Romeo and Juliet is the only one of Shakespeare's plays where main characters are teenagers.
Discuss three reasons why Shakespeare would choose to use young characters. Use evidence from the play to support your ideas.
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With teenagers in the title roles, Romeo and Juliet allows Shakespeare to emphasize several of the key themes of the play. One of these themes is the striking polarity between such ideas as age and youth, love and hate, good and evil, light and dark. Romeo and Juliet are stark contrasts to the feud that rages among the elder members of their houses and their love stands as a testament as to what youth and open minds can dream possible against such a backdrop. Likewise, the very language they use to express their feelings for one another is cast in these same polarized terms. As Romeo says:
Similarly, Juliet replies:
I should have been more strange, I must confess,
But that thou overheard'st, ere I was ware,
My true love's passion: therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered.
In fact, most of the thinking and language of these two characters is expressed in such paradoxical language, whether it is Juliet speaking:
Such opposite thinking and language serves to emphasize the strength of the love Romeo and Juliet feel for one another against the bitter feud that ravishes their families.
The youth of the characters helps to make the story more believable. It seems inconsistent that two elderly members of the opposing families would experience what the two lovers did. Part of this might be due to the fact that the older one is in this setting, the more one will accept the ways of the family, denying the possibility for true love. At the same time, the intensity of emotional connection that both experience is a relatively young experience that is concerned with the present and lacks little in way of establishing a structural foundation for the future. Romeo and Juliet never have a discussion about a 401 K or where the next paycheck is going, or if they need to begin investing in a Roth IRA. These are not the primary levels of discussion for young lovers, who are more nourished (supposedly) from a lover's embrace, the look one gives to the other, and a gentle touch from the other's hand.
With such young characters Shakespeare creates a greater intensity with the tragedy of their deaths. Teenagers are regarded as impetuous, intense and impulsive. The intensity with which Romeo loves Rosaline is acknowledged then swiftly dismissed as he meets Juliet. Their love for each other and acceptance of each other's differences -
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
The young lovers can see beyond the barriers which have bound their families in bitter feud. There is a poignancy in the fact that their deaths serve to end the feud.
It must also be considered that Shakespeare 'borrowed' much of the material from other sources to formulate his play. Romeo and Juliet's story was already known, but it is in the emotion and intense action which results in the tragedy we know today. The youth of the characters emphasises their vulnerability but also their capacity for change and acceptance - values which the adults in the play have to learn as a bitter lesson.
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