Romeo and Juliet or Edward and Bella?

It was Stephanie Mabey’s Zombie Song that started me worrying.

There is a line in the song that says “Our love is stronger than Edward and Bella’s.” It does not say “Our love is stronger than Romeo and Juliet’s.” That caused me to fret that for this generation a trendy vampire saga is replacing Shakespeare’s classic story of overpowering romantic love that has endured for hundreds of years.

Please, let it not be so.

I first read Romeo and Juliet in seventh grade and I wasn’t impressed. Testosterone hadn’t really kicked in at that point and girls were more curiosities than magnetic forces. It was my first foray into Shakespeare and between the boring subject matter and the challenging verbiage, I could not connect with the characters or the storyline.

A movie version which I was not allowed to see came out at the same time. It was before the ratings system, but the film was recommended for “mature” audiences—a word that certainly does not apply to junior high boys. One of my classmates saw the film and while he did not understand or enjoy the movie, he jabbered for days about Juliet’s breasts exposed in one brief scene. This confirms my point about adolescent boys and “mature.”

I was a senior in high school the next time I read Romeo and Juliet. By then I had read other works of Shakespeare and learned to understand and appreciate his irony and clever use of words. I had also experienced personal rejection by young women several times and endured the disapproving glares of fathers. I felt like I could empathize with Romeo’s rejection and frustration.

I can’t relate at all to Edward and Bella.

Twilight replaces romance and tortured love with stalking. Terse comments supplant clever conversation. Where intense passion is the driving force behind Romeo and Juliet, Edward and Bella’s main character traits seem to be broodiness and sullenness.

Romeo and Juliet had a love that is everlasting, as evidenced by the fact that hundreds of years after the creation of their characters, their very names symbolize unbreakable yet tragic love.

Vampires refer to themselves as everlasting, yet one can kill them by driving a stake through their hearts, by cutting off their heads, by tearing them apart or by burning. They justifiably worry constantly about death because some vampire or another always seems to be getting killed in spite of their alleged immortality.

Romeo and Juliet’s fathers were strongly opposed to their union and tried to prevent it.

Although he is a local constable, Bella’s father doesn’t have a clue that monsters populate his town, even though the unexplained death toll is staggering for a small community. He grudgingly accepts the idea that his daughter is involved with a pasty-skinned young man who seems much too old to be in high school, whose family contains several siblings of similar description who all appear to be romantically connected.

When Juliet needed help and consolation, she enlisted the help of a clergyman. He came up with a plan to help the two lovers find happiness together. Unfortunately the carefully crafted scheme goes awry and several people end up dead.

When Bella needs support and comfort she is consoled by werewolf Jacob, who probably makes a living as a bodybuilder or male underwear model. Jacob’s plan to help Bella is to have her dump the other guy. Lots of people also get killed.

Both stories have tragedy in common. The last line of the Shakespeare tale reads: “For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”

Edward and Bella’s story is tragic because it could mislead a generation into thinking that Shakespeare’s classic is no longer the ultimate tale of star-crossed love.

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