Between 1591-1595 William Shakespeare (1564-1616) wrote the famous tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The play involved some very advanced and intricate writing styles for its time. One of the most interesting parts of his play was the idea of the influence of a patriarchal society on the characters and indeed the story. In this essay I will endeavour to show how Italy being a patriarchal society, among other ideas, has the effect it does in the play.
‘Romeo and Juliet’ begins with a dispute between two families resulting in a fight that has to be broken up by the prince of Verona. He explains that if there are any more fights then they will be executed at once “If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”. Then the son of the head of the Montagues, Romeo, goes to the Capulet’s ball with his friend Mercutio, and his cousin, Benvolio. Here he falls in love with the daughter of the Capulets “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” Then after a whirlwind romance they persuade Friar Lawrence to marry them in secret. However after Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, accidentally kills Mercutio, Romeo kills him and is banished from Verona by the Prince as a punishment. In the tradition of a patriarchal society, Capulet arranges a marriage between County Paris and his daughter Juliet.
Her father does not know that she has already been married so this only makes matters worse. So that she can avoid marrying Paris and stay with Romeo, Juliet takes a potion from the Friar that will make her appear dead for 24 hours. She takes the potion. The following morning Capulet and his family grieve and bury her in the family tomb whilst the Friar sends a letter to Romeo explaining how the both of them can escape forever. However, the letter never arrives. Hearing of Juliet’s “death” Romeo returns in secret and approaches her body. He drinks a poison so that he will die. As he lies dead Juliet wakes up. Seeing her lover dead she takes his dagger and kills herself too. The conclusion to this tragedy is that seeing their children dead brings the two families together. Capulet describes them as “Poor sacrifices of our enmity”.
The definition of a Patriarchal society is “the structuring of society on the basis of family units in which fathers have primary responsibility for the welfare of their families.” This is shown in the play at many points. Elizabethan Marriage involved the daughter’s parents choosing her
husband for her, usually so both families could profit. The legal age for girls to marry was 12, boys 14. It was quite normal for the couple to meet for the first time on the day of their wedding. Usually women were traded for power and money through marriage. This is shown in the play when Capulet tries to marry Juliet off to the County Paris for status. It also shows Elizabethan marriage because she is only 13 years old and in modern society people can only marry when they are 18 or 16 with consent. Also illustrated in the play is the idea of total control by the males only because the Prince has the most power and Lord Montague and Lord Capulet follow him in power. These are all males that are heads of families, which is exactly what patriarchal societies are all about. However problems are highlighted in the play as both leaders put their families in danger. Capulet makes decisions, which cause his daughter to rebel and ultimately die and Montague makes his family fight for an ancient feud and his people die.
In Act 1 Scene we see that Lady Capulet is part of the patriarchal system because she says “By my count, I was a mother much upon these years That you are now a maid.” This shows that Lady Capulet was only 13 when she had Juliet. However the nurse is a wet nurse, which means that when Juliet was a baby the nurse breast-fed and looked after her. This means that Juliet would not connect very well with her mother and instead would see the nurse as a role model. It would also work the other way as her mother would not connect with her and does not care for her much. This shows why Juliet is so strong minded and willing to take the potion as whereas her mother was brought up in the same circumstances, she was never placed in the same position as Juliet and she doesn’t try to understand it.
Lady Capulet accepts that patriarchal society is a good idea and does not seem to question it. She does not know about Juliet’s situation it until it is too late. Another thing about Juliet is that she is more active than Romeo, whereas she can concentrate on the consequences of many events, Romeo can only ever have his mind on one thing (e.g. Love of Rosaline, Marriage of Juliet etc.) In addition Romeo doesn’t make things happen as much as Juliet. For example Juliet takes a potion to appear dead so she doesn’t have to marry Paris. However, it is only when he thinks Juliet is dead that he takes poison, so he can be with her. So this is linked to Romeo’s one track mind. Juliet’s death in many ways, can be blamed on the Patriarchal Society she lives in. This is because she is torn between trying to get what she desires and keep her father content and not break God’s laws. It is very difficult to achieve balance between these two as her ideals and society’s are completely different. So because of these circumstances she eventually has to face, and is destroyed by, the patriarchal society. The same can be applied for Romeo.
In act 2 scene 3, Romeo asks Friar Lawrence if he would marry him and Juliet. This scene makes us see the patriarchal society in the context of religion. Romeo cannot talk to his real father about his situation because his father will be angry because Juliet is a Capulet. So he talks to the man that is his spiritual guide, the man he looks up to more and trusts. There is very little in the play about Romeo’s real father and for a good reason. This is because Romeo is not a typical child of the patriarchal society so is not close to his father. Romeo is not bothered about the feud with the Capulets at the beginning of the play but is depressed about Rosaline instead.
Romeo is closer to the Friar as a father figure. For example, one line reads “Good morrow Father”. Although this is an obvious reference to the religion, it is also a subtle reference to Romeo looking to the Friar as a father figure. The friar also looks to Romeo as a son figure as he says “That’s my good son:” after Romeo tells him of his encounter with Juliet. If Romeo had seen his own father as a father figure he would have talked to his father of it first. Instead he just goes straight to the Friar. It even mentions he does not sleep first, that he just goes from Juliet’s house to the Friar’s cell. Romeo also says “Thou chid’st me oft for loving Rosaline.” Chid’st basically means “told me off” so not only is the friar the father figure through Romeo’s dependence on him but also he is the disciplinary figure in his life. The whole of this scene the Friar and Romeo speak in rhymes showing they also have a special link. For example, Friar Lawrence starts this interaction
” Or if not so, then here I hit it right,
Our Romeo hath not been in bed to-night. ??
ROMEO That last is true; the sweeter rest was mine. ??
FRIAR LAURENCE ?God pardon sin! wast thou with Rosaline? ?
?ROMEO ?With Rosaline, my ghostly father? no; ?
I have forgot that name, and that name’s woe.” ?
This is also a technique that Shakespeare uses a lot in his plays, this writing device is where main characters when speaking about an important part of the play tell it in verse, whereas lesser characters only rhyme partly.
In Act 3 scene 5, Juliet disobeys her father as he has arranged a marriage for her and she doesn’t want to be wed (as she already has been). In this scene, it starts with Romeo climbing out of Juliet’s window before her mother and father come in and express their joy at having arranged her marriage to Paris. Juliet then voices her sadness at this but in a certain way. She says “Not proud you have, but thankful you have: Proud I can never be of what I hate.” This shows that even though she is displeased by her father’s choice but is still showing respect. He is angered by this and then shouts at her explaining that if she doesn’t marry Paris she will die on the streets.
This was considered bad in those days as un-married women were considered witches. As I have said already Juliet’s mother is not close to her daughter, which could be why she says, “Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word.” Many people interpret this as her being angry with Juliet but I think she says this because she knows that she can’t argue with Capulet, as he is the head of the household. Finally at the end of the scene, Juliet says, “If all else fails, myself have the power to die.” this means that she is willing to die. A patriarchal society is almost like indoctrination into believing anything that your father tells you (if you are a girl). It is made even worse due to the fact that Juliet is only 13, a girl that has been exposed to the world so much she knows of suicide and death. It could also be analyzed that she says “…power to die” because she believes her father has so much more power then her that it will take less to die. This has a lot of dramatic irony as she says it as a last resort and it ends up happening anyway. It is almost giving the audience a clue as to what is going to happen later on in the play.
Also Capulet says “Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch! I tell thee what, get thee to church a’Thursday, or never after look me in the face!”
Another big piece of dramatic irony is where Juliet is asking her mother for help and she says ‘…Or if you do not, make the bridal bed in that dim monument where Tybalt lies.” This is ironic as she ends up dying in that exact place. This could be considered as one of the first types of subliminal messaging. This scene is a powerful and compelling addition to history’s more famous plays.
In this act 4 scene 1, Juliet goes to the Friar Lawrence and asks for advice about how to avoid having to marry Paris. This shows a similarity between Romeo and Juliet as they go to the same person for advice. For example in Act 4 Scene 1 Juliet says to Friar Lawrence “..Unless thou tell me how I may prevent it…”. Then there is Act 2 Scene 3 Romeo says “..That thou consent to marry us.” So their families have not loved the enough as is tradition. This also shows that the Patriarchal society can be such a restrictive place that many children did not grow up with their parents mentally. Instead they grew up with servants (E.G the nurse) or religious figures (E.G. Friar Lawrence).
Also, Juliet shows that she sees the Friar as a kind of father figure. She does the same thing that she did with her father in act 3 scene 5. She uses vivid imagery to illustrate how badly she doesn’t want to marry Paris and how far she is willing to go to meet this target. However, it shows that Juliet does not have as strong a relationship with the Friar as Romeo does because they do not speak in rhyme. The friar then sorts her out with a potion to make her appear dead for 24 hours. This has been foreshadowed by the friar in the first scene we meet him. He is dealing with flowers that can be poisonous even though they are nice to look at. He helps Juliet out before informing Romeo of his plan. He does send a letter but if he cleared it with Romeo before, the plan may not have backfired on him, causing the eventual death of both Romeo and Juliet. Another big part of this whole patriarchal society idea is when the Friar answers Juliet’s woes with the solution of feigning death with a sleeping potion. In these lines he uses such phrases as: “Be merry”, “In thy best robes” and “… this shall free thee from this present shame” which shows that he has genuine affection for Juliet because he is being kind to her.
Even though his religion is one that believes in the father knowing best, he is willing to help this girl that has basically gone directly against this and is trying to escape because he’s compassionate. Compared to Friar Lawrence, Capulet is hardly even compassionate, but is possessive and regards Juliet as a piece of property. This is shown in line “Graze where you will…”. This shows he thinks of her as livestock that can be traded for status. This was the normal way of thinking of females in a Patriarchal society. You cannot be entirely unfair to Capulet though as it is not his fault he was brought up in a rigid society, as Verona must have been a Patriarchal society for several generations due to the fact it is so widely accepted in the play and all the powerful characters agree with its ideas and concepts.
Another example of how the patriarchal society effects people is in Act 4 Scene, where we find Juliet “dead” the day of her arranged marriage. Many would blame Capulet for forcing Juliet into this position and how he doesn’t care for his daughter. However his grief at finding his daughter “dead” is completely real. For example, he says: “Alack! My child is dead, And with my child my joys are buried.” This shows how sad he is that his child has been taken. However it also shows how the patriarchal has taken over part of his life because when she dies he also talks about how he’ll never have an heir in the line “I will die, and leave him all; life, living, all is Death’s.” So this shows that the patriarchal society has indoctrinated part of him but not all of him because he still feels the loss of Juliet.
To conclude, Elizabethan Verona was a patriarchal society where women were traded for power and money through marriage. This is shown in the play when Capulet tries to marry Juliet off to the County Paris for status. It also shows Elizabethan marriage because she is only 13 years old and in normal society people could only marry when they were 18 or 16 with consent. Also illustrated in the play is the idea of total control by the males only because the Prince has the most power and Lord Montague and Lord Capulet follow him. These are all males that are heads of families, which is exactly what patriarchal societies are all about. Shakespeare shows us how th patriarchal society can work but how it can destroy the relationships of young couples and how in some severe cases it can make fathers force their children to go against the law of God E.G. you can only have one spouse.
The play in it’s entirety is the battle between traditional values and the emotional needs of real people. The line stating about fate is also, in my opinion, a reference to the patriarchal society, as it is like when Romeo says he is “Fortune’s fool” it is as if he is saying that because he was born into this society, he was doomed to never receive what he wanted. It would always be up to his parents. However it contradicts slightly as both leaders put their families in danger as Capulet makes decisions, which cause his daughter to rebel and ultimately die whereas Montague makes his family fight and people die.