Martha and I recently attended the wedding of very good friends and upon the conclusion of the reception we were given a blue book with a carved cover by the bride who asked us to record some wise words about love or marriage or both. Perhaps, it was the cover which has a decidedly Renaissance look to it, but I immediately thought of Romeo and Juliet and how many regard this play as the greatest love story ever told. Having taught it some 25 times to less-than-intrigued freshmen, however, I am convinced that Shakespeare was trying to make a point to his teenage son, the point being, don’t be stupid.
Certainly, the play indicates that Shakespeare was dealing with teenagers at this point in his life, probably a freshman. No doubt, while Bill, Jr. was upstairs doing his homework one night, Bill Sr. and Mrs. S. had the kind of conversation that parents still have today.
“So, who’s this new girl, Julie?”
“Oh, Bill was out cruising with his buddies and he saw her and lost his mind. Again.”
“What happened to Rose? I thought he was in love with her?”
“That was last week. Have you had the talk with him yet?”
“No, but I better do that right now.”
So, Bill, Sr. trudges upstairs and braces himself for one of fatherhood’s more uncomfortable tasks.
“Hello, son. Do you need help with your composition homework?”
“No, Dad, but I could use some help with this algebra equation.”
“Oh, well, ask your mother to help you with that.”
“Gee, Dad, is that all you wanted to talk to me about?”
“Well, no. It’s time we had a talk.”
“Oh, I already know everything about them. Mercutio says if you tell them they’re pretty and blow in their ear, you might get all the way to second base.”
(Laughing) “That’s true, son! I remember when I was just about your age and this girl named Mona Lisa—nevermind. You just remember this: Keep thy love in thy pantaloons.”
So, Bill, Sr. goes downstairs and tells Mrs. S. all about the talk.
“That’s it? ‘Keep thy love in thy pantaloons’?”
“Well, I found myself at a loss for words.”
“Say, that gives me an idea! I’ll write a play showing just how dumb teenagers can be! That will convince him and all the other kids at Avon High that you can’t let your hormones run wild. Oh, it’ll be a hoot!”
Of course, Shakespeare forgot that most people don’t get satire, especially people whose brains are addled by good-looking girls in low cut dresses leaning over their balconies. So, when the kids in fact did NOT get it, and the critics proclaimed it a great love story, Bill, Sr. just kept quiet and collected the residuals. Scientific research done since that time has conclusively demonstrated that teenagers and theater critics rarely understand the thing that’s in front of them as was the case then.
Fortunately, in real life, things turned out much better for Bill, Jr. than they did for his fictional alter-ego. He made the basketball team his sophomore year and spent less time hanging around Mercutio and that young Sir Edward Haskell. He went on to Avon Community College and then Oxford, where he majored in mathematics and developed the theory that any number can be divided by zero, stating that if you have one pie and divide it no times, then you still have one pie. His theory was not accepted because his professors had a vested interest in the status quo.
Shakespeare’s play is not the greatest love story because Romeo and Juliet has nothing to do with love, at least for anyone whose cognitive processes take place above the belly button.
In any case, the greatest love story is one’s own.