Let’s be honest: I love a good tragedy as much as the next hopeless romantic. I’m perfectly content grabbing a box a tissues and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, curling up under the covers, and bawling my eyes out to the most recent episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Although my life isn’t always such a cliché, such occurrences happen a little more often than I would like to admit. I just can’t help becoming completely invested in the lives and loves of characters in film, literature, and, on occasion, song. For this reason, I have always loved the story of Romeo and Juliet.
Everyone knows the story of this Shakespeare classic; basically, there’s a lot of misunderstanding and death involved. Since its conception, this story has permeated essentially all aspects of our culture; there are even children’s books that have managed to mask all of the violence and despair of the play to make it appropriate for the average three-year-old (see Little Master Shakespeare: Romeo & Juliet). Romeo and Juliet is a beautiful tragedy, painting the story of a passionate and all-consuming, if short-lived, love, while exposing the rashness and foolishness of youth.
Despite the fact that I have already stated my appreciation for the tale, I do not promote, under any circumstances, that Romeo and Juliet should serve as a model for a real relationship. After all, the two lovers meet, fall in love, marry, and kill themselves within the time span of about a week. This reasoning does not even take into account the fact that Juliet is practically a child nor does it consider that Romeo kills her cousin. It may seem romantic to be so entirely infatuated that one loses sight of all else, but it is by no means practical. In the real world, people are usually a bit more level-headed about their romances; this is particularly evident in the today’s society where people commonly date for years before marrying (quickie Vegas weddings are an exception, but at least those typically end in annulment rather than death).
Thus, it is thoroughly baffling that Romeo and Juliet, these two star-crossed lovers, have become idealized and venerated as an example of ever-lasting love; their love was not ever-lasting; in fact, it only lasted a week. The ever-loveable Taylor Swift is guilty of falling into this trap. In 2008, she released a song titled “Love Story.” In the song, Swift equates her personal love story to that of Romeo and Juliet, declaring herself to be Juliet and her love interest to be her Romeo. Although not directly citing the events of the play, the song references elements and plots of the story while spinning them to be seen more positively. Instead of being a tragic tale of forbidden love, the song allows for the protagonists to have a happy ending despite their prohibited passion. For example, Swift croons, “I sneak out to the garden to see you / We keep quiet ‘cause we’re dead if they knew.” Comparing to the original story, this statement refers to a quite literal threat of death; in the lighthearted song’s version, however, claiming the pair would be “dead” if they were to be discovered is more likely attributable to hyperbole, that it’s just an expression.
Swift sings, “This love is difficult, but it’s real / Don’t be afraid. We’ll make it out of this mess,” but this declaration doesn’t necessarily hold true for the song’s source material. Clearly, the love of Romeo and Juliet was difficult. In the play, though, the couple definitely did not make it out of their mess (unless you decide to consider their deaths a means of escape). Perhaps the most debatable segment in parallelizing these lyrics to the Shakespearean version?: that this love is real. Lust, surely. Passion, of course. But….love? There is no way to know for sure whether Romeo and Juliet actually fell in love at first sight or whether they were simply victims of raging hormones and teenage rebellion. What is certain, however, is that most rational people should not desire such a relationship. Everyone, please stop extracting relationship advice from this tragedy; then, maybe, love can make more sense.
By Ashley Huggins