Read Timon of Athens recently? Just got home from seeing a production of Pericles, Prince of Tyre, did you? Yeah - we thought not. These are both actually theatrical works written by the most celebrated playwright of all time, Mr. Bill Shakespeare himself, but these particular examples rank among his obscurest efforts. Romeo and Juliet, on the other hand? We’re pretty sure you’ve heard of that one.
This play has survived and thrived so greatly over the centuries for a number of reasons. First, it’s just plain good. Love, drama, feuding families, deceit, swordplay, high-speed car chases - this one has it all (except for the car chases, but you can bet ol’ Billy Boy would have put one of those in there too if Henry Ford had been born a few hundred years earlier). Second, it’s an audience pleaser. Okay, so it’s not on par with today’s audience pleasers - there’s no nudity, explosions or pratfalls - but at least it isn’t King Henry VI Part 2. Next to that, Romeo and Juliet is a regular Rise of the Planet of the Apes.
But third and most importantly, it was the first. The first great tragic love story. In fact, critics during Shakespeare’s time weren’t even so sure you could call a love story a tragedy, as they felt that seemed like a bit of a stretch. However, Shakespeare did kill off quite a few characters throughout the play, so that probably made up for the controversially light subject matter.
Romeo and Juliet has given way to hundreds of adaptations since, and has served as the inspiration for almost every love story ever written, at least to some degree. A centuries-old play must be living on if Romeo and Juliet quotes such as the below still exist prevalently in our common vernacular:
“O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?”
“Parting is such sweet sorrow.”
“That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
“A plague o’ both your houses!”
“I love you. You’re my only reason to stay alive... if that’s what I am.”
Actually, our sources are now telling us that that last one is from The Twilight Saga: New Moon. But you get the idea. In fact, that just goes to show how even romantic films being made today draw connections to Shakespeare’s famous work. A couple of teenagers who feel that the other is the only thing worth living for? Sound familiar?
Certainly, you may even be mentally comparing your current love of the PSAT to that of the two star-crossed lovers. It’s definitely understandable - we know how much you have in common with that test and how much time you two have been spending together lately. Just don’t drink any poison over it. If you die while taking it, you’ll get marked down.