Will Smith was right: sometimes parents just don’t understand. Of course, he said that before he himself was a parent of Karate Kid Jayden and Whip-My-Hair Willow, but we digress. Parental misunderstanding is a common angst-ridden teen’s complaint, but it is a complaint that is well founded. Chalk it up to hormones, generation gaps or just pure angst a la Catcher in The Rye rebellion. It’s still a truth that parents, kids, psychiatrists and even fancy pants neuroscientists find undeniable.
The cause of Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy, of course, is their parents and families. Montague and Capulets might as well be the Bloods and the Crypts for the two teenaged lovers. What’s more, Juliet’s parents are trying to get her to marry someone else, threatening to disown her if she does not. Alas, her heart lies with Romeo, whose name alone causes her much pain, as evidenced in one of the the oft-recited Romeo and Juliet quotes from the famous balcony scene, “Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Shakespeare’s sympathies clearly lie with the two lovers and their tragic ends, while showing the parents to be unforgiving and unyielding people who are largely to blame for their children’s suicides. Perhaps that is why Romeo and Juliet, besides its relative ease and accessibility, is often high school-ers first experience with Shakespeare because it speaks to their frustration of what they consider tyrannical parents. Of course, it could also show angst-y teens that issues over curfews and grades are small potatoes compared to what Romeo and Juliet faced. Nonetheless, the parents are cast as the unintentional villains of the play, with their grudges imposed on their children causing them not only strife but ultimately grief. The parents do not know or could not even understand Romeo and Juliet’s love that was so explicitly forbidden. Their demand for hate over love is the ultimate example of parent’s just not understanding.