Twilight Guest Post: ‘On Romeo and Juliet’

I have really been neglecting my Twilight readers here because of the work I’ve been doing to unlock the artistry and meaning of The Hunger Games, but I hope after my trip to Phoenix and Tuscon next week to start some conversations about the status quo of ‘Meyer Studies,’ if you will, with special attention to essays at Twilight News Site and articles like this one in Christianity Today.

Until then, though, here is a Guest Post by North Carolina’s Ms. Misty Dotts about Shakespeare’s influence on the Twilight Saga. Enjoy!

Stephenie Meyer and William Shakespeare:

How Romeo and Juliet Influenced the Twilight Saga

Millions of readers in the twenty-first century have read, or at least, heard of the phenomenon of author Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga. These lengthy novels- Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, and Breaking Dawn- are aimed at young adults, but have appealed to readers of all ages. The Twilight Saga follows the unlikely epic love story between a teenage girl, Bella Swan, and a (seemingly) teenage vampire, Edward Cullen. Though not often the most popular literary genre, Meyer’s “vampire stories” (Granger Spotlight 36) have been whole-heartedly embraced by readers, and are not being hailed as mere teenage angst novels as some of her peers would like to believe (Flood).

These modern romance novels are being recognized as true literary creations of a forbidden love that have the elements of a love story with the power to draw the reader in and not let go. But what gives the novels this power to pull at the reader’s heart? Meyer achieves this in the same way other literary greats have, by consciously interweaving details and emotions that draw upon the reader’s mind and heart, and naturally her own writing would be influenced by the literary works most important to her.

According to Meyer’s autobiography at YABooksCentral.com, her influences include some of history’s most critically lauded writers such as Charlotte Bronte, L.M. Montgomery, and Jane Austen, but Meyer has also said the novels are “tied to Romeo and Juliet” (Granger “New Moon Notes #2, Romeo and Juliet”) by William Shakespeare. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is arguably the most beloved love story of all time. Though written hundreds of years ago, the romantic tragedy about star-crossed lovers is still the classic romance and is quoted frequently even today. The classic elements that weave the memorable stories of both Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Meyer’s Twilight Saga books are the forbidden romance and conflict keeping the lovers apart, the star-crossed characters in similar roles, as well as their families and friends, and the alchemy and symbolism in both creating a dramatic plot that envelopes that reader and delivers a love story to be read for many years to come.

The magnetism of the classic forbidden romance in both Romeo and Juliet and the Twilight Saga pulls at the reader just as Romeo and Juliet and Edward and Bella are drawn to each other. It is human nature for one to want what one cannot have, and this creates even stronger bonds between heroes and heroines in both these works. Romeo’s and Juliet’s families, the Montagues and Capulets respectively, have been at severe odds with each other for years, provoking altercations and leading to all-out duels; therefore, their relationship is doomed before it even begins. Edward and Bella’s relationship is impeded by Edward’s supernatural status and thirst for, especially Bella’s, human blood. Bella’s human scent to Edward is excruciatingly painful because she smells so delicious to him. He must constantly be on guard to control his thirst for her, but he endures this pain because his love for her is so strong.

Also complicating their relationship is Bella’s strong friendship with Quileute wolf shape-shifter Jacob, the wolves being the arch-enemy of the vampires. With treaties and boundary lines drawn, the shape-shifters are ready to attack the vampires if they so much as cross the line or, especially, if they attempt to transform Bella. This also forces Bella to make a decision in which side she will take, thus cinching the attention of the reader even more. The conflicts that both couples encounter create obstacles for the heroes and heroines to overcome, giving the reader a purpose and an emotional investment in the story. This passionate, emotional tie to the story is very important in keeping the reader engaged in what they are reading and Meyer utilizes Shakespeare’s technique of harboring this air of drama and desperation in the plot.

The characters in Romeo and Juliet and the Twilight Saga also work together to concoct irresistible love stories for readers. The reason readers have loved Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is the characters are typical of an actual romance, with flaws of their own and obstacles standing in the way of their true happiness. Romeo is a leading man who has found his soul mate, but manages to get himself banished from the city, not to mention vilifying himself even more with her family, when he accidently kills Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. Edward also imposes his own sabbatical from Bella when he believes she is endangered by their relationship. Both heroes self-imposed separations from their heroines create strife and heartbreak for the couples and ultimately lead to additional consequences.

Also comparable to Romeo and Juliet is the third element to the main characters’ relationship, another love interest for the heroine. With Romeo banished, Capulet tries to force his daughter into a marriage with Paris and she wants nothing to do with it. In the Twilight saga, Jacob is the other romantic interest, but he is also Bella’s best friend and the only person she can confide in when Edward has left (Meyer New Moon 370-371). This complicates the matter even more for Bella because she does love Jacob, but not with the intensity she loves Edward. Bella’s choice between two handsome, god-like men with nothing but love for her is especially a draw for female readers. The heart-wrenching decision she must make between the two suitors adds suspense and allows readers to live vicariously through Bella, especially because the majority of the Twilight saga is written in first person from Bella’s point of view. Meyer also adds the close familial conflict that Shakespeare’s Juliet has with her father, Capulet.

As Capulet prefers Paris for his daughter, Bella’s father, Charlie, prefers Jacob for her. This creates additional tension at home for Bella and gives the reader a deeper involvement with another obstacle for Bella to overcome. Warring with parents over the choice of a boyfriend/girlfriend is a typical argument fought throughout the ages as is evident in the three hundred year old Romeo and Juliet. Charlie’s contention over Bella’s ultimate choice of Edward is never fully extinguished until the last novel, Breaking Dawn, when he is melted the same way modern parents are, with the reward of a grandchild. Edward himself recognizes the similarities between he and Bella’s relationship and that of Romeo and Juliet, when he chides himself for leaving Bella saying, “Mistake after mistake. I’ll never criticize Romeo again.” (Meyer New Moon, 508).

Finally, the alchemy and story scaffolding of both Romeo and Juliet and the Twilight Saga lend dramatic edge to the love stories and give the reader a sense of what is to come. Alchemical drama consists of a “three-step process: dissolution, usually called the nigredo or Black stage, purification, the albedo or White stage, and perfection and revelation, the rubedo or Red stage.” (Granger “New Moon Notes #1: Alchemical Nigredo!”) In Romeo and Juliet, both lead characters are the subjects of the alchemy because of the rift between their families. In the Twilight Saga, only Bella is the subject of the alchemy because she has to be transformed into a vampire in order to fully be with Edward. Her black stage is set in New Moon when Edward leaves her and thus the dissolution of their relationship.

During this darkest time in her life, she develops a deep relationship with Jacob, whose last name is interestingly “Black,” and he is the lifeline that keeps her going until Edward’s return. The white stage begins when Bella and Edward marry and suggests the ultimate purity of their romance, especially since they abstained from a sexual relationship until their marriage. During their honeymoon Bella discovers she is carrying Edward’s child and eventually dies as a human and is reborn a vampire as she is giving birth to Renesmee. The white is also symbolic in Edward’s and the other vampire’s skin. The red stage includes the final truce between the vampires and werewolves and the showdown with the Volturi. Red is also symbolic of the bloodshed throughout both Romeo and Juliet and the Twilight saga, but the rubedo actually exemplifies the transfiguration and divination of Romeo’s and Juliet’s deaths and the resolution between the vampires and shape-shifters, Bella’s immortality, and the birth of Renesmee.

The enmity between Edward and Jacob over Bella also is comparable to the quarreling Mercutio and Tybalt. Mercutio instigates the squabbles and, eventually, Tybalt kills him in a duel. Like Mercutio and Tybalt, Edward and Jacob quarrel often and denigrate each other. When Renesmee is born though, Jacob imprints with her, the shape-shifter’s form of true love at first sight, and Edward and Jacob realize they are destined to be family one day (Granger, Spotlight 125). This alchemy and symbolism in both works permits foreshadowing for the reader if the reader recognizes these clues. Romeo specifically says he would rather die than live without Juliet, while Edward says at the beginning of New Moon that he would not know what to “do without” Bella and would attempt suicide himself (Meyer New Moon 21). In both tales this proves to be true, but Edward is not successful in ending his own life. For the reader, this alchemical drama works to capture their attention and draw them in with symbolism, therefore giving a sense of suspense and expectancy about the outcome.

Stephenie Meyer’s work in the Twilight saga is reminiscent of the, arguably, greatest love story ever written in Romeo and Juliet. William Shakespeare’s literary influence upon Meyer’s writing of the novels imparts a lasting imprint into the mind of the reader. Elements of both works are personally engaging because of the fallible characters, and their vulnerability echoes remembrances of one’s own humanity. The suspense of what will become of the characters, and how they will overcome obstacles thrown in the way of true love, keep the reader engrossed in these literary works. Because of the emotional involvement and suspense created in the plot, one does not feel deflated after reading either Romeo and Juliet or Meyer’s Twilight saga, and even feels compelled to read them over and over again, repeatedly. These components of a great romance are what makes Meyer’s Twilight saga an enjoyable reading experience as well as a work of literary art.

Works Cited

Flood, Alison. “Twilight author Stephenie Meyer ‘can’t write worth a darn’, Says Stephen King.”

guardian.com.uk 5 Feb 2009: n. pag. 17 Jan 2010.

<http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/feb/05/stephenking-fiction>.

Granger, John. “New Moon Notes #1: Alchemical Nigredo!” Forks High School Professor. 21 Nov 2009.

John Granger. 21 Jan 2010. <http://fhsprofessor.com/?p=361>.

Granger, John. “New Moon Notes #2: Romeo and Juliet.” Forks High School Professor. 21 Nov 2009. John

Granger. 21 Jan 2010. <http://fhsprofessor.com/?p=361>.

Granger, John. Spotlight: A Close-Up Look at the Artistry and Meaning of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight

Saga. Allentown, PA: Zossima Press, 2010.

Grossman, Lev. “Stephanie Meyer: A New J.K. Rowling?.” Time Magazine 4 Apr 2008: n. pag. Web.

17 Jan 2010. <http://www.time.com/time/printout/o,8816,1734838,88.html>.

Meyer, Stephenie. “Authors: Bios: Stephenie Meyer.” 21 Jan 2010. www.yabookscentral.com.

<www.yabookscentral.com/cfusion/index.cfm?fuseAction=authors.bio&bio_id=260>.

Meyer, Stephenie. Breaking Dawn. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008.

—. Eclipse. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2007.

—. New Moon. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2006.

—. Twilight. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

Shakespeare, William, and edited G. Blakemore Evans. Romeo and Juliet. The New Cambridge

Shakespeare. Cambridge, Great Britain: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge, 1984.

Comments

  1. Ms. Dotts, I found your essay interesting and compelling. Thank you! I was particularly interested in your mention of “Alchemical” drama, and your suggesting that R&J is primarily a romance, rather than primarily tragic. The point may well be academic, but I think that may be the play’s primary appeal — that it portrays a supernal romance, suggesting that such love is greater than life itself. This is a theme throughout the Twilight series as well, I believe.

    John, are the “New Moon Notes” she cites available online? URI??

  2. They’re are at Forks High School Professor! Try here.

  3. Hi, Neat post. There’s a problem along with your
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