Romance isn’t dead! Unless the romance in question is Romeo and Juliet in which case, yes, romance is unequivocally dead. If your version of a love story with a happy ending is “deceased newlyweds and resolved grudges” then Romeo and Juliet is the play for you. Normally, I am completely down with a high drama forecast of 100% chance of accidental poisonings with intermittent stabbings. Who wouldn’t like that? Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare’s greatest hit, his most well-known work, and literature’s definitive tragic love story. The narrative around Romeo and Juliet is what sells-the instant love, the white-hot chemistry, the inevitability of their union and the tragic ending. I am not here for any of that, though. Nope. I do love this play, but not for why you think.
Romeo: what do you mean
Me: wait for it, damn
Romeo: tell me now
Me: ok THIS is why you make me nuts
It’s not terribly romantic to admit it, but I don’t crush on Romeo and Juliet’s romance. I blame myself for lacking depth and an inability to relate to human emotion. My problem begins and ends with Romeo. We meet him pre-Juliet, hanging out with his friends and mooning over the beautiful and unattainable Rosalind. He goes on and ON about her. By the time he’s done extolling her virtues, he’s convinced me to date her. His boyishness and impulsiveness are intended to charm but because I am mostly dead inside, he seems more sulky and capricious than anything. It’s not a case of active dislike. It’s just that Romeo is so relentlessly self-absorbed as we get aquainted with his character that I want to punch him. By the time Romeo dons his disguise, sneaks into the Capulet costume ball, spots Juliet and dumps Rosalind, I am done with him. Is Romeo really in love, or does he have the earliest dramatized version of ADHD? It’s hard to tell and as it turns out I don’t particularly care. Since I am not invested in Romeo, I’m not capable of working up the energy to swoon when he goes gaga over Juliet. I just wait patiently through all the Romeo and Juliet parts of Romeo and Juliet so I can enjoy the character it feels like Shakespeare created just for me.
Romeo: not cool
Me: omg did you hear that
Romeo: I’M RIGHT HERE
One of the timeless aspects of Romeo and Juliet is how Shakespeare captures the dynamics of adolescent male friendship. The comraderie, the dirty jokes, the restless energy –it’s all there and it’s perfect. It’s just like any modern group of high school students, with fewer codpieces. I love the wordplay and the fights and the teasing, but make no mistake. I am here for Mercutio, Romeo’s best friend. Can I please get a Tiger Beat with him on the cover? Plus a bonus poster that I can hang over my bed? I also need him to have a spinoff series, endorse a line of activewear, and maybe host the Golden Globes next year. I JUST NEED HIM IN ALL THE THINGS. Mercutio is Team Montague, the solid, acerbic yin to Romeo’s boy toy yang. He is a dreamy combo of smart and smartass and I want to have all his iambic pentameter babies.
Romeo: but I’m ROMEO
Romeo: what do I have to do
Me: plot more stabbings?
Macbeth: totally on board with that
Mercutio is my first action hero, the guy who made brains and brawling an irresistible mix. He’s got Romeo’s back, challenging his friend’s moody ruminations on love with vulgarity and humor while trashtalking the rival Capulets whenever the opportunity presents itself. His quicksilver personality is alluring and his intelligence is just sexy. In the play’s climactic battle scene, the rival gangs from the houses of Montague and Capulet clash and Mercutio is mortally wounded. His death sets in motion the chain of events that get Romeo banished from Verona. Even while he’s bleeding to death, he’s snarky and joking, laying the groundwork for the dialogue in every single 80s action movie.
Romeo: i don’t understand what’s happening
Me: so…did Mercutio ask about me?
Me: tell him I said hi but just like, hi, not HI
Mercutio might have stayed in the background, perennial Hot Boy #2, but for the amazingly silky Queen Mab speech. It’s just beautiful, one of my favorite things ever written. Hypnotic and foreboding, the Queen Mab speech is delivered right before Romeo enters the Capulet’s ball, meets Juliet, and changes his life forever. Using the story about the how Fairy Queen Mab delivers dreams, Mercutio ruminates on the many faces love wears. The language, the rhythms, are deceptive, seducing while describing’s love’s worst possible outcomes. Mercutio shows his vulnerability and hints at the bad stuff coming and now I’m planning our wedding and I’m thinking bohemian with pastel colors.
Romeo: what was that sound
Me: everyone’s panties dropping
Romeo: for that?!?
Mercutio: happens every time
I’m always bummed when Mercutio dies halfway through the play, but I hang in there while everything spools out. In the perfect execution of a bad idea, Juliet fakes her death, and that’s all it takes to fool Romeo into thinking she’s really dead. One double suicide later, it’s time to flip back to page one and start over. Just let me fix my hair and lipstick first.
For a coma lasting longer than four hours, consult your apothecary.