I strongly believe that Romeo and Juliet can be described as “infatuated children engaging in puppy love” because of their limited knowledge and experience of each other’s company. When Friar Laurence finds out about their ambitious marriage plans and explosive love, he explains to Romeo that “Young men’s love then lies / Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” (2.3.67-68). He believes that men often lust over women’s physical traits first, and that this behavior is not legitimate love. Knowing Romeo’s previous romantic interest, Friar adds that in Romeo’s eyes, Rosaline is there “For doting, not for loving” (2.3.83). Friar understands that Romeo’s attraction to her is based off of superficial desires that are quickly mollified once Romeo realizes that Juliet can satisfy the same criteria. If Romeo’s love resembles the types of love possessed by spouses of many years, then he would not be able to leave his partner so easily. He likely does not love Juliet any differently than how he agonizes over Rosaline. Nonetheless, basic sexual attraction is useful if it catalyzes the possible spouse-like relationship. Juliet recognizes this potential, so she tells Romeo that “This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath, / may prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.” (2.2.121-122). She acknowledges that her love for him is not yet the long-lasting type. Likewise, she infers that he feels the same in return. Yet, because she sees potential, she wants to keep him close in the meantime. Juliet inquires “Dost thou love me? I know thou ilt say “Ay”, / And I will take thy word; / yet, if thou swear’st, Thou mayst prove false.” (2.2.90-91). By resorting to requesting a promise, a weak verbal contract, she shows that their current affection is not reliable enough to keep them together. In the end, their puppy-like love is built purely on infatuation because they don’t know each other’s personalities well enough to appreciate them as they are.
It is not obvious to know whether Romeo and Juliet should be viewed as children or adults because they exemplify mental and physical characteristics of both. In a time when people lived shorter lives, it is reasonable that the expectation for mental and emotional maturity were accelerated. Because “Well-established customs existed for bringing up children […] Most children began to do serious work once they reached puberty, at around 12-14. “ (Orme). Even though that is not the case anymore, this past experience shows that adolescents are capable of adopting more mature attributes and capabilities when the environment calls for them. Moreover, the same behavioral adaptation is observed in the modern world. A common current saying is that “girls mature faster than boys” which can be explained by there being “more girls than boys” expected “ to cook, take care of siblings, etc.,” resulting in them having to take on a burden bigger than their age constitutes”… “this emotional work, which girls aren’t doing by choice, is viewed as proof of girls’ superior maturity level continuing the misconception of different maturity level based on gender” (Chettri). To reiterate, the demand and expectation for females to be nurturing puts them in a position of having to gain more skills in that area at a faster rate. Because the expectations of children in the renaissance were higher as well, it is safe to assume this young affair to be age appropriate for the time. Yet, an important aspect of maturity to consider is physical growth. Although environmental demands may influence the rate of physical growth, the changes in the adolescent brain would have followed the same pattern as in any other child. Because the average age to get married is higher nowadays than in the Renaissance, the average cognitive development would also be better. Teenagers are known to do rash things when their limbic system is on overdrive, which is certainly a recipe-for-disaster when two angsty kids decide to bind themselves in an eternal contract. Considering the elevated expectations of the time alongside the young and erratic age of the characters, I think that they qualify to be viewed as adults. Strange plans and decisions can be made by adults of all ages, so Romeo and Juliet’s behavior doesn’t instantly make them children.
Orms, Nicolas. ”Childhood in Medieval England, c.500-1500”. Representing Childhood, University of Pittsburgh, 2005, https://www.representingchildhood.pitt.edu/medieval_child.htm
Chettri Kanti. ”Girls Don’t Mature Faster Than Boys, We Just Live in a Misogynistic World”. Affinity Magazine. November 2018, http://affinitymagazine.us/2018/10/18/girls-dont-mature-faster-than-boys-we-just-live-in-a-misogynistic-world/