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Many wonder why Romeo and Juliet must end with the title characters’ deaths. Considering the plot from a modern light, it is more than tragedy if a 13-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy commit suicide. A newspaper reporting such news would likely call it horror, not tragedy. There are actually, several reasons why the characters must die, some integral to the plot, and others serving the nature of Elizabethan drama.
From a plot perspective, Romeo and Juliet don’t initially intend to commit suicide. In fact, the goal is to fake their deaths so they can run away and continue their married lives, since they have married in Act II.
Their respective families would not support their marriage because of the Montague/Capulet feud, so there is no possibility of their marriage being upheld or recognized by the families. Juliet does threaten to kill herself if the Friar can’t come up with a plausible solution.
It is true that Romeo and Juliet are quite young, but they would have been considered of marriageable age in Shakespeare’s time. However, the playwright likely had the good sense to realize that even a married 13 year old is still a 13 year old. The couple can only see things through their own perspective, and had neither wisdom nor forbearance. The death of either seems like the end of the world to both characters. Both believe they cannot possibly live if either character dies. Thus, technically they do not have to die to serve the plot, but choose to die, because they are young, foolish, and in love.
Another reason for the death of Romeo and Juliet is based on the expectations of Elizabethan drama. In general, such drama was split into two categories: comedy and tragedy. Comedy ends in marriage and tragedy in death. To write a tragedy that did not culminate in death would not fit into the genre. Therefore, Romeo and Juliet must die since Shakespeare was writing a tragedy. If he had been writing a comedy, they would have married and their families would have likely reconciled.
There remains some debate as to whether it is advisable to teach the play to middle school aged children. It is often the first Shakespeare play children read, but with many suicide pacts in modern times, some consider teaching the play to impressionable teens to be courting disaster. In response, many teachers now look to other plays that express Shakespeare’s genius but are less likely to be imitated by young teens.