What does Twain satirize in his presentation of Romeo and Juliet in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
In his monumental American novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain employs the motif of Romeo and Juliet twice. In one instance, in Chapters XVIII he satirizes the foolishness of apparently educated people in the episode of the feud of the "aristocratic" Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords' modern "Romeo and Juliet" family feud. In a biting ironic twist on this classic feud, Twain has the lovers be the only ones to survive while the families have annihilated themselves because of their foolish pride and behavior with not one of the Shepherdsons able to "recall why the family is at war."
Another episode is the one which follows this tale of the feud,illustrating the literal stage for romantic ideals taken to absurdity. After having duped people with romanticized ideas of life out of money at a religious revival, and having tricked people into buying advertisements, offering false rewards for the capture of the runaway slave Jim, the duke and king decide to perform the balcony scene of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet along with other famous scenes in a "Shakespearean Revival." This farcical presentation exploits people's inability to distinguish between reality and fakery to ridiculous limits. However, only a dozen people attend and laugh at the performance. Angered by this display, the duke decides that the
...these Arkansaw lunkheads couldn't come up to Shakespeare; what they wanted was low comedy....He said he could size their style.
So, after having printed handbills advertising the "world-renowned tragedians" and prohibiting women and children from attending, the duke and king fill the house. But, this audience recognizes the duke and the king for the "rapscallions" that they are and makes plans to praise the show so that others will attend. On the third night the house is "crammed," but the pays a man to tend the door for him and swiftly exits through the stage door, and, shortly, the king appears outside, too. And, in spite of their plan to throw garbage upon the duke and king, the tricksters get away and have taken hundreds of dollars from them. Thus, Twain again satirizes the gullibility and foolishness of human nature.