Gender Roles in Romeo & Juliet

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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...
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