In the famous play of Romeo & Juliet, written by William Shakespeare, two teenagers decide to challenge the views of the strong patriarchal society that was lived in over 100 years ago. Patriarchy means that men were in control of women; women had no way of standing up to them. They were used as slaves and to reproduce.
Patriarchy was just another way of life in Verona, in Shakespearian times; men were the dominant sex. Women were treated like they were just a piece of meat, often struck to the ground whenever they spoke out of place. Romeo and Juliet’s relationship challenged patriarchy because Juliet was dominating Romeo in some ways; by challenging him he was confused, when Juliet was doing this she tried to show Romeo that men and women are equals. This was the first that any woman had decided to try and dominate a relationship. If many women challenged their relationships just as Juliet did, then the world patriarchal society could be changed forever.
The relationship between sexes in Act 1 Scene 1 is not very romantic, it is abusive and women are shown as mediocre to men because they were seen as weak. Shakespeare shows this by using the sexual violence between them with the ‘thrust’. Sex and violence are used together in this scene as Sampson say’s ‘When I have fought with the men, I will be civil with the maids, I will cut off their heads’. Here he is saying that after killing any Montague he will be rape the maid and then cut off their heads. In Act 1 Scene 3 the nurse tells Juliet a story about her husband making a joke about Juliet falling over onto her back when she was just an infant.
When she says, ‘Thou wilt fall backward when thou has more wit’ what he is saying here that Juliet will once again be on her back when she is older but she will be enjoying it and not in pain, she will do this for sex. This shows the social expectations of women in those days, where they were shown from a young age that these inequalities are taught and accepted. It is also unsettling to know that the man thinks that it is right to treat small girls in this sexual way. Shakespeare shows that patriarchy isn’t just men treating women badly; he also shows that women treat each other badly as well. In Act 1 Scene 3 Juliet was asked a question about how she would feel about marriage, Juliet clearly states that she is not interested in a ‘fairy tale’ view of love. She has a view of a love in a very realistic sense and regards it in very practical ways.
It is because of this tha Juliet gets told off by the nurse, the nurse looks at it in a degrading way and indicates that Juliet is acting like a whore. Juliet has no control over the decision she told that she is going to marry Parris and does not have a choice. She realizes that she has no control over her life and she now power at all, she says, ‘Than your consent gives strength to make it fly’ here she is admitting that she may not like Paris when she marries him but realizes her mother’s decision to decide her love in the future.
In the first four scenes of ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Shakespeare sets up a society very quickly showing that there is violence towards women. It is also the case that Romeo and Benvolio try to just get women into bed and not think about their thoughts and feelings, as if it were a battle, men against women and men being the winners. Shakespeare shows that when Romeo meets someone who is willing to challenge these strong patriarchal ways then the audience would be shocked, that’s exactly what he did to keep the audience interested with the play. When Romeo met Juliet he was just as shocked as the audience to find that there was a women wanting to changes this way of life.
In act 1 scene 5 Juliet and Romeo meet for the first time in the Capulet party. Romeo tries to woo her and physically grabs her and compares her to a holy shrine; he also tries to dominate the relationship from the beginning. Romeo is treating Juliet like an object from the very beginning of the relationship, he tries to kiss her, but Juliet says ‘for saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss’. Romeo is shocked by her response of not wanting to kiss at first, she is refusing, as she over powers Romeo’s words and controls the relationship just as Romeo had. This would have also shocked the Shakespearian audience because Juliet is trying to dominate a relationship in the patriarchal society. Romeo uses his own body to try and persuade Juliet for a kiss as he says ‘O, that I were a glove upon that, that I might touch that cheek!’ this is challenging patriarchy because he is showing himself as weak to try and kiss Juliet. He is giving her control over the relationship instead of being angry at the woman or bossing her about like all the other men would do in that situation.
There are three moments in Act 1 Scene 5 where Juliet has socked the Elizabethan audience with her advice to Romeo about how to get control over his life. One of these was that Juliet decides to be clever and uses Romeo’s words against him to argue and fight for the first kiss. Another was that it gets to the point where Romeo has been convinced that both of them are equals so he admits ‘despair’. This is showing very different behavior to the patriarchal society which the audience was introduced to in the very beginning of the play where men were controlling and abusing women. Juliet then shows that her body is hers so if Romeo tries to kiss her lips then he is trespassing, so she decides when and where she wants to kiss. He realizes that he would be committing a sin if he kisses her and she doesn’t want to. The scene then ends by Juliet judging the way the Romeo kisses, his technique was motorized when she says ‘You kiss by the book’ Romeo has no passion or emotion when he kisses so she feels nothing special.
In the very beginning of Act 3 scene 1 Tybalt and Mercutio were arguing they were insulting each other in front of all the people by questioning their sexuality Romeo had just came from the wedding. He had arrived as the two were just about to fight; they are both full of rage. The environment is violent and full of anger. When Romeo arrives it changed everything, because Tybalt was looking for Romeo in the first place. The theatrical impact of Romeo entering the play at this point brings the audience into the heart of the play. Romeo speaks of love, sensitivity and peace to Tybalt as Romeo says, ‘The reason that I have to love thee doth much excuse the appertaining rage’. This shows that Romeo is being weak, which is not allowed in the patriarchal society, Mercutio says ‘O calm, dishonorable, vile submission’ which shows even Romeo’s best friend does not agree with what he is doing. As Mercutio dies from being stabbed by Tybalt, Romeo now fuels himself with rage chasing Tybalt and finally killing him. Romeo has realized what he had just done; he had killed his wife’s cousin. Romeo was so full of anger and hatred that he did not see the damage that he had just done to himself as well as others.
In Act 3 Scene 5 Romeo and Juliet are just waking up after spending their last night together in Verona before he has to go to Mauntua because of his banishment for murdering Tybalt. It is fascinating that they take it in turns to persuade each other to stay over for the night and then argue against it. This shows it is an open relationship where both take it in turns to dominate each other and say what to do. The fact that the only freedom that have is achieved is in secret is representative of the way patriarchy takes control of their thoughts, feelings and wants.
In act 3 Scene 4 Lord Capulet shows the way of the patriarchal society in Verona by showing that he has the right to make his daughter marry who ever he chooses. This is the complete opposite to what the audience have already seen, in past scenes of the play, where Romeo and Juliet create their own relationship without others interfering. At this point Juliet is already married when she is told that she must marry another man, this use of dramatic irony increases our awareness of the lack of control that Juliet has in creating her own relationship and identity in the future. When her father enters the room she pleads with him that she shouldn’t marry when she says, ‘not proud, you have; but thankful, that you have: proud can I never be of what I hate; but thankful even for hate, that is meant as love’. Here she is saying that her father allows her to love but the love is based on ‘hate’.
Lord Capulet shows the nature of patriarchy when he says, ‘Speak not, reply not, do not answer me; my fingers itch’. He is saying to his own daughter that when she was born he was not blessed, but cursed. This shows that when she stands up to patriarchy she is looked at as evil and corrupted; almost as if she was against the will of God. Lady Capulet at this time says nothing until Lord Capulet gets violent, she tries to pull him off of Juliet as does the nurse but he just strikes his own wife to the ground feeling no shame about it. When he leaves in rage, Juliet asks for help and forgiveness from her mother, but she just says that Juliet is no daughter of mine. This showing that there are also women against women in this patriarchal society.
Verona was a place which was used to death, violence and power. Romeo and Juliet’s suicide exposes and challenges the foundations of the patriarchal society they were introduced to when they were born. When he saw Juliet he killed himself in the name of ‘love’. Juliet’s suicide has great representative value in the sense that she uses a ‘dagger’ to kill herself. This weapon has been shown to be only used by men, so when she used it on herself it showed masculinity and power. She takes control over her own life for once as uses that power to kill her self to be with the one she loves. When he saw Juliet apparently dead he took his own life. This showed that a woman could control the destiny of a man which was fundamentally against the patriarchal society of Verona.