The Theme of Gender being Shown in Romeo & Juliet
Throughout history, society has been built on the gender roles of men and women. Women were supposed to be proper and submissive, while men were often viewed as hot headed and superior to women. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, takes place in Verona, Italy in the late sixteenth century. Two houses, the Capulets and Montagues, have an ancient feud. When two young adolescents from each house fall in love, the consequence of their forbidden love ends in suicide. Throughout the story, Shakespeare challenges the ideas of gender stereotypes by showing that women are not always feminine, men do not always fit the masculine role, and when one follows their gender role to an extreme, things can turn out badly.
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare suggests that women do not have to abide by the feminine role. Juliet is Shakespeare’s best example of this because she asserts her opinion and does what she wants, characteristics usually reserved for the masculine male. During a party for example, Juliet meets one of the Montagues, Romeo. Their encounter results in love at first sight. Soon after, she and Romeo wed each other with Friar Lawrence officiating, clearly clashing with her mother and father’s wishes (2.5 68-77). This act demonstrates Juliet’s capability to decide and act upon her own desires rather than be submissive to her parents. Unlike many young women of that time, Juliet believes she has the right to make her own choices, even if those choices counter her parents beliefs. Later in the play, Juliet’s father insists that she must marry Paris in the upcoming days. Juliet once again defies her parents in a discussion she has with her mom. She tells her,I pray you tell my lord and father, madam,I will not marry yet; and when I do, I swearIt shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate,Rather than Paris (3.5 121-124). In this speech, Juliet declares her love for Romeo to her mother, but does so in a the hated enemy. Juliet is shrewd, she retains control of her destiny while failing to renounce her parents beliefs.
Another unique character in the play that challenges the feminine role is Juliet’s nurse. She is known for being risque and obscene. On the morning Juliet is supposed to marry Paris, the nurse walks into her room and makes a bawdy joke:[…]You take your pennyworths now;Sleep for a week; for the next night, I warrant,The County Paris hath set up his rest,That you shall rest but little (4.5 4-7).The nurse jokes that after Juliet marries Paris, she will busy doing things other than sleeping. This shows that women were not always proper or so called ladylike. The nurse is a character who expresses herself without a filter and does not care what others think.Another key concept addressed in the play is the idea that men are not naturally masculine. Romeo has never been the typical man characterized as hot-headed and looking for a fight. He is truly a Petrarchan lover from the beginning of the play, as he pines first for a girl named Rosaline and does not feel complete without her. Romeo and his kinsman, Benvolio, discuss his case of unrequited love with Rosaline. Romeo believes he is in love with her, but she does not love him back. She has vowed to celibacy and he believes all of her beauty is put to waste, because without children, it will end with her (1.1 209-217). Romeo acts very emotionally in this scenario when he continues to ruminate about Rosaline and feel sorry for himself.
The usual man would just move on to find a new girl. Romeo’s actions are in fact stereotypically feminine; he expresses love and sadness. Men of that era were not supposed to show emotions- at least other than anger and aggression. Later in the play, Romeo again shows his emotional, vulnerable personality when he discovers Juliet. In an early scene, Romeo addresses Juliet as above him, in this case a sacred place. If I profane with my unworthiest hand. This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready standTo smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss (1.5 95-98). In this monolog, Romeo puts Juliet on a pedestal of virtue. He addresses her as holy shrine and he a pilgrim visiting that shrine. For Romeo to represent Juliet in this way and address himself as her follower, challenges gender hierarchy. He glorifies her while making himself seem inferior. During the balcony scene, Romeo uses flowery, romantic poetry once again to try and win Juliet over. Romeo once again refers to her as superior, in this case a messenger of heaven. She speaks.O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art As glorious to this night, being o’er my head, As is a wing messenger of heaven (2.2 25-28). Challenging the male gender role once again, Romeo refers to Juliet as a heavenly figure almost like he is worshipping her. He uses romance and poetry to express his feelings for Juliet. Unlike most men, Romeo’s use of poetry and imagery is a common occurrence. Between the romantic poetry and vivid symbolism, Romeo does not abide by the accepted characteristics of a man.
One last topic Shakespeare addresses in the play is the negative consequences of gender stereotypes at their extreme. The overarching conflict in the play is the constant fighting between the Montagues and Capulets. This ancient feud of Verona results in many riots breaking out between the two families. The prince threatens that the next time a fight occurs, the initiators will pay with their lives (1.1 90-98). does not know the initial cause of the fight. This shows that the constant brawls are not really about what originally happened, but the ego of the two families, especially the men. The men act out of irrational, uncontrollable anger, to show their manliness. Their unmanageable rage is the result of masculinity at its extreme and leads to dangerous, sometimes fatal fights. being the hot head that he is. over his rage and masculinity, he would not have gone so far as to kill Mercutio. The outcome of Tybalt and Mercutio’s fight is a turning point in the play. After the tragic incident, Romeo is enraged and wants revenge from Tybalt. Alive in triumphand Mercutio slain! Away to heaven, respective lenity, And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now[…][…]Either thou or I, or both, must go with him (3.1 124-131). Shortly after this speech, Romeo kills Tybalt. In this monolog, Romeo states … fire-eyed fury be my conduct now meaning he is going to let rage and anger guide his actions. It was very uncharacteristic of Romeo to do this, and in the aftermath of it all, he sincerely regrets it. The death of Tybalt distinctly shows the repercussions of letting rage and masculinity influence and guide your decisions.