In the age of Rome and Juliet’s creation, many values of society were different from those we can observe in modern day life. Women did not have equal rights, fathers had a lot more authority over their children and arranged marriages were still practiced. A big factor was people’s Christian faith; it was much stronger in those days so the church played a huge role in society.
There are lots of factors that contribute to the outcome of the play and these can be separated into Generic factors and society and values.
In modern families, parents tend to have control over the household. They do not force the children to marry or force their life decisions upon them but they have a subtle yet firm grasp on their children’s lives. They use this grasp to guide, not to force their children.
However, in the time of Romeo and Juliet, the parents had control over the household, the father more so than the mother. They would tell their children how to live. We see evidence of this in Act III Scene v when Capulet discusses marriage with Juliet. He is very upset to hear that she does not want to go through with her arranged marriage.
Capulet: “Hang thee young baggage, disobedient wretch! I tell thee what: get thee to church a’ Thursday, Or never after look me in the face… Wife, we scarce thought us blest That God had lent us but this only child, But now I see this one is one too much, And that we have a curse in having her. Out on her, hilding!”
This seems like a very drastic reaction but it shows how much control a father considered himself to have, and just how important he considered it to be. This kind of controlling behaviour added greatly to the tragedy in the end.
The honour of the family name was of great importance during the time of the play. It represented your history and heritage, who you were and your position in society. A person would go to great lengths to uphold the honour in their name, especially Tybalt.
The Montagues and the Capulets were both high up in the social hierarchy, as is stated in the prologue “Two households, both alike in dignity”. They had a lot to defend but they entangled in an “ancient grudge”. They had had a small argument with each other and this had become very serious by the time Romeo and Juliet had met. The play begins with the two families brawling in the streets and the prince then says “If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.”
A fight breaks out in Act III Sc i, which results in the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio. There was a cascade of events leading to this. Romeo and his friends had sneaked into the Capulets’ party, Tybalt saw Romeo there and wanted to fight him, but his uncle told him off, “He shall be endured…” Tybalt was angry with Romeo after this for making a mockery of his family and for getting him into trouble with his uncle. He wanted to fight him even more. This was after Romeo has married Juliet, so Tybalt does not know that Romeo was honouring his wife by not fighting a member of her family. Romeo says “Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee Doth much excuse the appertaining rage to such a greeting…” Tybalt replies “Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw.” Mercutio feels that this threat to Romeo is unacceptable and challenges Tybalt, “O calm, dishonourable, vile submission!…” After Mercutio defends Romeo and fights Tybalt, Mercutio is killed. Out of loyalty to his friend and anger, Romeo kills Tybalt to avenge Mercutio’s death.
Perhaps if family honour had not been so serious, Mercutio and Tybalt would have lived and also Romeo and Juliet could have marred each other. Also, if these events had not taken place, Juliet’s arranged marriage would not have been pushed forward by her father. Before these events Lord Capulet said that she was too young. We see several different types of loyalty which contribute to the outcome, Romeo’s loyalty to his wife, Tybalt’s loyalty to his family and Mercutio’s loyalty to his friend.
In Act I Scene ii Romeo meets Capulet’s servant. The servant had been given the guest list of the party and has been told to find all the people on it, only he couldn’t read. He needed to find out who they were, so he asked Romeo to read it for him. Romeo saw that Rosaline (the girl he liked) was invited so he decided to go.
This shows that education was a big factor because if the servant was had have been able to read, Romeo would not have gone to the party and met Juliet.
Marriage was considered very important in those days. A woman would have no honour if she was not married. This is partly why a father would arrange his daughter’s marriage. Also, people did not get divorced in Verona because they were Catholic. Juliet’s arranged marriage was also in response to Tybalt’s death, her parents thought it would cheer her up and bring the family closer together in their time of grievance, we see this in Act III Scene v.
Lady Capulet: “Find thou means, and I’ll find such a man But now I’ll tell thee joyful tidings girl”… ” Well, well, thou hast a careful father, child, one who, to put thee from thy heaviness, hath sorted out a sudden day of joy…”
If marriage was considered a bond between two people who love each other rather than just a woman’s ticket to honour, or, in this case, a quick fix for Juliet’s depression then Juliet’s marriage would not have been arranged and the families would have accepted Romeo and Juliet’s love, if the feud had not existed.
People were extremely dedicated to religion (Christianity) at the time of Romeo and Juliet. It also plays a big part in Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. Juliet went to Friar Lawrence when her father told her to marry Paris. In Act II Scene v we see using shrift as an excuse whilst she went and married Romeo.
Nurse: “Have you leave to go to shrift today?”
Juliet: “I have”
Nurse: “Then hie you hence to Friar Lawrence’s cell, there stays a husband to make you a wife.”
Both Romeo and Juliet were close with Friar Lawrence; this is partly why he agreed to marry the pair because he thought it will patch relations between the feuding households.
After marrying them, the Friar felt bound to keep them together, so when Romeo got banished and Juliet was supposed to marry Paris, he formulated a plan to bring Romeo and Juliet back together, but when the Friar attempted to send Romeo a letter it didn’t get there because the person he had asked to deliver the letter couldn’t get through a town’s gate due to the outbreak of the plague at the time. This lead to trouble when Romeo found out that Juliet was dead (part of the Friar’s plan was to give her poison which made her seem dead for twenty four hours). Romeo went back to Verona and killed himself, then Juliet woke up to find Romeo dead she also killed herself.
Several factors contributed to this particular part of the play, one being the plague. If people of the time had not been so religious, Romeo and Juliet would not have been so close with Friar Lawrence, then they may not have been able to get married in the first place. Romeo and Juliet felt it necessary to get married because they felt they were in love and their religion stated that they could not be together in a physical sense until they were married.
When Romeo first saw Juliet he was drawn to her beauty. The two of them fell in love very quickly because they were teenagers and they felt so deeply in love that they needed to get married. When Romeo first explained this to Friar Lawrence in Act II Scene iii the Friar accuses Romeo of just being in love with Juliet’s beauty, “Young men’s love lies Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” He also said “Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast”. This means that people who rush into things eventually fall. Romeo and Juliet could not understand the Friar’s point because they thought their love would always last, which emphasises even further their young naivety.
Perhaps if Romeo and Juliet were older they would not have been so hasty with their relationship and things would not have gotten so serious so quickly. Also if the Friar had refused to marry them things would have been a lot different.
Many factors that contribute to the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet were purely fate and chance, circumstances beyond our control. We observe several characters speaking of “unhappy tidings” and they refer to fate and chance. In Act V Scene ii when Friar Lawrence and Friar John talk about the letter, Friar Lawrence says “Unhappy fortune!” An Elizabethan audience would have taken more notice of this because they believed in fate a lot more than today’s audience.
There were many issues to do with the society and values of the time that stood between Romeo and Juliet, but some of them brought them together. The society and values contributed to the outcome of the play to a great extent, but fate and chance was the catalyst that created the tragic outcome. I think that if it wasn’t for the simple bad luck, Romeo and Juliet could have been together. The Elizabethan audience would have seen it like this because they had first hand experience of the society and values of the time. The modern audience has a much narrower understanding of all the things affecting Romeo and Juliet. But the Elizabethan audience would have had less sympathy with Romeo and Juliet than a modern audience because they would look down on people going against the major factors of their society as Romeo and Juliet did. They didn’t feel that true love was of much importance.