If Romeo and Juliet had taken it slow nothing at all would have changed. Juliet is aware that they are being too hasty (“Although I enjoy in thee, / I have no joy of this contract tonight. / It is too rash, to unadvised, too sudden. / Too like the lightning which doth cease to be / Ere one can say “it lightens!”) And yet she pops the question only a few lines later, and thank god she did.
If she had actually left Romeo “unsatisfied” in the balcony scene—if she had decided that they should wait before considering marriage, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that Tybalt would have looked for Romeo the next day. Romeo would have been banished anyway, because the tragedy isn’t caused by Romeo and Juliet’s precipitate love: it is caused by the violence, the hatred, and the prejudice of the feud.
A slower development of their relationship wouldn’t have saved Romeo from banishment. And a slower development of their relationship wouldn’t have changed the fact that Capulet sold Juliet to Paris. She would have had to marry him anyway. The only difference would have been that if she weren’t married to Romeo, but still in love with him, I doubt that Friar Laurence would have agreed to help her escape. Why bother breaking the rules, hurting Juliet’s parents by faking her death, just because Juliet didn’t feel like doing her duty? She would have had only two options left: either unwanted marriage or death. Looking at her words right after meeting Romeo, she seems determined to choose a husband on her own, or otherwise she will have none of it. (“If he be married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed.”)
And if they just hadn’t fallen in love at all, I believe it would have been the same: Romeo would have been banished and, without Juliet’s help, I doubt he would have survived long. He’s just not good at coping with pain and oppression—he needs affection. He needs people to take care of him. I think he would have ended up killing himself anyway, because he is terrified by the concept of isolation. (Or perhaps if he had never even attended Capulet’s party, he wouldn’t have had to fight Tybalt the day after. Perhaps he could have survived for a while—but how long? Look at Benvolio. He ended up unwillingly fighting Tybalt in the first scene. How long would it have taken for Romeo to take part in a fight? I think the point of the play is that they just can’t elude the feud, no matter how hard they try: it drags everyone down sooner or later.)
And if they hadn’t fallen in love at all, Juliet would have never become the powerful, intelligent, lively girl we know. She would have been this docile daughter who allows her parents to command her life: “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move, / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly.” Now compare those lines with the way she speaks in the balcony scene. (“Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud, / Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies / And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine / With repetition of ‘my Romeo!’”, “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep; the more I give to thee / The more I have, for both are infinite.”) She feels limitless. She feels free. But looking at Paris’ attitude in the friar’s cell, I think she would have been very miserable had she ended up marrying him. He just couldn’t care less about her feelings and opinions.
Yes, Romeo and Juliet behaved hastily, and I’m glad they did, because at least they could be happy and free for just a few days before the despotism of their society devoured them.
The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is that the families couldn’t overcome their hatred for each other, not that two young people in love behaved like two young people in love.
It’s no coincidence that the two characters who started off the play trying to avoid the feud are the ones doomed by it. That’s the whole point.
The play ends with the two families resolving to make peace because they’ve lost their legacies. Montague’s son and wife are dead. Capulet’s daughter is dead. Lady Capulet’s nephew Tybalt is dead. Mercutio is dead. Paris is dead.
Nearly everyone in the younger generation is dead by the end of the play. That’s the wake-up call for the remaining family members. That’s the tragedy.