How Old Are Romeo and Juliet in the Book?

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous works of Shakespeare. In fact, it is often the play that people will read first among Shakespeare’s works, but do we know it as well as we think we do? Do we even know how old these star-crossed lovers are?

In Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Juliet is 13 years old. On the other hand, Romeo’s age was not clearly stated. However, he was said to be a few years older than Juliet, which means his age could be anywhere from 15 to 18. 

Have you read the play by Shakespeare but are curious about the juicy details you may have missed? Further in this article, we will talk about five interesting facts about Romeo and Juliet, both the play and its main characters. Let’s get to it!

Interesting Facts About Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

Today, when a literary work becomes so popular, the possibility of knowing the plot, characters, and even its nuances from mainstream adaptations like film instead of from the work itself is all too common. Because of this, we miss out on the small but crucial details that make plays like Romeo and Juliet the masterpieces that they are.

Wondering what you could have missed? Here are some interesting facts about this much-beloved work by Shakespeare.

They Were Too Young To Marry, Even in Their Time 

In Elizabethan times, it was legal for people to get married as young as 12. Because of this, readers nowadays usually think that Juliet marrying so young was nothing out of the ordinary. However, this is not the case.  

Though marrying at the age of 12 was legal then, it was usually only members of the royal family that did marry at such a young age. Moreover, these marriages were typically not love relationships but alliances between families. These were also planned by parents of the bride and groom, and were not decided upon by those getting married.

Among ordinary people, it was common to get married around the age of 18 or older. Shakespeare himself got married at 18. And parents often needed to give consent to the marriage if the bride and groom were younger. 

So yes, if you’re shocked to find that Juliet was only 13 when she met and fell in love at first with Romeo, you should be. It probably is how Shakespeare intended it. In fact, many say that the play was written by Shakespeare as (among other things) a cautionary tale on young love. 

Juliet Was Originally Not So Young

We attribute Romeo and Juliet to Shakespeare today. But did you know that the tragic love story did not originate from Shakespeare? The play was actually based on a narrative poem by Arthur Brooke entitled The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet published in 1562.

In the original story, Juliet was young, but not as young as Shakespeare made her out to be in his version. In Arthur Brooke’s story, Juliet was 16 years old. 

There are many theories that try to explain why Shakespeare saw it fit to portray Juliet as practically a child. One of the most compelling ones says that it is to more effectively achieve an overall theme of haste–as children are always in a hurry and tend to act, to jump without thinking about the height of the cliff.

It’s more believable for Juliet to be hasty in her “love” for Romeo even if she does not know him and has only seen him once, because she has very little real experience of the world and is, therefore, ill-equipped to make sound judgment even about her own emotions.

True enough, we do accept her impulsiveness and are not surprised, though we are saddened, when their love story ends in their death, because we know that she is just a child, even though she sometimes shows sparks of mature thinking here and there.

Juliet’s age can make reading the story a bit unsettling, however, especially because we know that they consummated their marriage after their secret wedding. 

Today’s Famous Balcony Scene Is Not From Shakespeare

If you have come to love Romeo and Juliet from the countless film adaptations and performances that have been done over the years, you might be surprised to discover that the well-known balcony scene between Romeo and Juliet is actually not how Shakespeare penned it.

In Shakespeare’s play, Juliet is looking out into the moonlit night through a window, and not a balcony. In fact, the idea of a balcony was practically unknown in those times, as it was not a common part of the architecture of their day. 

The balcony scene was the idea of English dramatist Thomas Otway, who re-titled the play to The History and Fall of Caius Marius and brought it to Rome in 1679. There, he placed Juliet on a balcony instead of looking out through a window. It became popular for a while, though it’s largely forgotten now.

However, the balcony scene did stick. 

Romeo and Juliet’s Courtship Happened Too Fast

In fact, they basically had zero courtship. They met at a party, fell in love with each other as soon as they laid eyes on each other, and then jumped straight to planning a secret wedding the following day. For a society that put so much value on propriety, this was no less than scandalous for their time. And let’s be honest–even in ours.

Yet, we happily suspend our disbelief throughout all this, helped by the knowledge that they are only kids.

Juliet Was Not Romeo’s First Love

Romeo’s passionate love for Juliet may seem so strong you would think this was the first time he fell in love. However, we know from Shakespeare’s play that his heart was set on a girl named Rosaline before he met Juliet. In fact, Romeo went to the fateful party in the hopes of meeting Rosaline there.

However, as we know, fate would have him see Juliet instead. It was all it took for him to forget all about Rosaline, who actually did not return Romeo’s affections. And good for her, because Romeo’s feelings for her didn’t seem to be anything worth taking seriously.

Final Thoughts

Romeo and Juliet is one of the greatest literary works of all time. If you want to take a fresh look at the story of two young, impetuous lovers who fell victim perhaps not to their fate but their own unrealistic idea of love, try taking a closer look at the details that make them relatable to so many, even today.

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