What is the young vs the old theme in this play?Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the three main ways that critics have interpreted the circumstances and occurrences of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is through the motif of impetuous youth against the wisdom and maturity of age.  In Act I, for instance the nobleman Pris asks for the hand of Juliet, but her father, Lord Capulet suggests that his daughter is too young:

My child is yet a stranger in the world,

She hath not seen the change of fourteen years;

Let two more summers wither in their pride

Ere we may think her rip to be a bride....

And too soon marr'd are those so early made (1.2.8-14)

And, in the famous balcony scene of Act II, Juliet herself projects that youthful passion will determine the outcome of her romance with Romeo when she cautions him against swearing by the "inconstant moon," and by saying that their lives may be extinguished after shining brightly like a bolt of lightning:

It [this love] is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden;

Too like the lightning, which doeth cease to be

...This bud of love by summer's ripening breath,

May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet (2.2.124-128) 

Then, when Romeo comes to Friar Laurence after his meeting with Juliet, the priest also cautions against acts of haste and reckless passion:

These violent delight have violent ends

And in their triumph die....

Therefore love moderately; long love doth so;

Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow. (2.6.9-15)

Unfortunately, the youth do not heed the words of the older parents and priest.  In fact, they do not heed their own words, and, in what seems tragic design, Juliet turns to Friar Laurence in her desperate state of mind as she considers suicide.  In his attempt to reduce life threatening  conditions for Juliet, the Friar devises a play that will give Juliet time in her "violent delights."  However, as well-meaning as the friar's actions  are, they become defeated by Romeo's passionate desire to reach her and his ignoring of the friar's instructions.  The reckless passion of two fine young people precipitates the tragic ending to their tale.