A generational divide has always been a reason for a lack of understanding between age groups. Proof of conflict related to differing values between generations dates back to the ancient Romans; newer generations will always have newer attitudes and ways of thinking that challenge old beliefs. People tend to hold onto old traditions and are opposed to change; therefore, some older generations try to impose their traditions onto their children. This is an apparent theme in Romeo and Juliet, in which negative beliefs and an ancient feud greatly influence the actions of the younger generation. In Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, the values and traditions set by the older generation cause the tragic events of the story to occur. While Romeo and Juliet, like most young people, wish for supportive and reliable adult figures, they are forced to keep their love a secret and consequently face their untimely deaths.
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The years of hatred have become infested in the minds of the two families, Capulet and Montague, and become a fundamental reason for the death of Mercutio and Tybalt. Mercutio is slain due to his involvement with the Montague family. His life has always been in danger because of his choice of friends, and it represents how consequences of big conflicts actually have an affect on others in the community. Although Mercutio is not directly related to the Montagues, the values of conflict and hatred for the Capulets has been imposed on his friends, consequently influencing him. Mercutio provokes Tybalt, intending to start a fight. Romeo, however, tries to look past the barrier of hatred put up by the older generation, and attempts to stop the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt, but fails. This proves that although the thoughts and actions of young people truly hold potential for change, a single young person’s words are not enough for an overall change, and the words must be spoken or addressed by the elders to have an influence. It is the elders who influenced all the young adults and teenagers to behave with hatred and violence in their hearts, and it is their responsibility to admit that it was wrong, to provide the youth an opportunity to revolutionize and change their perspectives into healthier ones. However, they fail to take responsibility and abolish this tradition of hate, and things continue to worsen. Tybalt kills Mercutio, and is then slain by Romeo who is seeking revenge. The acts of violence and revenge portrayed in this scene are the younger members of this society acting upon what they have been made to believe by the elders. The hatred that has always been a reality for the members of these families and people around them escalates to acts of violence and deaths of young Mercutio and Tybalt. Mercutio can be blamed for provoking Tybalt, but the purpose of the provocation is the real culprit; the words and tradition of the elders. Although Romeo tries to stop the fight, Mercutio does not stop with his aggressive advances towards Tybalt. He refuses to waver in his intention to fight Tybalt, and this represents the stubbornness of the elders who refuse to end their feud. Mercutio is simply a young man who is influenced by the ages old conflict, kept alive through the words of the older generation. When the Prince comes to serve punishments for the people involved in the fight, Lady Capulet is quick to blame Benvolio for “[speaking] not true” (3.1.176), without any proof, showing that she would put the feud before anything else, including unbiased accusations and justice for loved ones. She is not trying to achieve justice for Tybalt’s death; she is trying to blame the other family for her personal reason, which is the ongoing conflict between the two families. She makes it clear that the feud would remain a priority and it would come before everything else. The ignorance of the older generation and the continuation of the feud eventually lead to the final tragedy.
Romeo and Juliet need responsible and understanding adults to aid them in their decisions and support their wish to get married, which their older family members fail to provide. The feud always comes first for the older family members; they refuse to consider anything that goes against the legacy of conflict set by their ancestors, including understanding their younger counterparts. Capulet, believing he is helping his daughter, Juliet, by forcing her marriage with Paris, refuses to understand her reasons for not accepting his offer. Juliet’s lack of explanation regarding her marriage and love for Romeo is understandable. Capulet makes it clear with his harsh and final tone that he is not open to any attempts of persuasion or compromise, and his hatred for the Montagues has always seemed permanent, leaving Juliet hopeless. She is forced to look elsewhere for help, deciding that Friar Lawrence, who has helped Juliet and Romeo get married, could be of help again. This decision leads to a dangerous plan, which in Juliet’s case was her only choice. It involves Juliet drinking from a vial which makes her appear dead, making everyone believe she has passed and placing her in the Capulet tomb, where Romeo would come to take her away with him. The plan fails, as Romeo does not recieve the message explaining the plan and believing that Juliet is dead, commits suicide. When Juliet wakes up and realized what had happened, she kills herself. Although Friar Lawrence can be blamed for devising a plan with so many risks, the reason this plan was needed should actually be blamed; the older generation. Their hatred for the other family would disable them from prioritizing their children's happiness, and they would forbid the marriage. This is apparent to Juliet and Friar Lawrence, who resort to finding a solution which involves hiding the marriage from the families. Even if the plan was successful, the death of Juliet still would have caused distress and the issue of unnecessary conflict would not have been resolved. If the parents had been understanding and not let old stereotypes of names get in the way of peace, Juliet would have had safer and more reliable options, and the marriage could have been carried out without complications. The two star crossed lovers’ demise casts a shadow of grief and sorrow over the whole village and its people. A calamity involving Capulet’s and Montague’s dearest ones is what it takes to make them realize that their feud has greatly negative outcomes, and not just for them, as “all are punish’d”(5.3.295). Both Romeo and Juliet have shown signs of intelligence and maturity throughout the play, with Romeo trying to stop the fight between Mercutio and Tybalt, and Juliet’s decision to drink the contents of the vial, a brave decision considering the possible risks. Their maturity, courage and intelligence once again show that younger family members truly do have the potential to establish healthier relationships and find better alternatives to violence, if they had the chance to successfully express their thoughts. They could have made great changes to the beliefs of their families, but at that time and in that society, compromise or going against tradition was seen as disobedience. Disobedience was not treated lightly; this is apparent when Capulet attacks Juliet with hurtful and aggressive words when she does not want to marry Paris. This is why Romeo and Juliet’s secret marriage and the events following it are not acts of rebellion, they are a tragic consequence which could have been avoided if the two young lovers had the support they needed. They hide the marriage from their parents and tried to avoid any arguments with their parents; they want peace, and their families make that impossible. Over the course of many years, it should have become apparent that the dispute between the two families is unnecessary, especially with the two households being so similar, and “alike in dignity”(prologue.1). It is the older generation’s fault for influencing their young with this hatred, and it is their fault for not recognizing the harm they were causing because of it before it was too late.
The deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt are not enough for the families to cease their conflict, proving that they would remain stubborn and continue to endanger the people around them. Even in matters concerning their children's happiness, the reminder to never associate with the other family would always persist. This is the mistake of the Capulets and Montagues, the mistake of holding on to a tradition of hatred, which costs them five young lives and prevents true love from flourishing. This is not just a story, it is a story about a reality which still exists today. Stereotyping and prejudice is alarmingly common in today's society; the question is, will we let it hurt us or the ones we love?
1.Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. Ken Roy. Canada: Harcourt, Nelson, 2003. Print.