Romeo and Juliet: “It was just that the time was wrong”

By Boniface

One of Dire Straits greatest hits was their song Romeo and Juliet. It takes a seemingly normal view of the Shakespeare tragedy, that it is the greatest love story of all time. But it does have one line that is good:

Juliet, the dice was loaded from the start
And I bet, when you exploded into my heart
And I forget, I forget
The movie song
When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong?
Mark Knopfler, the brains (or guitar) behind Dire Straits, also went on a solo career, in which he composed sound tracks for such movies as The Princess Bride and Local Hero.

It is quite interesting to observe that although Mark Knopfler and Dire Straits get most of it wrong, this one line is actually exactly what Shakespeare’s play is all about.

A Short Summery of Romeo and Juliet
By yours truly

Romeo is a Montague and Juliet is a Capulet. The Capulets and Montagues are having a good-old Italian feud. Romeo, who is depressed because his unrequited love for Rosaline, is persuaded by his friends to sneak into a Capulet party, where he meets Juliet, who is not yet fourteen, and falls in love with her. They start meeting each other in secret and are eventually married secretly by Friar Lawrence. Meanwhile, Lord and Lady Capulet have their own ideas on who Juliet should marry, they not knowing that Juliet was married to Romeo. Juliet does not know what to do. Friar Lawrence suggests she take a sleeping potion and fake her own death. She can then rejoin Romeo in secret, where they can start a new life. Meanwhile, Romeo is banished from Verona for killing a Capulet, Tybalt, in a feud. Juliet fakes her own death and is put in the family crypt. Friar Lawrence tries to warn Romeo that Juliet is not dead but is unsuccessful. Romeo, hearing of Juliet’s death, resolves to go and commit suicide at her grave. He does so. Juliet finally wakes up from her sleeping potion and sees Romeo dead beside her. She takes his knife and kills herself. Both families show up and are admonished by the Prince of Verona to stop fighting. They make up and everyone is sober.

End of short summery

The common interpretation of Romeo and Juliet is that the feud between the Capulets and Montagues drives the lovers apart. They are forced by their family circumstances to either a life without each other or suicide, and they take the latter course. A romantic tragedy like that of Pyramus and Thisbe


I would argue that the family feud, while having a definite impact on the story, is not the true moral of it at all. Anyway, who says that a family feud is necessarily wrong?

It is interesting to note that Capulet, though ready to fight Montague in the town square (“give me my long sword, ho!”) is also ready to forget it when his cousin Tybalt discovers that Romeo, a Montague, has come to the Capulet’s party. Capulet can forget the feud when it suits his purpose.

Nor is the story about how young people should not fall in love. Many of Shakespeare’s plays contain pairs of lover who love each other arguably more than Romeo and Juliet, and are even at odds with their parents. Examples of this are Lysander and Hermia from A Midsummer Night’s Dream or Lorenzo and Jessica from The Merchant of Venice.

The moral of Romeo and Juliet has to do with maturity. Juliet is around fourteen at the beginning of the play,

But saying o'er what I have said before:
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.

—Capulet, I.2.277-281

On the other hand, Romeo can be assumed to be much older than that in the play. His age is never stated like that of Juliet, but he and his peers, Benvolio, Mercutio, Tybalt, and Paris all seem to act like grown men. Furthermore, Romeo’s strained relationship with his parents, Lord and Lady Montague, seem to be much more strained than those of Juliet, making him seem older in that respect as well.

Romeo is a fickle little whiner who has to be dragged around by Benvolio or he would not get anywhere. At the beginning of the play, he is enthused with another girl, Rosaline

2, who distains Romeo’s lustful shows of love, and says she will become a nun.

Upon first laying eyes on Juliet, Romeo immediately forgets the beautiful Rosaline and falls for Juliet. He declares to the audience that every other woman (including Rosaline) in the room ugly and her only beautiful. He inconsistency goes further. In the famous balcony scene, when Romeo is watching Juliet, he tells the audience,

But soft! What light from yonder window breaks?
It is the east and Juliet is the sun.
Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon.


He then, in the same scene, proceeds to swear by this same moon:

Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear
That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops


Romeo, though some years older than Juliet, seems to be much less mature for his years than she is. If anyone in the play should not fall in love, it is Romeo. Romeo’s eavesdropping forces Juliet into a position: Romeo now knows she loves him, what can she do. There is no going back to normal courtship at that point, since Juliet’s privacy has been invaded. Romeo does not have to “win” her.

Now, how does this relate to the Dire Straits song? In the song, Romeo and Juliet seem to be talking about their love and the hardship they underwent for their love. In that respect, it takes the modern romantic view of the play.

It all goes back to the one line of the song I quoted in the beginning. It seems that Romeo is telling Juliet that it was “just that the time was wrong”. That is true. If Romeo had kept his love to himself and striven to make himself good husband-material, then the play could have been the greatest love story. If Juliet’s parents, Lord and Lady Capulet, had striven more to protect their daughter’s heart, instead of letting an over-sympathetic nurse bring her up, there would have been a happy ending.

In fact, the greatest love story of Shakespeare might well be considered The Merchant of Venice. Portia is a much older and wiser woman than Juliet. Bassanio is a much more mature lover than Romeo. Even Portia’s father, who is dead by the beginning of the play, impacts the story by creating the test of the caskets.

Portia’s father set up three caskets; one gold, one silver, and one lead. One of the caskets contained a picture of Portia. When a man wanted to woo her, he had to undergo the challenge of the caskets, where he guessed which one contained the picture of Portia. He also had to swear an oath that he would never woo another women if he failed the test. He wanted his daughter to have a man who would put his life on the line for love of his daughter. Her father was smart.

Both the Princes of Morocco and Aragon failed the test out of narcissism. Morocco decided that only gold was good enough for Portia, and was told “All that glitters is not gold;”

3 . Aragon looked at the inscription on the silver casket: “Who chooseth me shall get as much as he deserves:”, and does he not deserve Portia? He found out he didn’t.

Bassanio is sometimes called a opportunistic lover who wants Portia’s riches. His first words about Portia are, after all, about her wealth. But he shows his true colors by undergoing the test of the caskets. Bassanio rejected the outward appearance of the first two gold and silver caskets, and is the one to pay attention to the third casket and it’s inscription: “Who chooseth me must give and hazard all he hath”. Bassanio realized that the only way to win Portia was to put everything on the line. The other two lovers were not ready to take it on. Morocco and Aragon both refuse to hazard all they hath for lead. To them, it must look “fairer” before they risk anything. However, Bassanio welcomes the challenge of the lead casket:

                             but thou, thou meagre lead,
Which rather threatenest than dost promise aught,
Thy paleness moves me more than eloquence;
And here choose I; joy be the consequence!


On the other hand, all of Romeo’s actions drip of narcissism. Even his suicide is because of himself. HE is dying of grief because HE was ill-used and hard done to. He would not have hazarded everything for Juliet. He was too weak to go through life with Juliet dead. There was no sacrifice in his actions.

Bassanio was mature enough to make a grave decision to woo Portia. The time was right for him. Romeo was immature and selfish. He could not wait for the right time or place to woo Juliet. His timing was completely off, and therefore his actions were off.

Juliet, the dice was loaded from the start
And I bet, when you exploded into my heart
And I forget, I forget
The movie song
When you gonna realize it was just that the time was wrong?

Part of the inspiration for this article came from a book by Joseph Pearce called Shakespeare on Love.


1 For the story of Pyramus and Thisbe, see A Midsummer Night’s Dream Act V.

2 Who is the best character in the entire play, because she has the presence of mind to stay out of it.

3 I bet you thought that was a line from The Lord of the Rings!

Declan is a student, researcher and member of the Rising Tide Foundation community. He regularly publishes on the Substack ‘Where is John Fisher’ where this article was first published.


Make a one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Leave a Reply