There are two ways of reading Romeo and Juliet, one of which is correct, in the sense that it is the way that Shakespeare meant it to be read and understood, and the other is incorrect, in the sense that it violates and perverts Shakespeare’s intentions.

The incorrect way of reading the play, which is the way that modern critics and teachers read it and teach it, involves what might be called a romantic reading. This way of seeing the play perceives the love between Romeo and Juliet as being blameless and beautiful. The feuding families, and especially the parents, are blamed for the tragedy. The correct way of reading the play is what might be called the moral or cautionary approach in which the tragedy is caused by the abandonment of reason in the face of erotic love or communal hatred.

Romeo sets the scene for his own iconoclastic approach to virtue at the very beginning of the play when he expresses scorn and contempt for Rosaline’s vow of chastity, a prefiguring of the same contempt for chastity and virginity that he will show at the beginning of the famous balcony scene. He also describes love as “madness,” demonstrating his enslavement to, and his enshrining of, mere emotion to the exclusion of the Christian understanding of love as a rational choice to sacrifice oneself for others.

Praise the Lord

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