The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0839 Monday, 10 May 1999.
Date: Saturday, 8 May 1999 22:19:39 +0800
Subject: Juliet's Age and "Average" Age at the Time
I just got this note from Newscan - another listserv. I'm assuming the
age of Juliet is close if not correct. But what about the life span of
the "average" non-dramatic personage in the time of WS? Certainly well
over 18, but how far past 50? How did the gender divide work then? The
excerpt below states the that death of children at birth was quite
common. I read somewhere long ago that the most common casualty was
usually the mother. Any thoughts on aging and survival?
WORTH THINKING ABOUT: HOW OLD WAS JULIET?
In his book "Visions: How Science Will Revolutionize The 21st Century,"
physicist Michio Kaku says:
"Generations of high school children gasp when they read Shakespeare's
'Romeo and Juliet,' for they are amazed to discover that Juliet was only
thirteen years old.
"We sometimes forget that, for most of human existence, our lives were
short, miserable, and brutish. Sadly, for most of human history, we
repeated the same wretched cycle: as soon as we reached puberty, we were
expected to toil or hunt with our elders, find a mate and produce
children. We would then have a large number of them, with most of them
dying at childbirth.
"As Leonard Hayflick says, 'It is astonishing to realize that the human
species survived hundreds of thousands of years, more than 99% of its
time on this planet, with a life expectancy of only 18 years.'
"Since the industrial revolution, thanks to increased sanitation, sewage
systems, better food supplies, labor-saving machines, the germ theory,
and modern medicine, our life expectancy has risen dramatically. At the
turn of the century, the average life expectancy in the United States
was 49. Now, it is around 76, a 55% increase in a century.