Home > Multimedia Essays > Did Romeo and Juliet Really Have Sex?

Did Romeo and Juliet Really Have Sex?

Joseph Giancarlo C. Agdamag
IV – AB Economics
Ateneo de Manila University


The works of William Shakespeare not just launched a thousand adaptations; they also launched a thousand babies.

Whether he admits to it or not, almost all of his literary pieces have allusions to the idea of sexuality. This might be inevitable since many of his works have romantic themes, and as such, sexual scenes and innuendos come into play.

Stanley Well's "Looking for Sex in Shakespeare"

Many literary scholars have already touched upon this topic and authored some books about it. One of which is Stanley Wells. In his book “Looking for Sex in Shakespeare,” he proposes the idea of the legitimacy of one’s readings. He says that “the meanings of art are stimulated and guided by the mind of the artist but exist finally only in the minds of those who experience them.” Hence, like every other work of art, the meaning that the artist wanted to convey originally may be different from how the audience interprets the work on his own. It’s all a matter of perspective.

So, did Shakespeare really mean to provoke his readers with such sexual overtones?

Take for instance, “Romeo and Juliet.” What could be more sexually suggestive among all of Shakespeare’s plays compared to this romantic tale of star-crossed lovers? Valerie Traub gives a perfect description of the sexuality present in this very much adapted Shakespearean tragedy. According to her, “the two lovers attempt to forge an erotic alliance beyond the physical and ideological constraints of the feuding houses of Capulet and Montague. To the extent that their erotic love is given expression in spheres untouched by the feud – the balcony, the bedroom, the abbey, the tomb – they succeed.”

But that is Ms. Traub’s personal interpretation. Basing from various forums in the internet, the reaction of the public is mixed. Given the fact that public portrayals of sex were still prohibited back in Shakespeare’s time, some say that the erotic scenes didn’t actually transpire physically in the play, but they are merely implied. In order for their marriage to become fully consummated, the intercourse act might have indeed happened. Still, there are some who interpret the text in a way such that Romeo and Juliet were both chaste even in their deaths.So indeed, the text is open to various interpretations.

Going back to the title of this essay on whether Romeo and Juliet really had sex, one may answer this question with a resounding “Yes!” if he is going to base his answer on how contemporary media adapted the play. This is true for both theatrical and movie adaptations. Wells argues that “in the theater, lewd meanings have been sought out, relationships once thought to be innocent have been trawled for sexual undertones, and both the comic and the serious aspects of sexual behavior have been stressed in ways that shift the interpretative balance of the plays in which they occur.” Even though Shakespeare is still with us in the present, he may have very little influence on how his plays are going to be staged. After all, each performance is not just the interpretation of one person, but rather a collaborative effort of how directors, writers, designers, actors and other people involved in the production understand the concept behind the material.

The same is true for Hollywood adaptations. There are two notable movies that stand out: Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 “Romeo and Juliet” and Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 “Romeo + Juliet.” Both were huge commercial successes during the time of their release and this might be proof of the immense influence of that particular Shakespeare masterpiece. Nevertheless, despite being separated by a few decades, the two movies share lots of similarities with each other – one of which is the presence of nudity.

Franco Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet" (1968)

Baz Luhrmann's "Romeo + Juliet" (1996)

In her essay “Nude Shakespeare in film and nineties popular feminism,” Celia Daileader gives a comprehensive account of how Zeffirelli’s sensual film version began the trend of putting overt sexual innuendos in film adaptations of Shakespearean classics. One reason behind this trend is that it may be an effective way for film makers to sell the idea of Shakespeare to mass audiences who belong in an entirely new generation. After all, sex sells. And what could be a better way to lure people than to cast a youthful and gorgeous pair to play the roles of the two lovers. In Zeffirelli’s version, Leonard Whiting, who sort of resembles a modern day Zac Efron, perfectly fits the role of Romeo: his tantalizing male gaze will not just make the audiences swoon, but will also make their underwears drop.

Olivia Hussey played Juliet in Zeffirelli's 1968 film adaptation

However, it is Oilivia Hussey playing the role of Juliet who injects an abundant supply of sensuality in the movie. According to Daileader, “Olivia Hussey’s touch to her lips, her soft guttural noises during the kiss and after, and that ineffable, almost drugged quality of her gaze, more effectively connote the surprise of adolescent sexual discovery.” Back in her heyday, Olivia Hussey was the perfect representation of a woman behind the wild imaginations of males. In fact, her sexual notoriety still arouses people up to this day. A look into the statistics of this blog would reveal that “Olivia Hussey boobs” is one of top search engine queries that brought people to this website. The same strategy of casting attractive lead actors is employed in Luhrmann’s MTV version, wherein a young and fresh Leonardo de Caprio and a virginal Claire Danes took the roles.

The use of sexual innuendos could be greatly noticed in two particular scenes in both movies: the balcony and the bedroom scenes. The balcony scene of Zeffirelli highlights the voyeurism of Romeo and the excessive exposure of Juliet’s tender cleavage. On the other hand, the device used by Luhrmann in his balcony scene is through the passionate scene of the couple in the pool wherein the wetness of the lovers is suggestive of nakedness.

Zeffirelli’s Balcony Scene (1968):

Lurhmann’s Balcony Scene (1996):

The bedroom scene of the two movies both implied that indeed, Romeo and Juliet had sex (with a lot of foreplay before and some more erotic urges the morning after). There is difference however in the filmmaking techniques used. Zeffirelli focused more on the nakedness of the couple, with the exposure of Whiting’s buttocks and Hussey’s breasts. Alternatively, Luhrmann went for a more romantic approach through “under the sheets” cuddling.

Zeffirelli’s Bedroom Scene (1968):

Luhrmanni’s Bedroom Scene (1996):

"The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet" is a 1969 film adaptation by Jim Schumacher

Finally, it might be worth mentioning that one particular movie adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” took the play’s sexual nuances to a much higher level. In 1969, “The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet” was released and it was written by Jim Schumacher and directed by Bethel Buckalew. The film takes the form of a comedy and it digs deeper into the sex lives of not just the young couple, but also the sexual episodes of other characters in the play, to the point of exaggeration.

What now? Did Romeo and Juliet really had sex, according to Shakespeare’s text?

As what have been mentioned, thoughts like this depend primarily on the understanding and perception of the reader. Media adaptations might present particular ideas to the audience, but still, these are mere interpretations of individual minds, as well as products of collaborative effort. Whether Shakespeare intentionally implied the sexual innuendos or not, it is highly possible to surmise that his works indeed have lewd meanings attached to them.

So maybe yeah, the tale of Romeo and Juliet is not entirely an innocent love story after all.


Works Cited:

Daileader, Celia. “Nude Shakespeare in film and nineties popular feminism.” Alexander, Catherine and Stanley Wells. Shakespeare and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 183-200.
Romeo + Juliet. Dir. Baz Luhrmann. 1996.
Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. 1968.
The Secret Sex Lives of Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Bethel Buckalew. 1969.
Traub, Valerie. Desire and Anxiety. New York: Routledge, 1992.
Wells, Stanley. Looking for Sex in Shakespeare. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Categories: Multimedia Essays
  1. March 11, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    Well, who ever said Romeo and Juliet was an innocent love chick flick? The beginning of the plot had murders! Then, another murders in the end. I don’t understand why some people have to still fuss about innocence in this play. Damn media! Damn conservatives! (but hey conservatives do give morality to the world) Damn readings of perversion! (hey I’m just angry at the reading not at the scholar who did it) Yeah sex sells because media made it sell, just like bad shampoo or icky tasting bread spread. I am not angry at sex (I love it!) but there are people who make it sound X-rated when its juxtaposed in a work of art. There are certainly good sex scenes which really have artistic merit. It’s being deluded to a mere porn vid. Sad to think it’s been happening here in the Philippines with the OMB. Shakespeare is not just sex. Its a whole mash up of social themes! =D

  2. theb3nj
    March 16, 2011 at 1:13 am

    … And then also there’s the fact that Juliet was supposedly only around 13 at the time. I guess this works in two ways though. In support of the theory that Romeo and Juliet did have sex, it can be argued that they were hormonal teenagers. In support of the theory that they didn’t, though, SHE WAS 13. :\ I don’t claim to be an expert, or know very much at all about how sex was looked upon back then, but isn’t that kind of young? Haha.

    Regarding the above post too, I think innocence WAS one of the major themes tackled, especially since Romeo and Juliet are both so young. But that’s just my opinion. 🙂

    (Also, not to be a grammar Nazi, but I think the “had” in your title should be “have”. No offense.:) )

    • mjcshimada
      March 17, 2011 at 5:47 am

      True, actually the seriousness of the play, or rather the impact of the theme of the play (since this ‘is’ a love story) is undermined because then it is implied that Romeo and Juliet were simply hormonal teenagers, and at such a young age. But then again maybe this could be seen as Shakespeare’s play on the theme; how he manipulated it so he could emphasize the diversity of his female characters. I keep thinking Ophelia, or jumping to someone nearer in terms of age, Miranda, versus Juliet. Maybe sex was Shakespeare’s way to “lighten” the plot, since the plot ‘is’ indeed heavy (what with the murders and all)? Speculative thinking 😉

    • March 17, 2011 at 8:12 pm

      The fact that Juliet’s only 13 totally slipped my mind. 😐 somehow now I find some scenes really messed up. Though, true, sex really sells and is an effective way to get people to watch but I hope that Olivia Hussey’s boobs aren’t the only things they notice (even though it really is distracting, it’s like it has a gravity of its own 😐 ) There is a lot more to it not just the boobs, the romance, the boobs, but there are a lot of social issues presented and I hope would much more be appreciated by those who watch it.

    • December 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm

      If you take into account the plays’ Historical Context (i.e. the culture of when and where the author was when he wrote it, in this case 17th century London), which you should always do when reading anything (it reveals a lot)…

      then the fact that Juliet is only 13 and may or may not have had sex with Romeo shouldn’t be misconstrued as weird at all!

      In Act 1 Scene 3, Lady Capulet tells her daughter that she was married to Capulet by the time she was Juliet’s age. And the scene before that, Paris, a kinsman of the Prince of Verona, tells Juliet’s father that he wants to marry her. When Capulet protests that she’s only but 2 weeks away from turning 14, the Prince reminds him that many girls are mothers by the time their 13. It was just a nuts and pedophilistic back then c back then!

      If it’s sex before marriage that doesn’t convince ya, take into account that consummation before marriage isn’t as bad if the couple is engaged, which the definitely were at the times in the play that they could have had sex, since they got engaged the night after the party when the met is the balcony scene. Romeo actually proposes after Juliet refuses to have sex with him, and Romeo asks if she would satisfy him with “the exchange of love’s faithful vow for mine” instead.

      • December 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm

        16th* fuckkkk

  3. August 27, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Capulet: My child is yet a stranger in the world,
    She hath not seen the change of fourteen years;
    Let two more summers wither in their pride
    Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

    Paris: Younger than she are happy mothers made.

    So apparently back then it was socially acceptable for girls under thirteen to be married with kids, but her dad still thought she was too young. Much like women in their early to mid-twenties these days..

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