Crazy Kids: Rash teenage behavior in Romeo and Juliet, Catcher in the Rye and a selection of Romeo and Juliet quotes
Teens are notorious for being impulsive, hormone-driven and conflicted human beings. Though such a statement smacks of stereotyping, such portrayals have been justified by science—just ask any neuroscientist how the teen brain reacts to a deluge of testosterone or estrogen.
Yet, this idea is really nothing new; science has just painted a color of truth to it. In fact, before all the mumbo-jumbo of science came about, Shakespeare mastered the lustful impulsive teen in his classic high-school mandated Romeo and Juliet, a love story where two star-crossed 13-year-olds from warring families fall in love, get married and then kill themselves in the span of mere days. Leave it to those crazy teens to rush into everything.
Yet, rash behavior makes good tragedy. And the most naturally rash are usually teenage humans. If Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet anything like Nicholas Sparks The Notebook (our endless apologies for the implied comparison, Bill), things would be more adult: drawn out, tense and ending with a death by Alzheimer’s instead of death by a poison/dagger combo. Romeo says it best: “Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel/Wert thou as young as I, Juliet thy love/ An hour but married, Tybalt murdered/ Doting like me and like me banished/ Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou tear thy hair/ And fall upon the ground, as I do now/ Taking the measure of an unmade grave.”
Romeo and Juliet quotes Shakespeare allotted himself some creative freedom with timing and pace by making the two lovers teens, crafting a play that places its tragedy on the fact that its two leading characters were naively young and too quick to act. Consider the fact that Romeo’s actions are purely emotionally driven. He rushes in pursuit of Juliet, acting like a creepy Edward Cullen-esque stalker below her balcony. He marries Juiliet within days of meeting her.
Though he largely avoids the conflict brewing between Tybalt and Mercutio, Romeo enters it and quickly kills his wife’s cousin. Then he runs off in exile, where his preoccupation and his emotional instability upon hearing his wife is dead—which was totally untrue—causes him to miss the one letter that explains it all and tells him to cool his heels. Inconvenient for him but very convenient for Shakespeare. Instead, he rushes to be by his “dead” wife’s side, poisons himself and dies seconds after seeing his wife wake up. If there was ever a story that urged people to take a few moment to breathe and think logically, it would be this one.
That troubled state of rash behavior is found in another quintessential teen story, the ever-iconic Catcher in the Rye. One could say that Holden Caulfield is a Romeo without his Juliet. Or a younger Hamlet without all the regicide and incestuous undertones. He has all this angst, energy and rashness that he cannot direct into a relationship, so instead, it propels him into New York City, where he wanders aimlessly without commitment, hardly following through with decisions because his erratic mind and behavior suggests he lacks both foresight and hindsight—a classic flaw of rash teenager thinkers. His state of anxiety has not outlet so it accumulates inside him until he is committed to a looney bin. Perhaps he just needed a girl who wasn’t a complete phony.
About the Author:
Shmoop offers hundreds of free educational guides and references. We believe that any topic, like Romeo and Juliet or Catcher in the Rye, can be broken down in a way that is relatable and fun for students. . . We keep things more interesting by using television shows, video games, music, and fashion references throughout our guides. Our goal is not only to present the fundamentals, but to bring the material to life in a way that makes students ask more questions, instead of less. Check out Shmoop’s website to see how all of our free resources can make a difference in your study time.