Elizabethan England was very patriarchal during Shakespeare’s period. Men were considered the leaders and the dominant sex. Women were regarded as inferiors to men, not just in terms of physical strength but psychologically too. Shakespeare who lived at this time included patriarchy in his work and is one of the most famous writers of all time. This is why Elizabethan time is also known as Shakespearean time. The title of the play is also patriarchal as it starts with the male name in front of the female name. It is ironic in Romeo and Juliet because nobody wins at the end unlike Macbeth and many other Shakespeare plays. Although there was an unmarried woman on the throne in Elizabethan England, the roles of women in society were very limited. Men were expected to be in control and bring in the money in order to look after the family. Women, on the other hand were expected to produce male heirs for the family and be housekeepers.Order now
Act 1 scene 1 begins with two minor characters in the play.
In the conversation between the Capulet servants, Shakespeare uses sexual innuendo, “Tis true; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels are ever thrust to the wall” . This shows the patriarchy in the minds of men and that men know they have a higher status than women. Samson must believe that he has a greater strength than women or else he would not believe that he could thrust the Montague maids to the wall. In addition, there is sexual innuendo in Act 2 Scene 1. Mercutio talks to Romeo when he is infatuated with Rosaline. He uses the words “Spirit” which could mean seamen and “circle” which could mean a Woman’s genital area.
The servant Samson also talks about his sexual attraction: “tis known that I am a pretty piece of flesh” this also means that he is sexually active. This would be indecent for an unmarried woman to say. A wife would be a possession or a prize that the husband had incurred. Lord Capulet treats Juliet like a possession : “and you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend” and uses this line to threaten Juliet. Juliet also knows that she is a possession to men “although I am sold I am not yet enjoyed”.
Romeo and Juliet use religious imagery in Act 1 Scene 5 to give a sense of holiness and purity to Juliet. Romeo sees Juliet in innocent religious terms and talks to Juliet with holy words, “This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this”. Romeo believes that he can gain catharasis by kissing Juliet. Romeo uses religious imagery when describing Juliet “O, speak again, bright angel” This also an example of women expected to be angelic and pure.
In the street a brawl takes place between the two feuding families Capulet and Montague. There are no other women who are present with the exception of Lady Montague and Lady Capulet who would be shown at their husband’s side. This emphasises on the patriarchal image, as the women would be behind the men when acted out on the stage. This is expected in the story line of a play in Elizabethan times as that is what the audience and society would have expected to see. Act 1 scene 1 also includes the prince, who is the alpha patriarch.
Act 1 scene 2 includes Capulet and Paris discussing the marriage plans between Paris and Juliet. The men are making the decision of marriage without Juliet being there this is an example that men make the decisions. Lord Capulet talking to Paris is an example of dramatic irony because the audience knows information that the characters do not. This information is that Romeo and Juliet are already married.
It is also unexpected and confusing to Lord Capulet in Act 3 Scene 5 because Juliet refuses to marry Paris yet she had previously agreed that she would marry him. He is also confused because he had done everything the society had expected him to do, he had done his patriarchal duty by finding her a husband who in his eyes was a “worthy a gentlemen” and a “gallant, young and noble gentlemen”. To show his anger Lord Capulet uses figurative language and verbal violence. Juliet does not stand up for herself but asks whether she can speak. This shows that men dominate the conversation and have the authority over the women to tell them whether they can speak or not. When Lord Capulet enters the stage there are three women also present on the stage yet the man stays in charge. This shows that men have the authority to overrule a high number of women even when they are the only male there.
Marriage is rebelled by the two feuding families. This is going against the social mores and social expectations. It is expected for the father to pick the husband but in this case, they pick each other. They know that everybody in their families will hate the relationship but they feel love is stronger than hate “here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.” Even though Romeo and Juliet had rebelled against their family, Romeo still believes that he is in charge of the relationship. Juliet shows submissiveness and calls Romeo “my lord”. Death imagery is used as a repetitive motif throughout the play. From the very beginning, Juliet had a feeling that either she or Romeo would end up death. “Let death be my marriage bed”
In conclusion, Shakespeare shows that Romeo and Juliet live in a patriarchal society with his use of language, literature and stagecraft. He uses the language and stagecraft to make it clear to the audience that men are in power and women are the inferior sex and have a weaker status in society.