Renaissance Literature - Romeo and Juliet

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Renaissance Essay
In what ways is ‘the other’ explored in two of the plays studied in Semester 1?

Shakespeare’s plays have always had a hard-hitting effect on their audiences as they are often used as a vehicle to explore fears or concerns of the time. In the two tragic plays, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Anthony and Cleopatra’, Shakespeare uses mythology, issues of power and sexuality and in particular concentrates on the concept of ‘the other’. In this use of the term ‘the other’ we are referring to foreign elements, people or objects not from or associated with mainstream society, and in the context of the essay, the mainstream society of England in Shakespeare’s era.

‘Romeo and Juliet is set in Verona, so some of its cultural details might be a result of Shakespeare’s trying to make it seem different from the England he knew’ (http://www.shakespeare.org.uk/content/view/449/461/). It is interesting to consider the above statement as both plays are set outside of England, which I believe is a deliberate ploy from Shakespeare to try and break the barriers of the concept of ‘the other’, giving an insight into other cultures and other races’ of people. This may, however, be opposite from the truth, as Shakespeare may be intentionally removing his audience from the comfort zone of familiar surroundings and forcing them to embark on his story through a foreign land, or you could say making them tackle ‘the other’ head on. I believe removing the audience from their comfort zone would result in the dramatic effects of the play being intensified, and by doing this the taboo subject and fear of ‘the other’ could be desensitised to the audience by its exposure in the play. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is profoundly opposed to authority both in the political sense and the literary sense’ (Smith, Peter .J, Penguin 1995, Social Shakespeare, pg128). I find this to be true as the law, and what society deems the norm, is broken throughout the play, either intentionally or by accident. Intentional infringements of the law or breaking of social rules include the Montagues attending the Capulets party and in the opening scene when Sampson bites his thumb at the Montagues, ‘I do bite my thumb, sir’ (Shakespeare. W, Romeo and Juliet, Act 1 Scene 1 L44). The play also reaffirms that heterosexual relations is the correct and natural way to live your life, as its portrayed as the norm. We learn from the outset that society seems to be male dominated, as they refer to women in a derogatory manor ‘and therefore women, being the weaker vessels’ and the males illustrate their sexual power ‘I will be cruel with the maids, and cut off their heads’.

Fate is a core theme throughout both ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra’, with the law seemingly being broke due to fate and not the characters intent, for example the slaying of Tybalt by Romeo is an act that he did not wish to carry out but a series of unfortunate incidents forced his hand, ‘O, I am fortune’s fool!’ (At3 Scene1 Line133). Fortune itself seems to take the part of a character, working against the rest of the plays protagonists. From the moment Romeo slays Tybalt, he knows that he has now become ‘the other’, as he averts from being an integral part of the community to an outcast, regarded as an enemy of the state. The audience would have empathy for Romeo as being alienated from society would have been a major concern for people at the time, as they themselves had to abide by strict social rules, and if they didn’t comply, they would face the same fate as Romeo. Romeo’s speech about loving the Capulets is not understood by any of the characters in the play but the audience is aware of its purpose, resulting in great irony when his attempts to build a relationship with Tybalt result in Tybalts anger, Mercutios death and ultimately Romeo’s exile. Its clear that Romeo had no intentions of breaking the law and was a victim of poor fortune, resulting in him still being viewed as a ‘good...
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