Patriarchy in Romeo and Juliet
How far does an understanding of patriarchy help in an interpretation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? Romeo and Juliet is generally the story of Juliet’s self-development and maturing through her love for Romeo in a city, Verona, where patriarchy fertilized politics, social life and private households at all levels. In this essay I will analyze how patriarchy plays a main function in the development of the ‘ancient quarrel’ in between the Montagues and the Capulets and how this feud eventually leads the enthusiasts to their self-destruction.
As Coppelia Kahn has actually kept in mind, ‘… the feud in a sensible social sense is the main terrible force in the play– not the feud as representative of fate, but the fight as an extreme and strange expression of patriarchal society, which Shakespeare reveals to be unfortunately self-destructive’ (Kahn 1978: 5). Patriarchy has actually been preferably identified by two fundamental concepts: the family as a nucleus of stratification, and the male supremacy– i. e. males standing above women who would otherwise be their equals. There is a clear separation in between the ‘public’ and the ‘personal’ spheres of patriarchy.
Public power is vested into male patriarchs, who share it based on any other stratification concepts (financial, social, etcetera) dominating in their society. Females do not hold official power but they can be acknowledged the status of ‘honorary patriarchs’ in particular cases. In the private sphere the male head of a family or household delights in indisputable power over all members of the family– junior males, females and children– although females may have certain casual impact over their male patriarch (see Mann 1994: 178).
In Romeo and Juliet, the blood-stained competition in between two leading households, the Montagues and the Capulets, is presented to the audience in the very first lines of the play: ‘2 households, both alike in self-respect/ …/ From ancient grudge 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 truth that adds a note of absurdity to the situation.
Even Prince Escalus and other noblemen in Verona seem to be tired of a relentless feud which has become a heavy problem to the city. Paris, for one, grumbles to Capulet in the following terms: ‘Of honourable reckoning are you both,/ And pity’t is you [i. e. Capulet and Montague] lived at chances so long” (1. 2. 4-5). The depth of the involvement of the heads of both households, their kinsmen and their servants in this disagreement, hardly consisted of by the Prince’s authority, can be noted in the first half of 1. (with lines such as ‘The quarrel is in between our masters and us their guys’, as says Gregory, a servingman of the Capulets, in 1. 1. 17), while Lady Capulet and Lady Montague make every effort to calm their partners down: ‘A crutch, a crutch– why call you for a sword?’ (Capulet’s spouse to her partner, 1. 1. 69); ‘Hold me not, let me go’ (Montague to his spouse, 1. 1. 72). The feud Romeo and Juliet have actually acquired from their families is thus provided from the beginning as a crucial constituent of the play, without which the plot would have never ever turned into a tragedy.
Certainly, it is their death what will ‘bury their parents’ strife’ which just ‘their kids’s end … could remove’ (Prologue, 8-11). The quarrel is led and prompted by the heads of the particular households, Capulet and Montague, and enthusiastically seconded by family members and servingmen. Only the beneficiaries of both families appear to hold a less passionate mindset about this problem. When they fall for each other rather of acting as deadly opponents, they soon discover ways to overcome such enmity, although they stay hostages to their families’ hatred.
In the general public sphere, this rivalry also provided opportunities to assert masculinity over male competitors, as displayed in the long brawl between Montague and Capulet servingmen in 1. 1: ‘Draw, if you be males’ (1. 1. 55). Kahn (1978: 5) has actually described the feud as an initiation rite ‘which promotes masculinity at the rate of life.’ Nevertheless, as kept in mind by Appelbaum (1997: 252), ‘the competition in between the Capulets and the Montagues is also, for the males, … an inward pressure to manly self-assertion that can not be calmed or concluded. The rule for a male to articulate himself as a guy ‘is already in location’ in this male-dominated world; no guy can articulate himself at all unless he does so as a man. And being a guy in Verona, where the only uncompromised masculinity seemed to be that of Prince Escalus, just suggested being prepared to draw the sword against any offender irrespective of the repercussions. Therefore, the unexpected death of Mercutio at the hands of Tybalt not long after the secret marital relationship 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 fight (‘O sweet Juliet,/ Thy beauty hath 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 actually so far analyzed the problem of patriarchy as a central aspect of Romeo and Juliet. Let us now look into the nature of the relations between Romeo and Juliet, how they grow up into fully responsible adults 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 scheme of the relationship in between the members of each household and within the society of Verona at big, from the Prince to the humblest servant, Shakespeare provides the audience with an inversion of the traditional gender roles in between Romeo and Juliet. This fact is relevant to this essay as it adds to highlight the strength of the patriarchal conventions in the play. This inversion of functions had not been evident to early criticism, blinded by the young age of Juliet and by her lack of opposition to her parents’ plans to offer her in marital relationship to Paris (see Brown 1996: 333).
Therefore, when asked by her mom, in general terms, about her determination to marry, Juliet’s answer is somewhat uncertain and compromising: ‘It is an honour that I dream not of’ (1. 3. 68). And after that, when triggered, ‘Speak briefly: can you like of Paris’ love? ‘, her reply is both traditional and naive: ‘I’ll aim to like, if looking preference move’, and ends with a declaration of submission to what her mother may approve: ‘But no more deep will I endart my own eye/ That your permission provides strength to make it fly’ (1. 98-101). Conventional and ignorant as it is, Juliet’s reply ought to not come as a surprise. As Kahn (1981) has argued, patriarchal power has to do with being a daddy functioning as the head of a family instead of being just a man; and ‘the willingness of females to be wed to hubbies of their fathers’ option, and to be sexually devoted to their spouses in bearing legitimate male beneficiaries … is the invisible heart of the entire structure’ (Kahn 1981: 13).
In the personal sphere, patriarchal power can display the typical manners of civility as long as this does not indicate that the members of the family delight in true liberty of option, as revealed by Capulet’s measured words to Paris about Juliet: ‘My will to her permission is however a part,/ And, she agreed, within her scope of choice/ Lies my authorization and fair-according voice’ (1. 2. 15-17). This is, Juliet’s authorization was a requirement for her marital relationship to Paris, although such consent might be offered for given. The option was generally a life of seclusion, either in your home or in a convent, or even worse, as shown in 3. 191-194. Patriarchy reveals its real face when an upset Capulet asks his partner, when Juliet tries to postpone 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 worthy a gentleman to be her bride-to-be?’ (3. 5. 143-145); or when, impatient after the death of Tybalt, Capulet prompts Juliet in these terms: ‘However 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 baggage,/ You tallow-face! (3. 5. 153-157). How this loyal and obviously controlled Juliet can mature to end up being the Juliet in the veranda scene (3. 2), or the Juliet in the fans’ interchange the early morning after the consummation (3. 5), is not made explicit in the play. However, as Brown (1996) has actually kept in mind, moderate as Juliet may be, she has a practical and undaunted mind and is prepared to assert her will, as when she silenced the Nurse– ‘And stint thou too, I pray thee, Nurse, say I’ (1. 3. 60)– or when she presses Romeo to accept that ‘day is night’– ‘Yon light is not daylight; I understand it, I’ (3. 5. 12).
Brown (1976) argues that Juliet’s language and actions contain a deeper level of significance. The subtext, according to Brown, ‘establishes that Juliet’s failure to manage her own life compels her to resort to wise means of developing autonomy which she tries to manage her fate by managing the male who constitutes her fate– Romeo.’ Therefore, Juliet manages to change Romeo ‘from a “flighty,” not practical male of fancy who takes part in long, unrealistic speeches, into a practical, obedient male of couple of words who discovers to offer her the concise responses she desires and to satisfy her commands’ (Brown 1976: 334).
Juliet’s intent is evidenced in her usage of falconry imagery– a language which recognized to most Elizabethans and which appears in a number of Shakespeare’s plays– to train Romeo through rhetoric in such a way resembling the training of falcons. Falconry language exists throughout the entire play to the point that one that was not knowledgeable about these terms would have problem to understand 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 imagery, Shakespeare develops a reading that draws parallels in between Romeo and trainable falcons (normally women) and between the way Juliet deals with Romeo and the methods falconers (usually males) use 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 been a Petrarchan infatuation with an idealized Rosaline, was an appropriate topic for this reversal of functions.
His own language is that of a Petrarchan lover, but ‘so severe and hyperbolic that it practically ruins the solemn mood by making the audience laugh’ (Brown 1996: 338). Juliet, on the contrary, reveals herself as a practical, earthbound mind. For example, in the balcony scene, she shows aloud on the issue of the enmity between their households as if it could be a mere matter of names and the world could be reshaped through the power of language so that they would love each other without opposition: ‘What’s Montague? It is not hand, nor foot/ … nor any other part/ Belonging to a man. 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 true falconer, Juliet checks Romeo’s unpredictable flight and brings him down to earth. She triggers Romeo to state his love, she asks him to organize their marriage, she calls Romeo back with the falconer’s call– ‘Hist, Romeo, hist’ (2. 1. 203)– for no factor, simply to examine how he will follow her commands and to relish her new controlling role. In doing so, Juliet is likewise establishing her remarkable capability to blaze a trail into their future in the manner of a falconer leading the flight of his falcon.
Romeo follows her lead albeit in a rather childish fashion, as when he informs Friar Laurence why he now loves Juliet instead of Rosaline: ‘… Her I like 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 function as a true Montague, witty and constantly all set to draw; in personal, he accepts Juliet’s leadership, and, when faced with the consequences of killing Tybalt, he attempts to killed himself and sobs like a woman (‘Unseemly lady in a seeming man’, 3. 3. 111).
However when his private world clashes with the general public one, as when he comes across the battle in between the Capulet kinsmen and his friends simply after his wedding event, Romeo hesitates as to what to do. As we have seen thus far, while the Montagues and the Capulets brag and fight to death for a quarrel whose origins nobody is able to recall however which generally represents the not successful struggle of each of the families to rise above the other, Juliet matures, grows, makes decisions, provides herself to her cherished and makes plans for the future on the fringes of the patriarchal society of Verona.
When Romeo is gotten rid of from Verona, Juliet needs to act upon her own. Privately, she has to act as an ‘honorary patriarch’ would do to secure her interests against those of the patriarchy represented by her daddy in the personal sphere and the city of Verona in the public one. Thus, she turns down the Nurse’s guidance to marry Paris as if she was currently a widow, asks Friar Laurence for assistance and, on his guidance, arranges her phony death in order to escape a bigamous marital relationship.
This marital relationship, precipitated by the situation of Tybalt’s death, presents an element of uncertainty in the plans formerly concurred by Friar Laurence and Romeo. The latter, incommunicated from Juliet and after that faced with the news of her death, makes his own plans which tragically encounter those of Friar Laurence and Juliet. Regardless of the lots of recommendations to fate in the play and the subjective feeling of inevitability they develop, I concur with Mercutio when he blames the Montagues and the Capulets for his death.
Undoubtedly, it is patriarchy in the first place, which sustained the fight in between the Montagues and the Capulets; and Romeo’s immature youthfulness and impatience, in the 2nd place, what ultimately leads both lovers to their terrible end. And, as the Beginning had expected, their end put likewise an end to their households’ feud. Bibliography Primary 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,’ Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900 36-2 (1996 ), 333-355. Kahn, Coppelia. ‘Coming of age in Verona,’ Modern Language Researches 8-1 (1978 ), 5-22. Kahn, Coppelia. Male’s estate: manly identity in Shakespeare (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1981). Mann, Michael. ‘Persons, households, households, family trees, genders, classes and countries,’ in The Polity reader in gender studies (Cambridge: Polity, 1984), 177-194.