father. Remember, Lord Capulet is about to marry his daughter off to someone who would make a good financial and social match for both his family and for the family of Paris. Love had nothing to do with it. Juliet, motivated somewhat by romantic love and more by the desire to free herself from this match, finds herself the object of Romeo's deluded affections. It seems a perfect "out": got the whole rebellion thing, all the sweeter since Romeo is the family's enemy; Romeo is pretty easy on the eyes, Romeo plans to take her way.
So let's condense all this:
- Romeo just got dumped.
- Romeo a romantic who reads a heck of a lot of poetry
- Romeo falls in love at first sight
- Juliet wants to escape
- Juliet thinks Romeo is hot
Recipe: Yum! Disaster...
Do they love one another, truly? Maybe in time they might have come to love each other, but what they have here is the illusion of love, a specter so compelling that they both die, clinging at its ethereal robes.