Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.