While answering a different question, I wanted to find out Romeo's age in the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. It's well known that Juliet is 13, and generally assumed that Romeo is older (hence the occasional modern-day accusation that he's a paedophile), but what's the actual evidence for the latter? I've looked up about this online and found various places saying essentially that we don't know Romeo's age, but I'd be interested to see all the textual (or extratextual) evidence regarding this.
We don't know much. About the only concrete data is that he's described as a "youth". We also know that his parents and Juliet's parents are social peers, which implies that they're of roughly similar age, but leaves room for him to be considerably older without violating the text.
I think his flightiness and moodiness makes an interpretation of "mid to late teens" most justified, but I think you could justify a pedophile interpretation if you thought it made an interesting performance. I suspect that it would not, but I suppose it would be up to a director to try it and find out.
There is a more interesting question in the age of Paris, who is often portrayed as considerably older and a figure of disgust, but that isn't a requirement of the text. It is also possible to portray him as only slightly older and a sympathetic figure, one whom Juliet might have made a tolerable match were she not overcome by what she imagines to be true love. Setting up Romeo as a much older man could have some interesting implications for his unjustified murder of Paris.
It is noteworthy, I think, that Juliet is considerably younger than women were usually married in England at the time. Shakespeare's wife was in her late 20s, and that was much more the custom. Marrying Juliet off at 12 or 13 would not be impossible, but definitely unusual. Shakespeare often used foreign settings to gain some distance from everyday British customs. Romeo and Juliet are characters of exaggerated emotion, which fits well with the behavior of young teens, and less well with more mature characters.
Shakespeare's main sources for Romeo and Juliet were
- Arthur Brooke's narrative poem The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet (1562) and
- William Painter's prose version of the story in the second volume of The Palace of Pleasure (1567).
In Brooke's narrative poem, Juliet is sixteen years old ("At sixteen years I first did choose my loving fere," she says), while in Shakespeare's play, her mother says, "[s]he's not fourteen" (Act I, scene 3).
Brooke does not mention Romeus' age. Near the beginning of the poem, he introduces him as
One Romeus, who was of race a Montague,
Upon whose tender chin, as yet, no manlike beard there grew,
so he's probably not much older than Juliet.
According to Painter, who follows Boaistuau, he is
of the age of .20 or .21 years
Both Brooke's and Shakespeare's Romeo seem younger than this. Based on Romeo's and Juliet's relative maturity, I would argue that Shakespeare's Romeo is not much older than Juliet. In the introduction to the New Cambridge Shakespeare edition of Romeo and Juliet (second edition, 2003), G. Blakemore Evans writes,
Critics have often pointed out that Juliet is a stronger personality than Romeo and that she wins through an almost frightening maturity more quickly. We sense this in her poised and playfully serious exchange with Romeo at their first meeting (1.5) and it is underscored in the famous window scene (2.2), where she shows herself more thoughtful, prudent and realistic than Romeo, though no less deeply engaged, in sensing the tragic threat involved in such 'sudden haste': (...)
(He then goes on to quote Act II, scene 2, 116-220: "Although I joy in thee, ...")