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  • Hi, I'm John Green;

  • this is Crash Course English Literature

  • and THIS is Romeo and Juliet, [Roliet? Julmeo?]

  • written in 1595 or 1596 and often called the greatest love story of all time.

  • [even though ages & events therein would now translate to a long prison sentence.]

  • Which, when you think about it,

  • is a very strange thing to say about a play that features, like,

  • one off-stage sex scene and like seven on-stage fatalities.

  • I mean, let's quickly review the plot:

  • Boy, Romeo, goes to a party trying to get over a girl,

  • with whom he is completely obsessed,

  • but then he meets another girl, Juliet, and becomes obsessed with her.

  • [como se dice "archetypical?"]

  • Their families hate each other,

  • but despite that or possibly because of it they fall madly in love and get married

  • the next day whereupon immediately a family feud breaks out.

  • No, Thought Bubble,

  • not that kind of family feud. [survey says... YES!]

  • Yes, that kind. [thanks for the buzzer kill, John]

  • Several people get killed,

  • including Juliet's cousin, who is offed by Romeo.

  • [think how awkward the holidays would've been have they lived. yikes]

  • And that means Romeo has to flee.

  • Juliet takes a sleeping potion to avoid another marriage.

  • And then Romeo comes back, finds her sleeping,

  • thinks she's dead, kills himself. And then, she wakes up and kills herself.

  • And then the families end the feud. Yay. [no wonder Disney hasn't coopted R&J yet]

  • That we consider this romance says quite a lot about humans.

  • Mr. Green, Mr. Green,

  • but they love each other so much, you know?

  • It's like his life literally isn't worth living without her.

  • Yes, Me from the Past,

  • her being a [13 year old] woman that he's known for, like, a few hundred...hours.

  • And yet, every year,

  • thousands of people write to Juliet care of her hometown of Verona, Italy,

  • and the citizens of Verona write back.

  • You, in fact, when you're in college,

  • will go to Verona and visit all the touristy Romeo and Juliet sites,

  • and that very night you will be at a Veronese night club

  • and you will meet a girl named Antonia, and you will believe that

  • you really love her and that it is the kind of love that can last a lifetime.

  • I'm gonna hook up with her?

  • No, at the end of the night, you lean in to kiss her like...

  • and no.

  • [BEST]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [intro music]

  • [EVER]

  • So Shakespeare didn't invent the story of Romeo and Juliet,

  • but he made really important changes to it.

  • His immediate source material was a 3,000 line narrative poem called

  • The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Juliet, written by Arthur Brooke in 1562,

  • which itself borrowed from a tradition of tragic romances

  • dating back at least to Ovid's Metamorphosis.

  • So Shakespeare obviously changed some of the names but more importantly, he

  • introduced a lot of narrative complexity.

  • I mean, for Brooke, the story of Romeus and Juliet was a cautionary tale.

  • He calls them:

  • "A couple of unfortunate lovers, thrilling themselves to unhonest desire,

  • neglecting the authority and advice of parents and friends...,

  • attempting all adventures of peril for the attaining of their wished lust...

  • abusing the honourable name of lawful marriage."

  • [wet blankets the romanticalness a bit]

  • So, Brooke's poem is just an ordinary story about naughty teenagers

  • who receive the standard punishment for their naughtiness,

  • which is, of course, death.

  • [personally, I prefer the modern horror flick adaptation of this theme]

  • And, of course, as you know from watching contemporary horror movies:

  • if you're a woman and you wanna live til the end, you better be a virgin.

  • [also helps to be Jamie Lee Curtis or Heather Langencamp]

  • But Shakespeare offers a much more compassionate portrait of Romeo & Juliet

  • and encourages us to empathize with them.

  • I mean, Romeo and Juliet are obviously hot for each other,

  • but they're also kind of polite about it.

  • I mean, witness the physical distance between them in their most amorous scene.

  • I mean, their most amorous on-stage scene.

  • I mean, obviously, they d-- they do do it. [i love the term "circumlocution"]

  • And they use the kind of sacred metaphors

  • that etiquette experts in Shakespeare's day recommended for courtship.

  • I mean, Romeo calls Juliet a "holy shrine;"

  • and then Juliet welcomes the flirtation by calling him a "good pilgrim."

  • [a far cry from modern-day [t]exting]

  • Also, Shakespeare's Juliet is much younger:

  • She's 16 or 18 in other versions of the story, but in Shakespeare, she's only 13,

  • [10 things i hate about you fans?]

  • and so it's hard to see her as, like, a dishonest floozy.

  • [anyone else love it when NYT bestseller Green says things like floozy? bet yes.]

  • I mean, even in a profoundly misogynistic age,

  • it's hard to see a 13-year-old stab herself and be like,

  • "Yeah! She got what was coming to her."

  • So, Shakespeare was also likely influenced by the love poems of Petrarch,

  • who the character Mercutio mentions.

  • Petrarch's work is much more approving of intense adoration than Brooke's is.

  • For instance, he believed in of love at first sight.

  • And he had to because all of his poems were written to a woman he never met,

  • and only saw once.

  • But then the play also isn't, like, a YOLO endorsement of following your heart

  • because following your heart does get Romeo and Juliet dead.

  • Alright, let's go to the Thought Bubble.

  • So Shakespeare sets the play in Verona, Italy, which isn't a surprise,

  • since the source material sets it there as well,

  • and also because Shakespeare set most of his plays away from England.

  • If you're going to talk about morality and values--

  • like individuals responsibilities to their own interests versus their

  • responsibilities to their families and the larger social order, for instance--

  • it's much safer to set it in faraway Italy.

  • Romeo and Juliet is a love story, but it's also a political story:

  • The Montagues and Capulets consistently ignore

  • the proclamations of the Prince of Verona,

  • and arguably Romeo's biggest hurdle to marrying Juliet is that

  • the Prince exiles him and promises to execute him should he return to the city.

  • Should you be loyal first to your own feelings? Or to your family?

  • Or to your faith? Or to your prince?

  • These are not just questions of Will That Hot Girl Go Out With Me;

  • they are in fact questions that were central to Elizabethan England,

  • as the critic Northrup Frye pointed out,

  • whenever Shakespeare wanted to write about the problems of feuding nobles,

  • he either set his plays in the distant past or in a land far, far away.

  • But when it comes to the actual romance,

  • it's all very hot-blooded and Mediterranean and Catholic--

  • it's no coincidence that in Protestant England,

  • much of Romeo and Juliet's tragedy is facilitated by a slippery Catholic friar.

  • The stereotype of Italians as passionate and impulsive goes back a long way,

  • to well before Shakespeare, and that helps explain Romeo and Juliet's actions.

  • [but not at all why The Jersey Shore got a green light in the first place]

  • I mean, would English lovers act like this? Probably not.

  • They'd be too busy being pale and avoiding the rain

  • and eating shepherd's pie and whatnot, but this is just what those Italians would do.

  • [quite a broad brush there, boss]

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble.

  • Okay, let's turn briefly to the play's structure.

  • Romeo and Juliet, you'll be surprised to learn, is a tragedy.

  • And Shakespeare's tragedies follow the same structure first described

  • by Aristotle in the 5th century B.C.E.

  • Tragedy occurs when a mostly good character

  • or characters of noble extraction (here, Romeo and Juliet)

  • make an error (getting married so quickly, ignoring the family feud)

  • and are brought low (double suicide). [so, brought lowest then?]

  • Shakespeare wouldn't have read Aristotle,

  • but he probably would have been familiar with Latin criticism of the Poetics.

  • Now I

  • Don't want to generalize about Aristotle [brace for generalization...]

  • and I know that he has a vocal group of supporters among Crash Course commenters,

  • but it is widely known that Aristotle was 100% wrong 100% of the time.

  • If you watched our series on World History, for instance,

  • you'll recall that Aristotle believed that some people were just naturally slave-ey.

  • [elegant piece of terminology there]

  • But while this narrative of tragedy that noble people suffer when they act badly

  • isn't actually reflected very often in the real world,

  • [and certainly not on The Jersey Shore. yep, went back to that well. last time]

  • it remains a really powerful idea,

  • both in our fiction and in the way we imagine the world around us.

  • And it's a big part of why

  • we're so fascinated when we see the once-great suffer downfalls,

  • whether it's Lance Armstrong or Warren G. Harding or Marilyn Monroe

  • or Lindsay Lohan or the entirety of The Jackson family.

  • [both last examples proving crazy pants come in family size.]

  • But what makes Shakespearean tragedy so interesting is the complexity

  • he introduces to that Aristotelian structure. Complexity, by the way,

  • not seen in the downfall of Lindsay Lohan. [wow, are we current]

  • I mean, at least by Elizabethan standards, Romeo and Juliet both make mistakes,

  • but they're mistakes born of love,

  • and it is because of their deaths as result of these mistakes

  • that peace and harmony return to the streets of Verona.

  • So you can read it as a mere Aristotelian tragedy,

  • but you can also read it as a narrative of tragic sacrifice,

  • or as a story about love being worth the price of death.

  • Oh, it's time for the open letter?

  • An Open Letter to Star-Crossed Lovers.

  • But first,

  • let's see what's in The Secret Compartment today.

  • Oh, it's Hazel and Augustus, [omg omg omg]

  • noted star-crossed lovers from my book, The Fault in Our Stars.

  • Hi, guys! Uh, I'm gonna leave you in there,

  • but keep it PG.

  • Dear Star-Crossed Lovers,

  • You go pretty much all the way back in literature.

  • You're very helpful for thinking about, like, fate and free will.

  • But you're also kind of sexy.

  • So if you want to think about free will,

  • but also give people high-quality entertainment,

  • you are the natural choice, star-crossed lovers.

  • But I wonder if this constant exploration of star-crossed-lovers-ness

  • also leads to a kind of celebration of it

  • and whether actual lovers who needn't be star-crossed

  • try to invent star-crossed-ness.

  • Yeah, don't do that. It's unhealthy.

  • For Emily Dickinson's sake, just let yourself be happy.

  • Best wishes, John Green

  • Okay, so let's turn to the actual writing.

  • Romeo and Juliet has both poetry and prose;

  • it's pretty easy to tell which is which by looking at,

  • you know, the line length.

  • The lines of poetry are shorter

  • and usually conform to the same metric structure, called iambic pentameter.

  • An iamb is a poetic foot consisting of a stressed and unstressed syllable.

  • And not, like, in the anxiety sense, but in the sense of, you know,

  • putting an emphasis on a syllable.

  • And pentameter means that there are five feet in a line.

  • This sounds very complicated, but it's actually very easy.

  • Let's try it on the prologue:

  • Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,

  • From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,

  • Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

  • Now my performance just then

  • would not have gotten my hired at Shakespeare's theater company.

  • Ideally, you don't read iambs in that sing-song-y way,

  • but iambic pentameter pops up all over the place.

  • John Keats' last will and testament was a single line of iambic pentameter:

  • My chest of books divide among my friends.

  • And much of our conversation takes places within iambs.

  • Like, that last sentence for instance.

  • I mean, this isn't genius stuff.

  • My two-year-old son regularly uses iambic pentameter,

  • like every time he says, "Daddy, I want to go to Steak N Shake."

  • Iambic pentameter is a way of reflecting

  • the natural rhythms of human speech in English, while also heightening it.

  • And it's worth paying attention to

  • especially when Shakespeare messes around with the meter,

  • as in that famous line,

  • "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?"

  • That line would be iambic pentameter but something keeps messing it up--

  • specifically, Romeo's name.

  • And it's his name, of course, that is the problem. [bam]

  • Were he not named Romeo Montague, there'd be no issue, in the line or in the play.

  • And I know that when we first encounter Shakespeare,

  • the language can seem difficult.

  • That's because unlike French or Italian,

  • English has evolved a lot since the 16th-century,

  • Also, Shakespeare was constantly using words in new ways,

  • as in this play, for instance,

  • when he became the first person ever to describe a hot girl as an "angel."

  • [Shakespeare = OG]

  • But the difficulty and the slowness of the reading allows you to pay attention

  • to the genius of Shakespeare's language.