Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Ok, so this post is less of a “review” and more of a book talk. I mean, Shakespeare has been dead for how long? (395 years!) But I find this play's long-lasting fame a bit of a mystery.

There’s a lot to draw from Shakespeare’s plays especially if you read them as historical texts. It’s great fun to read the plays from a feminist perspective. The whole “women as commodities” lens is just too easy to apply. (For an in depth look at this idea read Luce Irigaray’s “Women on the Market.”) Of course, we could read through a Marxist lends or a psychoanalyst lens.

But let’s put these lenses aside and explore what a reading of Romeo and Juliet is to the modern reader who has no direct interest in Elizabethan England but just wants to read a good story. Immediately we have a problem. Romeo and Juliet is a play not a book. I think it loses its magic when there are no actors to interpret the text and put it in action.

The reading experience, having the original text side-by-side with a modern interpretation, was strange. I had to stop and read the modern version so often it severely altered the flow of the play. While it added to my understanding, the modern version lacked the linguistic beauty of the original. However, I think high school students might benefit from the modern version. If the original is just too cumbersome to read they will still get the gist of the story by reading the interpretation. But I find I prefer knowledgeable footnotes.

The story is pretty straight forward. Two powerful families are fighting and their respective son and daughter fall in love at first sight. The young lovers are unable to successfully run off together because they are kids without powerful enough connections and the romance turns tragic and they die. The families learn their lesson. End of story.

Why does Romeo and Juliet get so much attention? The story is just ok. The original prose is not as captivating as other plays. There are a couple great monologues by the two protagonists but otherwise the lines drag on. It’s a story of young love so I guess that’s why they teach it in high school. But what’s wrong with The Tempest?  Or As You Like It which is much funnier? 

What about you guys? Do you love Romeo and Juliet? What is your favorite Shakespeare play?

Publisher: Barron’s, 1984     Pages: 282
Rating: 2.5 Stars     Source: Purchased at Walden Books (right before they closed. Boo!)


  1. Honestly, when I read it in HS I was bored to tears and I didn't understand how my classmates loved it. It was also around the time that that movie with Leonardo DiCaprio and friends came out. SO I saw and then and only then did I start to understand the inflections and how it could be thrilling and all that. But when it comes down to it, I don't think the story itself is that awesome. I like As You Like It and The Taming of the Shrew a lot more!!

    Lah @ LazyGirl Reads

  2. It's been forever since I've watched that movie. I might have to check the library for it this weekend!

  3. To be honest, I think Romeo & Juliet is simply the easiest Shakespeare play to teach.

  4. I agree with the "Man"; teaching a play about a love story to a class full of bored, hormonal teenagers is somewhat easy. It's a subject that would get the attention of both sexes more quickly than other Shakespeare works, even with the language difficulties.