Why has Romeo & Juliet stood the test of time and is still read today?
Romeo and Juliet has stood the test of time like all of Shakespeare's work because he was an expert at analyzing what makes us human. Generation after generation relate to Shakespeare because his work speaks of what drives life: love, hate, revenge, loss, greed, power, ambition, and so on.
Romeo and Juliet, a tragic love story, a tale of miscommunication and prejudice is relevant in today's society. Romeo and Juliet could not marry openly with the approval of their families, because they were enemies. So the two young lovers offer themselves in an act of ultimate sacrifice, death.
The story is so urgently full of the images of young love and passion that I can remember seeing the 1971 version in the movie theater. It was a big hit. Romeo is the archetype for the perfect boyfriend/husband, total devotion and love, expressing his great love for Juliet with such poetry. Juliet, on the other hand is so in love with her Romeo, every girl dreams of having a Juliet-moment in life, that she would rather die than live without him. The passion of young love taken to the extreme, no thought of anything else, how their parents will feel once they die.
The story is universally appealing to anyone who believes in romantic love. All that deception and sneaking around, it is a wonderful example of teenage rebellion. It never goes out of style!
Many of Shakespeare's plays have this universal quality. The themes and the story line are such that humanity anywhere in any time period can relate to them. Romeo and Juliet, for instance, is about teen rebellion, teenage love, parent/child conflict, rebellion against authority (government, parents, etc), friendship, marriage, violence, and the list goes on.
All of these items are not specific to gender, ethnicity, religion, politics, or creed. No matter what color you are, what religion you follow, how much money you have, if you are male or female, or what your political stance is, all of these issues have touched you at least once in your life. They are relative to your life.
This is why Shakespeare's plays have lasted the test of time and why people continue to hope that Romeo and Juliet will succeed in their attempt to escape and live happily ever after.
All of Shakespeare's works have stood the test of time because, for the most part, they deal with universal experiences of love, war, loss, death, madness, etc. The themes can be transcribed from one culture to another; that is why we so often see Shakespeare productions that are set in modern times. One excellent film example is the production of Hamlet starring Ethan Hawke. In the film, set in the present day, Elsinore is a corporation, not a castle. Hamlet's essential dilemmas and struggles with indecision remain the same, however. For Romeo and Juliet, the ideas of feuding families and "star-crossed lovers" also transcend time and culture. In the most recent film version with Leonardo deCaprio, the action is set not in Verona, Italy but on Verona Beach, California.