The Problem of Age in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

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In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the incredibly young age of the two lovers, Romeo and Juliet plays a crucial role in the direction and the outcome of the play. An essay by J. Karl Franson called, "Too soon marr'd" is my primary source for this paper, Franson writes about the symbolism of numbers Shakespeare uses throughout the play.Their age suggests that they are not responsible for the tragic ending to the play, or the circumstances in which they find themselves involved with. Throughout the play many references are given to suggest the ages of Romeo and Juliet. The theory I found to back up this claim involves a symbolizing of numbers in reference to Juliet's age. According to this theory, throughout the play there are many factors that are symbolizing Juliet's young age, such as the number of letters in her full name, the number of times Romeo refers to her by name, and the number of sonnets which are spoken between Romeo and Juliet. Some other uses of structural numerology include the number of guests invited to Capulet's party and the time sequence between Romeo and Juliet. Although Romeo and Juliet was set during the Elizabethan time period, there are many distinct parts that are not felt by historians to be accurate. Such as the idea that Elizabethan couples married at such a young age, as in Romeo and Juliet. In contrast, most Elizabethan women married between the ages of 25- 26, and the men between 27-29. This is the oldest average marrying age for any society known (Franson, p. 2). Actually, Elizabethans believed that women being married at a young age and having sex with your husband led to permanent damage to your health. For the young man, getting married and having sex would lead to impaired physical and mental development and together the young married couple would produce sickly children. (Franson p.l) The earliest accepted age to become a mother was 18 years old, and the ideal ages for women to be married was 20 and for men was 30 years old. It has been said by one historian that Shakespeare wrote this play about the young lovers to show the dangers of marrying at such a young age, and it has even been suggested that this stemmed from his first marriage at 18, which was not successful (Franson p. 112). Since Shakespeare obviously knew the socially accepted norm for men and women to be married, and he still made Romeo and Juliet extremely young, it suggests in the play that there will be some tragic outcome to the young lovers actions.
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