Gender Roles in Romeo & Juliet

The tragedy Romeo and Juliet has been criticized by many critics throughout the years. Most critics tend to agree that Shakespearean literature has strong gender roles. This means that the men will carry themselves with honor and pride. A typical man for the time period in which Shakespeare set his play was the head of the household; anything the man or also known as the head of the family wanted would be put into motion almost as soon as he finished saying the words. The strong males in the tragedy Romeo and Juliet are Juliet’s father Lord Capulet, Romeo, Mercutio, and Prince Escalus.A woman’s typical role of that time period was subservient, always holding her words when it came to decision making. Most women of the time were busy having children starting at or before the age of twelve and were married well before that. Juliet and the Nurse do the best job of portraying the female gender roles throughout the tragedy The main male character in Shakespeare’s tragedy, Romeo, is a young man whose heart is filled with despair because he is unable to obtain the apple of his eye: Juliet.Throughout the play, Romeo portrays a rollercoaster of emotions, which does not support the belief that Shakespeare uses stong definitive gender arguments. Romeo “fluctuates from melancholy to high spirits from unmanly despair to calm and moves from recognition that it is ‘e’en so’ to a kind of adult fatalism” (Evans 1057). A good example of Romeo’s fluctuating mood would be when he meets the Nurse at Friar Larwence’s cell. Whereas he was happy about getting married to Juliet in Act II and even wanted to embrace the Capulet family as his own, he now – in Act III – wants to commit suicide because Prince Escalus has exiled him from Verona.At this point in the tragedy, Romeo as a young immature and even irrational young man does not realize that he should be grateful that the prince has not ordered his execution. Right in front of the Nurse and the Friar, Romeo appears to have lost all forms of manhood when the Friar asks, ” Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art; Thy tears are womanish, thy wild acts denote The unreasonable fury of a beast. Unseemly woman in a seeming man, And ill-beseeming beast in seeming both! Thou hast amazed m. By my holy order, I thought thy disposition better tempered. Hast thou slain Tybalt? Wilt thou slay thyself,And slay thou lady, that in they life lives By doing damned hate upon thyself? (Act III. scene 3, lines 109-116) Romeo is the typical tragic Shakespeare hero because he is a basically good human being but possesses negative characteristics that will eventually lead to his own death. Some of his negative characteristics contradict his manhood and maturity. Romeo is clearly impulsive during several scenes in the play, which often goes along with the immaturity of a young male. For instance, as stated above Romeo is quick in his decision making. In several scenes in the tragedy, he is ready to kill himself before he even considers the situation.Because he is so immature, he desperately needs the advice, support, and friendship of Friar Lawrence. It is interesting to note that Juliet, Romeo’s female counterpart in the play, exhibits the same flaws as Romeo. Just like Romeo, Juliet is also immature and impulsive and she needs the nurse for the same reason Romeo needs the Friar. The female main character is Juliet. Juliet is a young innocent girl of the tender age of twelve who “more strikingly changes from a girl too young to have thought of marriage, into a mature suffering woman” (Evans 1057).Juliet’s feelings and emotions, love and overwhelming feeling of wanting a perfect love are what makes Juliet fit the description of the stereotypical teenage girl. Juliet was initially against the idea of getting married when she states, “it is an honor that I dream not of” (Act I, scene 3, line 167). Her comment portrays Juliet as a typical indecisive young woman, but she is willing to give the marriage a chance because she wants to follow in the same footsteps as her mother. “Here in Verona, ladies of esteem /Are made already mothers. /By my count I was your mother much upon these years” ( Act 1, scene 3, lines 71-73).Sir Capulet, Juliet’s father, does a great job of portraying himself as the stereotypical domineering male figure in the play. He does a good job of holding his ground throughout the entire play. There is no scene when his opinion is not considered. Throughout most of the play, he refuses to listen to anyone’s comments having to do with anything – from his daughter’s feeling on marrying Paris to who should be allowed at the masquerade ball. Juliet’s father also forcefully intends to set up the marriage between his daughter Juliet and Paris, the Count and relative to the Prince of Verona.In Act III, scene 3, he tells Paris, “ I will make I will make a desperate tender Of my child’s love . I think she will be ruled In all respects by me. —Nay, more I doubt it not— Lady Capulet, go to her ere you go to bed. Acquaint her here of my son Paris’ love, And bid her, mark you me” (lines 12-17). The way he has stated this to Paris and his wife, Lady Capulet, shows that he is a chauvinist and he doesn’t care what anyone has to say about how they may feel about the situation. This counters the argument that Shakespeare did have definitive gender roles because Sir Capulet’s behavior clearly shows that.With the exception of Romeo, all the main male characters in Romeo and Juliet do have definitive gender roles. Mercutio plays an important role in the tragedy Romeo and Juliet. As he is not related to either Romeo or Juliet, his function in the play is different from that of other characters. Mercutio is a friend of Romeo and – as a friend – has a lot of influence on what Romeo decides to do. Being young, humorous, and somewhat immature, his purpose during his relatively short presence in the play is to offer comic relief. In other words, his comments after a stressful scene relieve the tension.Shakespeare portrays Mercutio as a young male who appears to be hiding behind his jokes. Even when he is dying, he has the need to be funny: “No, ‘tis not so deep as a well, not so wide as a church Door, but ‘tis enough, ‘twill serve. Ask for me tomorrow, and you Shall find me a grave man. I am peppered. I warrant, for this World. A plague a both your houses! Zounds, a dog, a rat, a mouse” (Act III, scene 1, lines 92-95) Mercutio’s need to be humorous is a big part of his personality as a young male. Like Romeo, he is impulsive and immature.However, unlike the love-struck Romeo, Mercutio is more prepared to fight to show his manhood. Of course, Mercutio is ignorant about Romeo’s marriage to Juliet and therefore his reasons for fighting correlate with his role as a young male. According to the critic Appelbaum, “if the regime of masculinity demands that its unsatisfiable goals be followed to the end, and subjects such as …Mercutio are compelled to try to complete themselves in ways that only result in their death, the Shakespearean canon often dramatizes what appears to be a desire to escape from the regime, to overcome or run away from the snares it sets” (Appelbaum 252).Mercutio wants to be the typical young male, and he is certainly not afraid to do as he says. However, as Appelbaum has clearly stated, Mercutio’s wish and need to be that stereotypical male eventually leads to his early death. Prince Escalus, unlike the other male characters in the play, has the inborn right to be in charge of the affairs of all citizens in Verona. In the case of Prince Escalus, it is not only his superior position in Verona that makes him dominant, but also his gender. As the Prince, he knows that the citizens must listen to his commands.In the beginning of the tragedy, for example, the Prince warns the people of Verona: “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, Profaners of this neighbor stained steel- Will they not hear? What, ho! You men, you beasts, That quench the fire of your pernicious rage With purple fountains issuing from your veins! … And hear the sentence of your moved prince. Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word By thee, old Capulet, and Montague, Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets … If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace. ” Act I, scene 1, lines 72-88) It should be noted, however, that this dominating male does reveal fairness. When Romeo has been found to be involved in a fight that resulted in Tybalt’s death, the Prince exiles Romeo instead of having him executed. At the very end of the play, Prince Escalus fulfills his role of “Verona’s father” when he cleverly brings the Capulets and Montagues together after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. His final comment suggests the new but gloomy peace in Verona: “A glooming peace this morning with it brings. The sun for sorrow will not show his headGo hence, to have more talk of these sad things; Some shall be pardoned, and some punished; For never was a story of more woe That this of Juliet and her Romeo. ” (Act V, scene 3, lines 304-309) Prince Escalus, therefore, as the assertive male in the play, manages to reach his goal of having civil peace in Verona. It appears, however, that the Prince’s power is more the result of his position than his gender. Most of the female characters in Romeo and Juliet are rather weak and submissive. In a way, these characteristics give more power to the male characters.One obviously submissive yet outspoken character is Juliet’s Nurse. Already early on in the play, the Nurse clearly shows her love for Juliet. Apparently, the Nurse lost her own daughter years earlier, so Juliet has become her substitute daughter. When Sir Capulet demands that Juliet marry Paris at a time when he does not know about Romeo and Juliet’s marriage, the Nurse attempts to protect Juliet. In fact, she stands up to the dominating Sir Capulet, but it doesn’t take long for him to put the Nurse back in her place: “And why, my Lady Wisdom? Hold your tongue, Good Prudence.Smatter with your gossips, go! ” (Act III, scene 5, lines 171-172) The Nurse not only shows her fear for Sir Capulet because he is her employer, but he is also a male in a male-dominated society. Another female character who clearly shows her inferiority to males is Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother. Throughout the play, Lady Capulet is the stereotypical wife. Even though she is of noble blood, she is still inferior to her husband. Her position makes her stronger than the Nurse, but her gender makes her weaker than her husband. In most of her scenes, Lady Capulet merely does what her husband tells her to do.When her husband orders her to discuss the topic of marriage with Juliet, she dutifully complies: “Marry, that ‘marry’ is the very theme I came to talk of. Tell me, daughter Juliet, How stands your dispositions to be married? ” (Act I, scene 3, lines 63-65) It almost seems as if Lady Capulet is afraid to bring up the subject of marriage. She clearly only does so because her husband has ordered her to do so. It is clear that Shakespeare created characters – both males and females – with very specific gender roles. These characters all seem to possess specific characteristics that fit their gender.With the exception of Romeo, the younger males all seem to want to be the stereotypical males. They are ready to fight, to argue, and even to die. Some of the characters, especially Mercutio, is especially typical of a youthful male. In the short time that he is present in this tragedy, he is lively, funny, energetic, moody, and likeable. Romeo, on the other hand, seems to differ from his contemporaries because he has an inner conflict. On the one hand, he wants to be the typical male just like his friends. When he falls in love with Juliet, however, he no longer has the urge to fight the Capulets and prove his manhood.Instead, he wants to be married and embrace his former enemies. When Tybalt wants to fight Romeo, Romeo no longer sees Tybalt as his enemy and in- directly tells him that he loves him as a relative. Unfortunately, Romeo’s conflict cannot be solved. His fate – and that of Juliet – is death, the typical ending for a tragic hero. The older males in this Romeo and Juliet are all very dominating because they are older and they are male. Both Sir Capulet and Sir Montague are the stereotypical father figures and dominating males in the play.It is only at the very end of the tragedy that they both realize their errors. The one male who is clearly the ultimate dominating character is Prince Escalus. However, his power does not only come from his gender but also – and perhaps more so – from his position as the Prince of Verona. For the most part, the female characters play their part as stereotypical females; they tend to be weak and submissive. However, as stated before, their roles as females also strengthened the masculinity of the male characters. In all, gender roles are extremely obvious in Romeo and Juliet.