It’s always said that there’s something for everyone in Shakespeare’s plays. But if you are an American teenage girl you may have to be convinced of that. Juliet in Romeo and Juliet is a thirteen-year-old, almost fourteen, so she’s a character you can compare yourself with.
When Romeo gatecrashes her father’s party he chats her up and she falls for him immediately, with a passion that an adult could never feel. Look at the way she goes about finding out who he is. It’s obsessive. By the time she discovers that she could never develop anything with him because he’s a Montague it’s too late. He’s what she wants and she’s going to go for it. When he appears in the orchard beneath her balcony she defies everything she’s been taught, everything she’s been sheltered from, everything her parents stand for. It’s her moment and her instincts and passions prevail.
Look at her confusion, her conflict between what she knows she should do and what she wants. She tells Romeo to go, then to come back, to make a vow to her, not to make a vow, and forgets why she’s called him back. After knowing him for just a few minutes she proposes marriage. Only a teenage girl’s passion could go there. Look at her anguish while waiting for her nurse to come back with Romeo’s answer and her impatience with the nurse, who is teasing her. All she single-mindedly wants is Romeo’s answer. Think about your impatience and frustration with adults. Look at that scene (Act II scene 5) and see whether you recognise yourself. The impatience, frustration and anger that you often feel is accurately and definitively depicted in that scene.
Your family is there when you need them but your family is also your greatest enemy. As a teenage girl rebelling against your parents is part of the deal. How do they respond? Juliet lived in a very different time, in which the daughters of wealthy or noble families were regarded as commodities that could be exchanged for money or influence. How brave are you when defying your parents? In Juliet’s time you would have had to be very brave, but teenage girls haven’t changed – they are strong-willed and they want what they want, particularly when love enters into the equation. When Juliet’s father tells her that she has to marry Paris she defies him openly. He curses at her, he threatens her, he even strikes her. That won’t happen to you because parents these days are more tolerant of teenagers because they know how strongly they feel about things. But whatever your father says, like Juliet, you will remain inwardly defiant and you will find ways of getting what you want. And if you are in love you will go to any lengths. Juliet is prepared to risk everything.
When Romeo and Juliet first talk at the party she immediately fancies him and she flirts outrageously with him. Look at that scene (Act I scene 5). Is that you? They even kiss each other, lingering over it. She tells him he’s a good kisser. You may not go that far, but then again you may. You are capable of such passion. Shakespeare knows that and he’s writing about a teenage girl with a strong will and personality. She may be confused but that’s because of the conflict between what she’s allowed to have and what she wants to have. Like you.
Juliet is never complete until she is with Romeo, just wanting to be with him, holding him and never letting go. Wile she is waiting for him she wants the sun to go faster (‘Gallop apace you fiery footed steeds,’ Act III scene 2). How we grown-ups would love to feel that again!
There is so much more of you in Juliet. If you haven’t yet read the play you should do so.