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Hey Juliet - Juliet as a Feminist Leader

By emilym1016 Oct 29, 2013 1250 Words
Hey Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is considered one of the greatest love stories of all time. This story of forbidden love is irresistible to audiences and defies the passage of time. Although this Shakespeare classic is essentially about the budding romance between two young lovers, it is also very much a coming of age story about protagonist, Juliet Capulet. She begins the play naïvely following the wishes of her father. Over a short period of time, as the play progresses, she asserts herself as an individual, defying authority and following her heart.

In the beginning of the play, Juliet is to be married off to Paris, a matter in which she has very little say. When discussing meeting her husband-to-be Juliet says I’ll look to like, if looking liking move;

But no more deep will I endart mine eye
Than your consent gives strength to make it fly” (Romeo and Juliet 1.3 99-101 p.943).

Here, Juliet is very submissive to authority, and also to her role as a woman. She shows no particular desire to marry Paris, or anyone else at this point. However, she does not protest the union. She simply accepts the fact that it is going to happen. She also gives total control to her parents, promising to only like Paris as much as they want her to. Her tone is passive and seems emotionless, even in discussing her marriage. This part of the play speaks a lot to the role of women during this time in history. At that time, a woman needed a man to rely on; that meant her father, until she was old enough to marry. Juliet seems to willingly accept that societal rule, that is, until she meets Romeo.

Although she was already betrothed to Paris, Juliet meets Romeo at the ball held in her family’s home, and after one kiss, is instantly infatuated. That night, she professes her love to Romeo, showing notably more emotion than in previous scenes. In truth fair Montague, I am too fond.

And therefore thou mayst think my ‘haviour light.
But trust me gentleman, I’ll prove more true
Than those that have been more cunning to be strange.
I should have been more strange, I must confess
But that thou overheard’st, ere I was ware,
My true-love passion. Therefore pardon me,
And not impute this yielding to light love,
Which the dark night hath so discovered. (2.1 140-8 p. 953-4)

The Juliet here is unrecognizable from the timid child who spoke with little emotion or opinion in the early scenes of the play. Rather than giving short, direct answers, Juliet expands her dialogue in order to profess her true feelings for Romeo. Anytime she spoke before, the words seemed to be carefully thought out and exact. After meeting Romeo and falling instantly in love, Juliet is more free and expressive with language. That is not to say that she does not mean what she says, or uses her speech carelessly; she simply has more to say. Before meeting Romeo, there was nothing prompting Juliet to express herself in the manner she does on the balcony. This speaks to the overall encompassing theme of the play: the power of love. The power of her love for Romeo was so strong that it allowed her to step beyond the safety and control of her family and become a more independently thinking woman.

Another defining moment comes later in the very same scene. Again, it is important to stress the place that women held in Elizabethan society. They were discouraged from any independence and had very little control over their relationships. That is why it so shocking that Juliet is actually the one to propose marriage. If that thy bent of love be honorable

Thy propose marriage, send me word tomorrow
By one that I’ll procure to come to thee (2.1 185-8 p. 954).

Although both lovers had already professed love for one another, Juliet was the first to indicate action. This is in direct contrast to how she felt about marriage in the beginning of the play. Instead of it being merely a social obligation, love becomes the driving force and motivation behind the union. Instead of being void of emotion, she feels more deeply for Romeo than ever before. Again, this shows the overwhelming power that love can have on a person. It can change someone who is seemingly uninterested in the idea of marriage into a star-crossed lover, who is prepared to disband from her family in order to marry the one she loves. In the balcony scene, Juliet embodies the perfect balance between delicate and strong in her speech, something that Shakespeare often does for his leading ladies. The softness is clearly there, in her declaration of love. The strength is more subtle and based in the tone, but it is ultimately clear that Juliet knows what she wants and intends on getting it. The grand declarations the Juliet makes this night could seem hasty considering, they had only known each other for a few hours. However, Shakespeare manages to make it believable. Because Juliet’s limited experience with the world, as shown in her previously arranged marriage, she has a certain innocence in her profession of love that Shakespeare captures perfectly through the use of imagery. Shakespeare’s use of imagery throughout the play, and particularly in this scene, magnifies for the audience the love that they share.

Juliet asserts her independence even further, after Romeo kills her cousin Tybalt in a duel and is banished, forcing Juliet to choose between her family and her lover. She says about her parents Wash they his wounds with tears.

Mine will be spent/when theirs are dry, for Romeo’s banishment.” It is in this defining moment that Juliet fully asserts herself, choosing her enemy over her family for the sake of love. This line shows a slightly darker side of the character. Juliet appears to show very little remorse over the death of her cousin, but Shakespeare’s careful control of language and tone manages to keep the audience rooting for Juliet. In fact, by giving Juliet dialogue that is almost hostile, adds realness to the character, which makes her even more likable. Juliet loves Romeo so much that she is willing to disown her family in order to be with him.

Romeo and Juliet will forever be one of the greatest love stories of all time, but there is much more to the Shakespeare classic than the romance. Juliet Capulet is the epitome of a dynamic character. Throughout, a span of only a few days, she experiences a true coming of age. She begins a naïve girl, who had experienced little of the world outside the safety of her family. Through the power of love she gained the strength to defy her family in order to marry the man she loved, and took her fate into her own hands, in hopes of being with him. Although this led to tragedy, she progressed unmeasurably from the timid girl she started as and she was able to spend eternity with her true love. Shakespeare’s delicate use of dialogue gave Juliet a strong yet delicate demeanor that audience fell in love with hundreds of years ago and are still in love with today.

Works Cited
Shakespeare, William, Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard, Katharine Eisaman Maus, and Andrew Gurr. "Romeo and Juliet.” The Norton Shakespeare. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997. 934-1000. Print.

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