The most startling thing about Romeo and Juliet for a modern audience is the extreme youth--and extreme passion--of the young lovers. But would the audience in Shakespeare's day have reacted in the same way? The average age of marriage in the period was actually higher than today, though in noble households children were sometimes married younger for reasons of the estate.

The audience response to the disobedience of Juliet is harder to guess. Children were expected to obey--but parents were expected to be responsible in their choice too.

Footnotes

  1. Not a long engagement . . .

    They are so obviously attracted to each other that Friar Lawrence will not leave them alone until they are married. Although sex before marriage was countenanced in some circumstances, marriage was the only honourable way the two could consummate their love. Perhaps it is no accident that Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's most bawdy plays.

    Shakespeare's son Hamnet was born six months after his marriage.