Is 'Romeo and Juliet' actually a terrible story?
There is always a method to melodrama and romanticism.
As one of William Shakespeare's most recognized plays, Romeo and Juliet is often considered to be overrated and not at all worthy of its praise.
I actually haven't read it myself or seen the films in a very long time, but can still remember virtually everything about it.
Having not read or seen very many of his works, I nevertheless believe R & J is quite possibly Shakespeare's most misunderstood play for the very simple reason that it's seen as an immature romance and not the multilayered tragedy that it actually is.
It's very easy to say that the eponymous couple makes foolish decisions to try and unite their warring families, but then overlook the oppressive and arbitrary environment reinforced by these same families that drive them in the first place.
Juliet Capulet feels the pressure even more so than Romeo Montague does; she's being married off without her consent, and she is deprived of a proper relationship with either parent that could influence any sort of meaningful change to all customs regarding women should they appeal to the Prince of Verona. She's not really in love, sure, but Romeo's significance to her is still quite complex. He is her escape, her political statement, her chance to explore her sexuality.
On Romeo's side, all we know for sure is that Juliet is a distraction from his previous love interest, Rosaline, who happens to be her cousin. Candidly speaking, it doesn't matter which one he puts an end to the family feud with. But at the end of the day, we know nothing about Rosaline, except that she rejects his advances.
Juliet's putative beauty aside, she clearly has a personality evidenced by her wit, strong convictions that Romeo must respect, and proactivity in the relationship even if she does get quite a bit of help from Friar Laurence. I don't think it's a stretch to assume that Romeo admires these traits and appreciates her devotion to him. Moreover, I highly doubt he'd be willing to risk as much as he does for her if all he truly wants is a fun night.
However, the story isn't necessarily centred on their journey. What we're really reading about is the conflict between the Montagues and the Capulets through the couple's eyes. You can certainly make an argument for the latter's love as I have above, but there is absolutely no indicated reason for the formers' feud.
It must be rather pointless in that case, but what seems to matter more are their feelings and approach to it, especially as the play comes to an end. It takes a tragic event for them to come to their senses; unfortunately, there are and have been people who only learn their lesson after that, if they are lucky. Cautionary tales ultimately come at a price in hopes that audiences will earnestly consider their perspectives on things.
We might say that the pair could've left Verona entirely and put their marriage to the test, or try to make the case for it publicly in spite of the risks, but these routes would be going against the point of the play. There is no communication or an effort made to understand; everyone is willing to do whatever it takes to maintain their own selfish pride instead of collectively working toward a tolerable society that's worth living in.
Due to a lack of prioritization skills as well as a sense of agency, the oppressors end up looking like cowards instead, and that's precisely what Shakespeare presumably wanted us to see. Giving up on them doesn't solve the problem, and the lovers' final decision, ironically, does just that. Their own selfishness leads to something greater than themselves, whether they realize it or not.
With all this in mind, how can we honestly say that R & J, which continues to be shown and adapted to this day, is a terrible story?