Will Smith was right: sometimes parents just don’t understand. Of course, he said that before he himself was a parent of Karate Kid Jayden and Whip-My-Hair Willow, but we digress. Parental misunderstanding is a common angst-ridden teen’s complaint, but it is a complaint that is well founded. Chalk it up to hormones, generation gaps or just pure angst a la Catcher in The Rye rebellion. It’s still a truth that parents, kids, psychiatrists and even fancy pants neuroscientists find undeniable.
Besides The Fresh Prince, another famous wordsmith named Will also understood the disconnects between parents and their pubescent progeny. Of course, we’re talking about the bard himself, Will Shakespeare. Shakespeare, a perennial favorite among high school English teachers, appreciated young adults that were in conflict with the wishes and expectations of their parents. Heck, he capitalized on that tension by turning it into classic tragedies. Of course, the ultimate story of parents not understanding is his iconic masterpiece Romeo and Juliet. Talk about family conflicts! A play about two star-crossed 13-year-olds from feuding families, who despite their obligations to their parents, pursue their love and get hitched. Of course, as everyone knows, it wasn’t happily ever after. Both die by suicide after when an impetuous and preoccupied Romeo misses a simple message, a type of problem that probably wouldn’t exist today with all the Twittering and texting going on. If only Romeo and Juliet was 400 something years later, we’d have a completely different story.
The cause of Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy, of course, is their parents and families. Montague and Capulets might as well be the Bloods and the Crypts for the two teenaged lovers. What’s more, Juliet’s parents are trying to get her to marry someone else, threatening to disown her if she does not. Alas, her heart lies with Romeo, whose name alone causes her much pain, as evidenced in one of the the oft-recited Romeo and Juliet quotes from the famous balcony scene, “Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Shakespeare’s sympathies clearly lie with the two lovers and their tragic ends, while showing the parents to be unforgiving and unyielding people who are largely to blame for their children’s suicides. Perhaps that is why Romeo and Juliet, besides its relative ease and accessibility, is often high school-ers first experience with Shakespeare because it speaks to their frustration of what they consider tyrannical parents. Of course, it could also show angst-y teens that issues over curfews and grades are small potatoes compared to what Romeo and Juliet faced. Nonetheless, the parents are cast as the unintentional villains of the play, with their grudges imposed on their children causing them not only strife but ultimately grief. The parents do not know or could not even understand Romeo and Juliet’s love that was so explicitly forbidden. Their demand for hate over love is the ultimate example of parent’s just not understanding.
Paul Thomson is an avid reader of English Literature. His areas of expertise include Romeo and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet quotes and Catcher in the Rye. In his spare time, he loves to participate in online literature forums and promote reading for youth.