Love Story: An English Major’s Nightmare

I’ve spent a lot of time reading in my life. In elementary school, I pretty much ignored peers and teachers alike because my nose was always stuck in a book that I kept just inside my desk for when I finished my work before everyone else. I started reading chapter books in first grade, and by third grade, I was already reading on an eighth or ninth grade level (according to those awesome CTBS tests). I love books. I love the look of them, the smell, the atmosphere they bring, the escape, and the knowledge. I just love them.

And that is why I hate when people screw up classic stories.

Okay, yes. I’m going to write my first real post on how the song “Love Story” by Taylor Swift drives me absolutely insane. Now, I’ve recently grown fond of Taylor. I tried really hard not to, but then I finally just had to admit that I really like some of her stuff. She’s talented and funny and she’s so darn cute. And people who say they don’t like “You Belong With Me” or at least that it’s never been stuck in their heads are obviously liars. I’ll leave the song “Fifteen” for another time (it might be one of the corniest songs I’ve ever heard, but maybe that’s because I’m 27 and being 15 was nothing like that for me). Right now I just really want to focus on “Love Story.” Let’s break it down with some lyrics (all words belong to Taylor Swift) so that I can explain to you how irritated I get when I hear it.

We were both young when I first saw you
I close my eyes and the flashback starts
I’m standing there
On a balcony in summer air

So far, not too bad. She invokes a, whether real or imagined, nostalgia for some kind of summer. The imagery isn’t bad. I can live with that.

See the lights, see the party, the ball gowns
I see you make your way through the crowd
You say hello, but little did I know
That you were Romeo and you were throwing pebbles
And my daddy said “Stay away from Juliet”
And I was crying on the staircase begging you “Please don’t go”

Here’s where she loses me. I read an interview once with Taylor Swift’s best friend that talked about how she and Taylor met in ninth grade English and they were the two in the back who rolled their eyes at Romeo and Juliet because they knew real life wasn’t like that. I kind of wish she would have paid attention a little bit more. First of all, since she’s started this Romeo and Juliet thing, I will assume that I am to keep going with it. Romeo never actually said hello to Juliet. They stared at each other for roughly twenty-five seconds, and then they made out. Juliet had no idea that Romeo was a Montague until she sent her nurse (read: nanny) to do her dirty work for her. The balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous in all of literature, so she should probably know that there was no pebble-throwing, either. There was just Juliet talking to herself (“Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” – by the way – doesn’t mean “Where are you, Romeo?” This is a common misconception. I’m glad she didn’t use this one because I’d really go nuts. FYI – in case you’re ever on Jeopardy! or playing bar trivia – it means “Why are you called Romeo?” But I digress). Romeo, like a total creeper, is standing where she can’t see him and eavesdropping. How romantic. He didn’t throw pebbles to get her attention. He scared the crap out of her when he stepped into the light. Also, Capulet never specifically told Romeo to stay away from Juliet. It was just kind of understood through that whole “ancient blood” family feud thing, the origin of which none of them seemed to even remember. When Romeo left that night, Juliet didn’t cry on the staircase. She was actually still on the balcony and her nurse was calling for her to come in. There was that whole “a thousand times goodnight” right after they decided to get married in the morning. And then parting was such sweet sorrow, so they said goodnight until it was ‘morrow.

And I said Romeo take me somewhere we can be alone
I’ll be waiting; all that’s left to do is run

You be the prince and I’ll be the princess
It’s a love story, baby just say yes.

Romeo wasn’t a prince. Juliet wasn’t a princess. It’s possible, however, that she meant this as a totally different kind of metaphor. In that case, though, it just gets confusing because she’s mixing metaphors and so it seems like she’s saying that R&J are royalty. They aren’t.

So I sneak out to the garden to see you
We keep quiet, ’cause we’re dead if they knew
So close your eyes
Escape this town for a little while

This part is actually close enough to the real story.

‘Cause you were Romeo; I was a Scarlet Letter
And my daddy said “Stay away from Juliet”

But you were everything to me
I was begging you please don’t go

HOLD UP. Scarlet Letter!? Sweet Mother of Pearl (Hester!), why in the world is that even in this song? That doesn’t even make a little bit of sense. We go from Shakespeare to Victorian snooze-fest (obviously that’s my opinion, anyway) in a matter of three tiny words. In case you’ve never read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s little gem (and I’m guessing Taylor hasn’t, or else she would probably not have included that lyric), Hester Prynne has to wear a scarlet letter A pinned to her chest. The A is for ADULTERER! That story line is, well, let me put it this way: I doubt that The Scarlet Letter was ever voted Feel-Good Book of the Year in 1850. I won’t say that it’s not a “romance” per se because I’m sure that someone out there considers this some kind of romance, albeit one that includes adultery, bastard children, disavowal, and denial. It ain’t just a river in Egypt, Dimmsdale. I haven’t read that book in ten years, so I might be a little fuzzy on the details, but I’m certain of one thing: that line makes absolutely no sense in this song.

I got tired of waiting, wondering if you were ever coming around
My faith in you was fading, when I met you on the outskirts of town

To some extent, yes. There was some waiting involved. The next morning, Juliet sent her nurse to do her dirty work again. She sent the nurse to find Romeo and get the details of when she was supposed to meet him at Friar Laurence’s cell (maybe it was on the outskirts of town?). When the nurse didn’t return when she promised she would, Juliet got tired of waiting. So much so that she flipped out on her nurse and started acting like a spoiled brat and her nurse told her to do her own bidding from now on. Right on, nurse!

And I said Romeo save me, I’ve been feeling so alone
I keep waiting for you, but you never come
Is this in my head? I don’t know what to think
He knelt to the ground and pulled out a ring and said
Marry me, Juliet, you’ll never have to be alone
I love you and that’s all I really know
I talked to your dad. Go pick out a white dress
It’s a love story, baby just say yes.

Oy. Again, Juliet wasn’t really waiting in the actual story. Her waiting has already been established, so the timeline wouldn’t really allow for this bout of waiting. Oh! But then! Who didn’t see this coming!? He asks her to marry him! So let me get this straight. This guy has been gone for, in the story, about 12 hours and, in the song, an indefinite amount of time that we’re sort of led to believe is days, months, maybe even years. Oh, the torture! Then he just shows up and wants to marry her? I think we’re also to assume that she said yes, but a small part of me hopes that she actually said something like “I’m sorry, I can’t quite… do I know you from somewhere? Have we met?” Hopefully Mercutio was still alive and she was hanging out with him, although it’s more likely that she would have actually been married to Paris by now. Or not, because she’s DEAD, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Right after I talk about how I really crack up laughing and rolling my eyes when I think about the line “I talked to your dad.” I get where she’s going with that and I understand that she’s got a limited amount of beats in which to explain herself, but I kind of want to know what they talked about. It could have been anything. “I talked to your dad. He thinks you need a new car, too.” “I talked to your dad. I bumped into him at the mall.” What? Sheesh.

All of this blabbering nonsense brings me to my penultimate grievance: ROMEO AND JULIET IS NOT REALLY A LOVE STORY. Yeah, it is for a while. But then it goes horribly wrong.  Everyone seems to always conveniently forget about the ending. Sure, it sucks that their families don’t want them to be together, but they get together anyway. Romeo’s crashing this Capulet party because he’s so depressed that Rosaline doesn’t love him, and Juliet is trying to avoid Paris. They make eye contact and then immediately start making out. Probably not two hours later, they decide to get married in the morning. They do that, and then they go their separate ways for the rest of the day. That night, Romeo sneaks into Juliet’s bedroom and spends the night there. That’s about the point where the love story ends. After that, Juliet’s dad knocks her around when she says she doesn’t want to marry Paris. Her mom refuses to acknowledge her. Her father moves the wedding to Paris up just to spite her. Romeo is banished for killing Tybalt, who ends up being Juliet’s cousin. She can’t see him anymore. She gets some herbs that will make her appear to be dead, but she’ll really just be in a coma. The message conveniently never reaches Romeo, so when he hears that she’s dead, he claims to be fortune’s fool, cries a lot, and runs back to Verona where he runs into the Capulet tomb, curls up next to Juliet, and commits suicide. She wakes up JUST after he takes his last breath, smiles, realizes what he’s done, and then she offs herself, too.

How is that a love story?

::End scene::

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4 thoughts on “Love Story: An English Major’s Nightmare

  1. I have thought many of the same things about this song, but you have to realize, that most of the people who buy taylors cds, myself included lol, just want to hear a feel good song about kids in love and she’s just doing her best to make it sound cutesy and fun. The scarlet letter part is what bugs me the most because i have read that book and there should never be a teenager wearing that letter on her reputation lol. i think she’s just trying to reference the paralells while messing up the bigger picture, she’s trying to say that she’s not welcome with her family, but it is a love story because in the end romeo smooths it all out with her dad and she can pick out her white dress (Now here’s the real issue- should a girl with a scarlet letter be allowed to wear a WHITE dress????)

  2. Oh, I understand that they want feel-good songs, but I can’t take my books out of context. I can’t hear this song without thinking of the mixed messages. I don’t have a problem with Taylor Swift. Like I said, I like a lot of her music. But I’m also an English teacher, and I have a problem when kids don’t understand Shakespeare because they think that Taylor Swift re-told it. I was never unaware of the fact that it’s her own telling, but it really bothers me. It’s totally irrelevant, but what’s a blog for if you can’t post what’s on your mind, right? ;-)

    I should write a post about the Jonas Brothers and see how many people I could get to hate me that way, but I have no interest in listening to them to find out.

  3. Taylor did know and read The Scarlet Letter but she uses it to mean the singer is off-limits or forbidden. All literature is open to different viewpoints and definition, if you deny that over time just because someone in the past has read a work and determined what it means to them, then literature and art stagnates. In my opinion, Taylor showsa great deal of originality in all of her songs, she does not restrict herself to accepted or established meanings or thems but voices her emotions and thoughts in her own way from her own perspective. If you listen to them without barriers of pre-established patterns of thought it becomes much clearer what she is saying and much more enjoyable.

    Listen to her song “Cold as You” or some of the others, she has a powerful way with words. Some of the poets revered today as old masters were in their day looked at as being outlandish or disrespecting of established and accepted writing boundaries. Take for instance Walt Whitman, or go further back to some of the older masters.

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