Knowledge of Sexism

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“David Hewson wrote ?Juliet and Romeo, ?a modern-day appropriation of the Shakespearean play, ?Romeo and Juliet?, bringing to attention the aspect of sexism in society and how women think of sexism. Hewson makes Juliet much more three-dimensional, giving her interests besides marriage, providing her with the courage to stand up against the sexist-based prejudices placed on her by her family and society. Despite these changes, there is still sexism in the derivative text that was also present in the source play. Even in a 21st-century setting, there are still certain gender conformities that were prevalent in Shakespearean times. When comparing the book and the play in terms of those expectations, we realize that they haven’t changed at all.

It is through the ?Juliet and Romeo ?novelization that we become a part of not only the sexist-based society, but Juliet’s thoughts, and we see Hewson appropriating Shakespeare in the sense of character’s feelings about sexism. In ?Adaptation and Appropriation, ?Julie Sanders states, “in appropriations, the intertextual relationship may be less explicit, more embedded, but what is often inescapable is the fact that a political or ethical commitment shapes a director’s, or performer’s decision to re-interpret a source text” (Sanders, 2). The source play does not provide us with Juliet’s inner thoughts, which not only makes her appear less human but eliminates the ?idea that she thinks poorly of the prevalent sexism. Hewson, however, lets readers know that Juliet understands and recognizes sexism, through internal thought and her courage to speak out about the issue, making this derivative text an appropriation on the topic of knowledge about sexism. This isn’t to say there isn’t still sexism in ?Juliet and Romeo?, because there is, as Hewson seems to use the source text as an imitation for his derivative society (at least in the beginning of the novel.)

Our source play, ?Romeo and Juliet,? heavily emphasizes that women were nothing more than property to men and were required to marry at a young age of sixteen. In both the play and book it is made apparent that Juliet doesn’t want to get married yet, but the conversation between her and her mother differ immensely between source play and derivative text, primarily because the source play only offers an out loud discussion. Julie Sanders states in her article, “re-vision — the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction … We need to know the writing of the past and know it differently than we have ever known it: not to pass on a tradition but to break its hold over us” (Sanders, 9). Hewson seems to use re-vision as a tool to change how Juliet reacts to the gender-conforming rules set upon her from the source play to the derivative text. We do hear Juliet tell her mother she doesn’t desire marriage in a conversation between the two and the nurse but get no insight about how or why she doesn’t desire marriage at the moment.


Tell me, daughter Juliet, How stands your disposition to be married?


It is an honour that I dream not of (1.3.11).

Juliet’s mother continues to tell her why having a husband is critical, and eventually, Juliet states “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” (1.3.11). Shakespeare does not provide us information about how Juliet is feeling at this moment; instead, he only continues the discussion about marriage, and Juliet agrees to at least meet this man without stating how she feels about the situation altogether. In Hewson’s appropriation, this conversation goes much different because we hear Juliet’s discuss ?why s? he doesn’t want to get into marriage, and what she ?does ?desire:

Juliet:? “He’s ten years my senior or more. With a beard. I do not know him. Any more than he knows me. I have other interests at the moment.’

Bianca:? ’Such as what?’ her mother wondered. ‘All you do every day is read books and lounge around the garden.’

Juliet:? ’I wish to see the world. Florence for a start. I told you. And I… I can teach Nurse to read’” (Hewson, 56-57).

Hewson uses this conversation to bring to light the fact that Juliet doesn’t even know the person her parents want her to marry, and she doesn’t want to marry him for not only that reason but because she’s interested in other things. This contrasts Shakespeare who erases the idea that Juliet has different interests, making it seem like she was rejecting marriage in an act of rebellion, not because she’s focused on other things. Hewson gives us the opportunity to make Juliet a much more three-dimensional person, giving her actual interests such as traveling and reading. Juliet sees no issue in the fact that she has other interests; it is only her mother who follows the Shakespearean idea of having ignorance of sexism in their society.

Following the idea of ignorance, Shakespeare’s play gives the impression that abusing and threatening women is no big deal, and that it’s un-masculine to define that stereotype. Not only were women expected to just follow the ‘rules’ set for them, but men were expected to show authority and power over women. An example of this occurs early on in the play, Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant: when I have fought with the men, I will be cruel with the maids, and cut off their heads.


The heads of the maids?


Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads; take it in what sense thou wilt (1.1.5).

This passage, being so early on in the play, immediately sets the stage for how men talk about women, and how normal it is to threaten them. In this case, there isn’t even a woman there to defend herself (although, it’s not like she could anyway) against the threats of being raped and killed. Sampson says this all so casually, and even though Gregory seems to be questioning it, he doesn’t argue with Sampson about it. This passage also brings up the idea in Shakespearean times that once a woman has lost her virginity, or in this case, ‘Maidenhead,’ they are no longer valuable to men, and they will unlikely find a husband. Hewson alludes back to Shakespearean society, not changing how society views women and sexuality. Hewson’s version of this passage reads, “first girl that comes out of the kitchens mine. Unless she’s hideous — then you can have her . . . With a bit of luck, we might get a virgin if the Montages have got any left. You alright with that?” (Hewson, 9). Although the language is modernized to make it easier for a 21st-century audience to understand the aspect of sexual assault, the overall message is the same between source play and derivative text. Men are still allowed to threaten women with no repercussions. However, this version also mentions the aspect of beauty. In the play beauty and appearances don’t matter, just the fact that they are Montages. Hewson, on the other hand, brings up beauty to represent that while wealth and class still matter to a 21st-century audience, those things aren’t nearly as important as a woman’s appearance. Regardless of this change, sexism is still prevalent, and these two passages show that men have an authoritative power over women just because of their gender. The appropriation is how Juliet reacts to the situation, which is demonstrated through her having other interests and recognition that she shouldn’t marry someone she doesn’t know.

In conclusion, despite the appropriation Hewson made towards the ?knowledge? of sexism, he doesn’t change the societal view of it. No matter the format, either play or text, an important message is being sent out that women are still portrayed in a way that diminishes their value, and makes them appear as weak, and as nothing more than men’s property. The derivative text provides us with inner thoughts and gives Juliet more courage to speak out about sexism, which appeals to a 21st-century audience because we are much more familiar with feminism and sexism than people in Shakespearean times were. Despite all the positive changes Hewson makes, he replicates the sexist society that Shakespeare created in the source text. To say that Juliet and Romeo ?completely erases sexism is not true, but it’s a step towards letting society know that women recognize what they deserve, and now more than ever, will stand up for themselves against any man or woman. Although society may not see women as people, women see other women as people, and that’s something Hewson made possible through his appropriation.”

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Knowledge of Sexism. (2021, May 13). Retrieved from

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