Romeo and Juliet’s Gothic Space in YA Undead Fiction

From Capulet Crypt to Juliet’s Body


  • Sarah Olive Aston University



gothic, romeo and juliet, young adult literature, young adult fiction, gothic space, gothic body, body gothic, gothic horror, female gothic


Many previous works have demonstrated that Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet offers gothic authors, directors, and other artists a hospitable topos. I extend this critical corpus to consider the way in which young adult (YA) undead novels—written by American women writers within a few years of each other in the early twenty-first century—understand the Capulet crypt as a gothic space. I use the term “undead” throughout since although the focus of this fiction is on vampires, some texts also include zombies and other revenants. The chosen novels belong to a moment of extreme popularity for Romeo and Juliet vampire fiction, the best-known example being Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga. The texts of Meyer, Claudia Gabel, Lori Handeland, and Stacey Jay include diverse elements from Romeo and Juliet, from fleeting quotations to sustained reworkings of characters and plot. I conclude that a shift away from the confining and distressing gothic space in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as the Capulet crypt to a more graphic containment in a variety of sarcophagi, or within Juliet’s body itself, is discernible in most of these retellings. This shift is explained with reference to the growth in populairt not just of female, but feminist, gothic and the turn to the body in literary criticism from the 1990s onwards. In this way, Romeo and Juliet can be understood as providing a hospitable topos for the twenty-first century feminisms of these authors and their young, predominantly female, readers.

Author Biography

Sarah Olive, Aston University

Sarah Olive is a Senior Lecturer in English, Languages, and Applied Linguistics at Aston University, Birmingham, UK. She researches and teaches at the intersections of children's and young adult literature, Shakespeare, and education. Recent publications include a guest edited issue of Cahiers Élisabéthains on 'Hot Shakespeare, Cool Japan' (110.1) and a co-authored article 'Secondary Shakespeare in the UK: pedagogies and practices' in Changing English with Victoria Elliott (both 2023). Her books include Shakespeare in East Asia Education co-authored with Kohei Uchimaru, Adele Lee and Rosalind Fielding (Palgrave 2021), as well as Shakespeare Valued: Education Policy and Practice, 1989-2009 (Intellect 2015). She is Lead Editor of the international, peer-reviewed journal Jeunesse: young people, texts, cultures (University of Toronto Press) and Founding Editor of the British Shakespeare Association's Teaching Shakespeare.