What happened in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was tragic, yes, but it was also easily preventable. Two lovestruck kids (plus four other, less important people) died during this whole deal, and I want SOMEONE to be held responsible. Don’t tell me “But Elodie, the real villain was society.” I don’t care. Society can’t bear the brunt of my scorn. I can’t point at society and chant “SHAME” repeatedly.
To my mind, these are the people who made all of this possible, in order of increasing blameworthiness.
LEAST BLAMEWORTHY: Juliet Juliet did nothing wrong. Okay, fine, maybe faking your death to avoid an arranged marriage wasn’t the most airtight plan in the world, but it’s not Juliet’s fault she went into a voluntary, hours-long coma and literally no one else could be bothered to stick to the original plan.
She didn’t do much, really, but I think we can all agree that dying of grief halfway through the play was hardly helping the situation.
I love Mercutio. I relate to him because I, too, have a sense of humor that is equal parts 1) bawdy jokes and 2) puns about death. But did he do anything to stop this crazy train? No. In fact, he got right on board and rode it straight to his untimely death.
I’m trying to look at things from his perspective, I really am. But should I ever find myself in this exact situation, I like to think that common sense and basic human intelligence will win the day. First, I’ll ask myself a few basic questions, like, “Do I actually need to do this? By sacrificing myself, will I somehow bring her back? Also, is she definitely gone?”
For Romeo, the answers were no, no, and definitely not. I get it, he didn’t know any better. He is a fictional character; he had no way of knowing Shakespeare was indulging in that old chestnut, dramatic irony. He was simply doing the best he could with the information he had. But “the best he could” was “WELL, TIME TO GIVE UP AND DIE AS DRAMATICALLY AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE, AND BY THE WAY I’M TAKING PARIS DOWN WITH ME”?
I also like to think that I would not have killed Tybalt, but let’s be real about this: we all would have killed Tybalt.
I know, I know; Paris was just another hapless sixteenth-century aristocrat using his money and manhood to score a bride, and that was then and this is now, and he wasn’t INTENTIONALLY being a tool. But I feel a little bit like coercing a girl into marriage is just one of those things you shouldn’t do, lest you get caught up in the drama and wind up all kinds of stabbed.
Hot hands Tybalt was raring to murder a Montague before the play had even started. Eventually he killed Mercutio, which pretty much makes him culpable any way you slice it.
Like all the obstinate family patriarchs who came before him, Montague was unwilling to bend the rules of his life-feud for anything, even young love. I blame him for this murder mess even more than Tybalt. Without the Montague/Capulet mandate of “WE HATE THESE PEOPLE, FOR INEXPLICABLE REASONS,” Tybalt would never have challenged Romeo to a duel in the first place.
I’m not even sure what Romeo’s father was doing for this part of the story, but I know what Juliet’s was doing: forcing her to marry Paris. And he was being a real jerk about it, too.
Friar John is the physical, humanoid embodiment of “you had one job.” He popped up in the story just long enough to NOT tell Romeo that Juliet wasn’t actually dead, and then he melted back into the netherworld of plot devices.
MOST BLAMEWORTHY: Friar Laurence Behold, the real villain of this story: the peaceable, kindly optimist whose good intentions led us all to ruin. Sure, he only wanted to end the feud—but there must’ve been upwards of a billion ways of doing that that didn’t involve letting two newly pubescent teenagers marry in secret. He even gave Juliet the fake death potion! He’s an unwitting, well-meaning menace and he needs to be stopped!
Now that I’m thinking about it, maybe Laurence is smarter than I’m giving him credit for. He got what he wanted, after all—the feud ended. Not before Lady Montague, Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo, and Juliet all died of various causes, it’s true, but maybe that was a sacrifice he was willing to make. Maybe this whole thing was a long con and we played right into his hands. Maybe he really was the villain.