How are young people presented by Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet?
Although this is a tragedy, Shakespeare must have had fun writing this play. The young people in it, like many adolescents, are emotional, impulsive, and live intensely in whatever moment they happen to be in.
For example, the play opens with Romeo pining away for Rosaline. When his friends persuade him to go with them to the Capulet's masked ball, Romeo attends reluctantly. He can't believe it is possible he could meet any young woman in Verona who could tempt him away from his undying love for Rosaline. However, once he gets to the party, he falls in love with Juliet with breathtaking speed. We never hear of Rosaline again.
Romeo and Juliet's emotions are so strong they want to get married the next day. Juliet is as impatient for the wedding as Romeo. She can hardly wait to let her nurse get the words out of her mouth about the hasty marriage plans.
Romeo also acts impulsively when he thinks Juliet is dead, not stopping to find out what might be going on. He immediately kills himself, and Juliet does the same when she finds him dead. While the overarching tragedy is the feud between the two families, the impulsive nature of adolescence also plays a strong role in the death of the young lovers.
Though Romeo and Juliet are young and impulsive at times, Shakespeare doesn't limit his young characters to being constantly foolish. Instead, both Romeo and Juliet, and their respective cousins, Benvolio and Tybalt, show several different aspects of what it means to be a young person.
Starting with Romeo, Shakespeare shows us the impulsive, head-over-heels romantic love of a teenager who has fallen for someone. And believe it or not, that person isn't Juliet! Romeo starts off the play sighing for Rosaline. It isn't until after the party at the Capulets that he falls for Juliet. His impulsivity is also seen later in Friar Lawrence's cell when he learns he is banished. He acts out of emotion that feels over-the-top, and Friar Lawrence has to correct him and instruct him in behaving more maturely.
Juliet, too, shows some teenage impulsiveness, but once she and Romeo are married, she develops more mature feelings towards him, responding with genuine sorrow when she learns that Tybalt is dead and Romeo is banished, and resolving to take action and defy her father's wishes. She chooses to remain faithful to her new husband, which takes courage and confidence in the face of her father's anger.
The other young men in the play, Mercutio, Tybalt, and Benvolio, show still more sides of adolescence. Mercutio, who is most likely older than Romeo, is young but worldly, with knowledge and experience that he uses to convince Romeo to move on from Rosaline. His death shows that he is still lighthearted and witty, even while acknowledging the seriousness of the feud that has cost him his life.
Tybalt, on the other hand, is not lighthearted--he has fully bought in to the feud in Verona. Whether this shows maturity or singleness of purpose, Tybalt's role in the play grounds all the other young characters by showing that young people are capable of violence. It seems improbable to everyone that Romeo, the romantic dreamer, could challenge Tybalt, but in their final confrontation, Romeo manages to find the will to avenge Mercutio's death.
Benvolio, Romeo's young cousin, is perhaps the wisest of all the young people in the play. It is Benvolio who, full of sorrow, explains the tragic ironies of Romeo and Juliet's deaths to everyone. He is the voice of reason who shows that even young people can demonstrate wisdom beyond their years.
As you can see, Shakespeare doesn't limit young people to being merely foolish, impulsive children. He gives them their own voices and their own story arcs, showing that teens have more inside them than some adults give them credit for!