Gender Roles in Romeo and Juliet
The society of Verona had major differences between the way men and women should act. Men were expected to be masculine and carry themselves with honor and pride; while women were expected to please their men and hold their own opinions. However, Romeo and Juliet defied the gender standards of their time.
Men in Verona during this time induced a strong sense of power over women. Whereas, women were looked at as possessions who were supposed to do what the men asked of them. However, Romeo and Juliet tested these ideas by challenging these gender roles. Romeo defied his masculinity and possessed much more feminine and passive traits. In Act I, Romeo communicated in a poetic tone to the other men. “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs, / Being purg’d, a fire sparkling in lover’s eyes, / Being vex’d a sea nourish’d with loving tears”( Shakespeare 1.1.190-193). Romeo was in love, and his way of thinking was made fun of by many of his peers as being feminine. When he was with Juliet in scenes, his male role faded in the eyes of others. He put himself below Juliet and spoke to her in a weak tone, especially during the balcony scene. “O speak again, bright angel, for thou art / As glorious to this night, being o’er me head, / As a winged messenger of heaven” ( Shakespeare 2.2.26-28). Men in Verona during this time period would never put themselves below a woman. Romeo challenged many of the male gender roles for this time.
Women of Verona were viewed to be a totally different rank to the men of that time. They were thought of as lesser value, powerless, and essentially just items to possess. In Act I, Sampson speaks this: ”‘Tis true, and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall; therefore I / will push Montaque’s men from the wall, and thrust / his maids to the wall” (Shakespeare 1.1.15-18) Sampson is showing dominance and referring to women to be weaker in power than him. However, Juliet defied these rules and had many opinions of her own, such as marrying Romeo without her parents’ consent. This caused issues with Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet. He wanted to marry her to a different guy, Paris. Juliet went against her father’s wishes. This was not an acceptable act of a woman during this time. Juliet is characterized, by Shakespeare, in a way that opposes the standards for women by giving her extraordinary strength in contrast to the expectations of society of Verona.
When challenged by this society, Romeo and Juliet tried to conform to the expected gender roles. Romeo was concerned about losing his manliness by his actions from falling in love: “O sweet Juliet. / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate, / And in my temper soft’ned valor’s steel!” (Shakespeare 3.1.113-115). Romeo fought to take revenge for, his killed friend, Mercutio, as well as, to defend his honor as a man. This led to him being sent away and a major turn of events. Near the end of the play, Romeo’s harsh behavior increased. He continued to fight anyone preventing him from being with Juliet. This gave Romeo more of a masculine image. Juliet gave into Friar Lawrence’s plan of drinking the potion to fake her death and escape the disagreement with her parents. This provided Juliet with a more feminine appearance as she allowed others to choose what’s best for her. As Romeo and Juliet changed back to society’s expectations of their gender roles, they left an opening for a huge disaster to happen.
It was evident that Romeo and Juliet disregarded their gender expectations for that period of time. Their behaviors and actions throughout the play reflected how they were different from many other people in their society. Romeo and Juliet’s gender reversal left a huge impact on the two families and the city of Verona.