People always talk about Romeo and Juliet as if it’s a romance, as if it’s a great passionate play, the greatest love story of all time. Seen that way, I’ve always found it a little disappointing. There’s certainly a romance in it, but it’s actually much more a play about a feud between families. What’s most interesting to me is the way that the whole thing is set up like a comedy, where you can safely expect a happy ending, the lovers reunited and their families reconciled, only to see Shakespeare pull the rug from under you. Only King Lear does more of a switch, where it looks as if even the terrible events can be patched up, and then surprises us with worse.
Romeo and Juliet is truly a tragedy, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy where everyone is undone by their tragic flaw. And we’re informed of this at the beginning, so we know what we are headed for, and still, as the story goes on we want it to end differently. I like Romeo and Juliet for the narrative dissonance, and of course as always with Shakespeare, the beautiful language.