A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Romeo and Juliet is often the first Shakespeare play that young people read, and it's an excellent introduction to the language and rhythm of his works. Also, Shakespeare's plots, and many of his lines, reappear across many generations of literature; reading Shakespeare is part of a great foundation for further study.
Many lives are lost because the Montagues and Capulets can't settle their differences in a civilized manner. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet shows how innocence and love can become casualties of hatred.
Positive Role Models
Friar Lawrence is a kind friend who wants to help Romeo unite with his beloved Juliet, and Juliet's nurse is likewise devoted to her young mistress, but both provide more help than guidance. Capulet and Montague are loving parents, but set a very poor example with their incivility. Romeo and Juliet risk their lives and familial relationships for love, which is admirable in a way, but it can't be ignored that they have only just met.
Violence & Scariness
In the first scene in the play, Capulets and Montagues goad each other into a fierce sword battle. Later, after Capulet's cousin Tybalt argues with and stabs Mercutio, Romeo is baited into an argument with Tybalt and kills him with his sword. At the end of the play, there are two more sword deaths and a suicide by poison.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Shakespeare's clever wordplay often includes references to body parts and sex acts -- the words "maidenhead" and "whore" are used creatively, for example. This bawdy language is often highlighted with physical gesturing when the play is staged, but the book is more clever than suggestive. Actual sex, other than kissing, takes place "off-screen," in that we only know Romeo and Juliet spend one night together as husband and wife because we see them part early the next morning.
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
There are a couple of references to drinking wine.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Romeo and Juliet is often the first Shakespeare play that middle- or high-school students read. It's a tragic, romantic story about two young lovers who get caught in the crossfire of their parents' conflict. Shakespearean language can be challenging to read, especially at first, and newcomers would do best with a well-annotated edition that explains difficult words and constructions. Romeo and Juliet includes little inappropriate sexual content or profanity, but there are a few very violent scenes in which major characters are run through with swords. Director Franco Zeffirelli's beautiful 1968 film version is very true to the play, and well worth seeing. A much more modern and artful, but brutal, film starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio was well received when it came out in 1996. It's also worth checking out the 1961 musical film West Side Story, which was based on this timeless play.
Is It Any Good?
Not surprisingly, Romeo and Juliet has it all: clever dialogue, passionate romance, violent conflict, and plenty of poetry. Modern readers might have to suspend their disbelief to accept Romeo and Juliet's grand passion, but with a little patience, readers will be transported by the epic beauty of one of the world's best-loved plays.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.