Patriarchy in Romeo and Juliet
How far does an understanding of patriarchy assist in an analysis of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? Romeo and Juliet is essentially the story of Juliet’s self-development and growing through her love for Romeo in a city, Verona, where patriarchy impregnated politics, social life and private homes at all levels. In this essay I will take a look at how patriarchy plays a main function in the advancement of the ‘ancient quarrel’ between the Montagues and the Capulets and how this feud eventually leads the fans to their self-destruction.
As Coppelia Kahn has noted, ‘… the fight in a realistic social sense is the primary terrible force in the play– not the fight as representative of fate, but the feud as a severe and peculiar expression of patriarchal society, which Shakespeare reveals to be unfortunately self-destructive’ (Kahn 1978: 5). Patriarchy has been preferably characterized by 2 essential concepts: the home as a nucleus of stratification, and the male dominance– i. e. males standing above women who would otherwise be their equals. There is a clear separation between the ‘public’ and the ‘private’ spheres of patriarchy.
Public power is vested into male patriarchs, who share it based on any other stratification concepts (economic, social, etcetera) dominating in their society. Women do not hold official power however they can be acknowledged the status of ‘honorary patriarchs’ in certain cases. In the personal sphere the male head of a home or family enjoys indisputable power over all family members– junior males, females and children– although women may have certain casual influence over their male patriarch (see Mann 1994: 178).
In Romeo and Juliet, the blood-stained rivalry in between 2 leading households, the Montagues and the Capulets, exists to the audience in the first lines of the play: ‘2 homes, both alike in dignity/ …/ From ancient animosity break to new mutiny,/ Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean’ (Prologue, 1-4). The origins of this old quarrel are not made known to the audience, a fact that adds a note of absurdity to the scenario.
Even Prince Escalus and other noblemen in Verona seem to be tired of a perpetual feud which has become a heavy burden to the city. Paris, for one, grumbles to Capulet in the following terms: ‘Of honourable numeration are you both,/ And pity’t is you [i. e. Capulet and Montague] lived at odds so long” (1. 2. 4-5). The depth of the involvement of the heads of both families, their kinsmen and their servants in this disagreement, barely consisted of by the Prince’s authority, can be kept in mind in the first half of 1. (with lines such as ‘The quarrel is in between our masters and us their males’, as states Gregory, a servingman of the Capulets, in 1. 1. 17), while Girl Capulet and Lady Montague strive to soothe their hubbies down: ‘A crutch, a crutch– why call you for a sword?’ (Capulet’s spouse to her other half, 1. 1. 69); ‘Hold me not, let me go’ (Montague to his other half, 1. 1. 72). The fight Romeo and Juliet have actually inherited from their households is therefore provided from the start as a crucial constituent of the play, without which the plot would have never ever turned into a tragedy.
Indeed, it is their death what will ‘bury their parents’ strife’ which just ‘their children’s end … could eliminate’ (Beginning, 8-11). The quarrel is led and prompted by the heads of the particular households, Capulet and Montague, and enthusiastically seconded by loved ones and servingmen. Just the successors of both households appear to hold a less enthusiastic attitude about this concern. When they fall in love with each other rather of acting as lethal enemies, they quickly discover ways to conquer such enmity, although they stay captives to their families’ hatred.
In the public sphere, this rivalry also offered opportunities to assert masculinity over male rivals, as displayed in the long brawl between Montague and Capulet servingmen in 1. 1: ‘Draw, if you be men’ (1. 1. 55). Kahn (1978: 5) has actually explained the feud as an initiation rite ‘which promotes masculinity at the price of life.’ Nevertheless, as noted by Appelbaum (1997: 252), ‘the competition between the Capulets and the Montagues is likewise, for the guys, … an inward pressure to masculine self-assertion that can not be calmed or concluded. The guideline for a guy to articulate himself as a man ‘is currently in place’ in this male-dominated world; no male can articulate himself at all unless he does so as a guy. And being a man in Verona, where the only uncompromised masculinity seemed to be that of Prince Escalus, simply implied being all set to draw the sword against any culprit irrespective of the effects. Thus, the unexpected death of Mercutio at the hands of Tybalt soon after the secret marriage of Romeo and Juliet (‘Tybalt, that an hour/ Hath been my cousin! ‘, 3. 1. 07-108) leads Romeo to question his own masculinity for his effort to stop the battle (‘O sweet Juliet,/ Thy charm have actually made me effeminate’, 3. 1. 108-109) and sets in movement the succession of occasions that will cause his exile and their awful end. We have so far analyzed the issue of patriarchy as a main element of Romeo and Juliet. Let us now check out the nature of the relations between Romeo and Juliet, how they mature into completely accountable grownups capable to make their own choices regardless of odds, and how their choices are fatally conditioned by the rules of the patriarchy.
In parallel with the patriarchal plan of the relationship between the members of each family and within the society of Verona at large, from the Prince to the humblest servant, Shakespeare presents the audience with an inversion of the traditional gender functions between Romeo and Juliet. This reality is relevant to this essay as it contributes to highlight the strength of the patriarchal conventions in the play. This inversion of roles had not been evident to early criticism, blinded by the young age of Juliet and by her lack of opposition to her moms and dads’ arrangements to give her in marriage to Paris (see Brown 1996: 333).
Therefore, when asked by her mother, in basic terms, about her willingness to wed, Juliet’s answer is somewhat uncertain and compromising: ‘It is an honour that I dream not of’ (1. 3. 68). And then, when prompted, ‘Speak briefly: can you like of Paris’ love? ‘, her reply is both standard and ignorant: ‘I’ll look to like, if looking liking relocation’, and ends with a statement of submission to what her mom might authorize: ‘But no more deep will I endart my own eye/ That your permission offers strength to make it fly’ (1. 98-101). Conventional and naive as it is, Juliet’s reply ought to not come as a surprise. As Kahn (1981) has actually argued, patriarchal power is about being a father serving as the head of a household instead of being just a man; and ‘the desire of ladies to be wed to spouses of their fathers’ option, and to be sexually devoted to their partners in bearing genuine male successors … is the unnoticeable heart of the entire structure’ (Kahn 1981: 13).
In the personal sphere, patriarchal power can display the usual manners of civility as long as this does not imply that the members of the home delight in true flexibility of choice, as revealed by Capulet’s measured words to Paris about Juliet: ‘My will to her authorization is but a part,/ And, she concurred, within her scope of choice/ Lies my consent and fair-according voice’ (1. 2. 15-17). This is, Juliet’s consent was a requirement for her marital relationship to Paris, although such consent might be offered for approved. The option was usually a life of privacy, either in your home or in a convent, or worse, as displayed in 3. 191-194. Patriarchy reveals its genuine face when an upset Capulet asks his better half, when Juliet attempts to delay her wedding event with Paris, ‘Is she not proud? Doth she not count her blest,/ Not worthy as she is, that we have wrought/ So deserving a gentleman to be her bride?’ (3. 5. 143-145); or when, impatient after the death of Tybalt, Capulet advises Juliet in these terms: ‘But fettle your great joints ‘gainst Thursday next/ To go with Paris to Saint Peter’s Church,/ Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither./ Out, you green-sickness carrion! Out, you luggage,/ You tallow-face! (3. 5. 153-157). How this obedient and apparently controlled Juliet can mature to end up being the Juliet in the balcony scene (3. 2), or the Juliet in the lovers’ interchange the morning after the consummation (3. 5), is not made specific in the play. However, as Brown (1996) has actually noted, moderate as Juliet might be, she has an useful and resolute mind and is ready to assert her will, as when she silenced the Nurse– ‘And stint thou too, I hope thee, Nurse, state I’ (1. 3. 60)– or when she presses Romeo to accept that ‘day is night’– ‘Yon light is not daytime; I understand it, I’ (3. 5. 12).
Brown (1976) argues that Juliet’s language and actions contain a much deeper level of meaning. The subtext, according to Brown, ‘develops that Juliet’s inability to manage her own life compels her to resort to wise methods of developing autonomy which she tries to control her destiny by managing the male who constitutes her destiny– Romeo.’ Therefore, Juliet handles to change Romeo ‘from a “flighty,” not practical man of fancy who participates in long, unrealistic speeches, into a pragmatic, loyal guy of few words who discovers to give her the succinct answers she wants and to satisfy her commands’ (Brown 1976: 334).
Juliet’s intent is evidenced in her usage of falconry images– a language which recognized to most Elizabethans and which appears in a number of Shakespeare’s plays– to train Romeo through rhetoric in a manner resembling the training of falcons. Falconry language exists throughout the entire play to the point that one that was not familiar with these terms would have problem to grasp the meaning of many lines, as when Juliet gets in touch with the night, ‘Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks’ (3. 2. 14).
In Brown’s words, ‘Through this images, Shakespeare develops a reading that draws parallels in between Romeo and trainable falcons (typically females) and between the method Juliet deals with Romeo and the methods falconers (generally males) utilize to train their birds’ (Brown 1996: 334). Romeo, ‘a virtuous and well-governed youth’ (Capulet, 1. 5. 65) ‘as gentle as a lamb’ (Nurse, 2. 4. 43), who kissed ‘by th’ book’ (Juliet, 1. 5. 107), a guy of reflection instead of action whose sole previous experience of love had actually been a Petrarchan infatuation with an idealized Rosaline, was an appropriate topic for this turnaround of roles.
His own language is that of a Petrarchan fan, but ‘so severe and hyperbolic that it nearly ruins the solemn state of mind by making the audience laugh’ (Brown 1996: 338). Juliet, on the contrary, shows herself as an useful, earthbound mind. For example, in the terrace scene, she shows aloud on the issue of the enmity in between their families as if it could be a simple matter of names and the world could be improved through the power of language so that they would like each other without opposition: ‘What’s Montague? It is not hand, nor foot/ … nor any other part/ Coming from a male. O, be some other name! What remains in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other word would smell as sweet’ (2. 1. 82-86). As a real falconer, Juliet checks Romeo’s irregular flight and brings him down to earth. She prompts Romeo to declare his love, she asks him to arrange their marital relationship, she calls Romeo back with the falconer’s call– ‘Hist, Romeo, hist’ (2. 1. 203)– for no reason, just to evaluate how he will obey her commands and to enjoy her new controlling role. In doing so, Juliet is also developing her superior capacity to blaze a trail into their future in the way of a falconer leading the flight of his falcon.
Romeo follows her lead albeit in a somewhat childish fashion, as when he tells Friar Laurence why he now enjoys Juliet instead of Rosaline: ‘… Her I love now/ Doth grace for grace and love for love enable./ The other did not so’ (2. 2. 85-87). In public, Romeo stands to his role as a true Montague, witty and always ready to draw; in personal, he accepts Juliet’s leadership, and, when confronted with the repercussions of killing Tybalt, he tries to killed himself and cries like a lady (‘Unseemly female in a seeming guy’, 3. 3. 111).
However when his private world clashes with the public one, as when he encounters the battle between the Capulet kinsmen and his buddies simply after his wedding event, Romeo thinks twice as to what to do. As we have actually seen so far, while the Montagues and the Capulets brag and combat to death for a quarrel whose origins nobody has the ability to remember but which generally represents the not successful struggle of each of the families to rise above the other, Juliet matures, matures, makes choices, provides herself to her cherished and makes plans for the future on the fringes of the patriarchal society of Verona.
When Romeo is banished from Verona, Juliet has to act on her own. Covertly, she has to act as an ‘honorary patriarch’ would do to safeguard her interests against those of the patriarchy represented by her dad in the private sphere and the city of Verona in the public one. Therefore, she declines the Nurse’s guidance to wed Paris as if she was currently a widow, asks Friar Laurence for help and, on his recommendations, arranges her phony death in order to escape a bigamous marriage.
This marriage, sped up by the scenario of Tybalt’s death, presents a factor of uncertainty in the strategies formerly agreed by Friar Laurence and Romeo. The latter, incommunicated from Juliet and then challenged with the news of her death, makes his own plans which unfortunately encounter those of Friar Laurence and Juliet. Despite the numerous recommendations to fate in the play and the subjective sensation of inevitability they occur, I agree with Mercutio when he blames the Montagues and the Capulets for his death.
Undoubtedly, it is patriarchy in the first place, which fuelled the feud in between the Montagues and the Capulets; and Romeo’s immature youthfulness and impatience, in the second location, what ultimately leads both fans to their terrible end. And, as the Beginning had actually prepared for, their end put likewise an end to their households’ fight. Bibliography Main products Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet, in Stephen Greenblatt ed., The Norton Shakespeare (London: Norton, 2008), 905-972. Secondary materials Appelbaum, Robert. “Standing to the wall”: the pressures of masculinity in Romeo and Juliet,’ Shakespeare Quarterly 48-3 (1997 ), 251-272. Brown, Carolyn E. ‘Juliet’s taming of Romeo,’ Research Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 36-2 (1996 ), 333-355. Kahn, Coppelia. ‘Coming of age in Verona,’ Modern Language Studies 8-1 (1978 ), 5-22. Kahn, Coppelia. Male’s estate: masculine identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981). Mann, Michael. ‘Individuals, homes, households, lineages, genders, classes and nations,’ in The Polity reader in gender research studies (Cambridge: Polity, 1984), 177-194.