In the 16th century a patriarchal society, where men dominated women, meant that women had very little say in marriages. When Shakespeare first introduced ‘Romeo and Juliet’ for the first time their type of relationship was unheard of and controversial. Arranged marriages were very common at the time depending on your social status and love had no meaning. Women had no rights and were viewed as the ‘property’ of the husband. Men also had no respect for women and often raided other villages for wives.
At the time marrying at the age of 12 appeared to be normal, however now is frowned at, yet viewing this from an undeveloped, cultural country would still appear to be normal. Shakespeare presented relationships by the way the characters interacted, using dramatic devices and also further enhanced it with the backdrop feud. The males in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ are usually portrayed as aggressive, competitive and violent; on the other hand women being the weaker and subordinate sex are dominated by the male.
‘Tis true; and therefore women being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall;” From this scene you can see that women are being seen as weak and are not worth the males time so will be pushed up against the wall. Women are perceived as the males ‘property’ and are expected to listen to them without question. Also the males are the more dominant gender throughout the play. Shakespeare was presenting the play as it was; the stereotypical image of men being boisterous and women who had no right or owned anything.
Shakespeare portrayed Romeo and Juliet as equal instead of the stereotypical imbalance of equality of the 16th century. At the beginning of the play you can see a disheartened Romeo. He thinks he has fallen in love with Rosaline when in actual fact he hasn’t. “Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate! ” Romeo is depicted as a ‘typical Petrarchan lover’ where he loves Rosaline but she doesn’t love him back because she wanted to remain a celibate. Romeo does not actually love Rosaline as when he later meets Juliet he forgets Rosaline very quickly and shows a more passionate love towards Juliet.
Shakespeare emphasises Romeo’s love by using an oxymoron, which creates a paradoxical image in the readers mind confusing them and generates a new concept or meaning. Romeo’s relationship with Juliet was love at first sight. Their love for each other was passionate instead of being forced like it usually was at the time. “If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this”. The social context at the time meant that love marriage wasn’t common however Romeo and Juliet immediately fall in love when they first meet each other.
Juliet’s love for Romeo is innocent as she is inexperienced in the topic of love, whereas Romeo falls in and out of love easily and immediately wants to marry her. Romeo compares Juliet to a holy shrine and offers his lips as pilgrims to kiss her. Here, Shakespeare is using religious imagery to show that their love for each other is pure and good. He is also subverting the gender roles, undermining the established social context, where the male is dominant but here Juliet is the more dominant character.
The famous balcony scene from ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is one of the most romantic scenes in the play. “It is the east and Juliet is the sun! Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon”. Here Romeo is comparing Juliet to a sun; he is saying that she is a bright angel and more beautiful than the moon. Previously Juliet was compared to a shrine and now to a sun portraying how Romeo feels for Juliet and how what position he has for Juliet in his heart. Furthermore, Shakespeare is using a metaphor to portray that everything revolves around Juliet and she is a life-force.
Again, Shakespeare is subverting the gender roles; he is making Juliet the powerful character. You can see this by the positioning of Romeo, on the ground, and Juliet higher up than him, in the balcony, symbolising she is more dominant. Further proof of this is Juliet making daring actions, such as asking Romeo to marry her. To conclude the significant thing I notice is the context during which the play was written. It was ground-breaking in the sense of how Shakespeare presented relationships and gender roles and portrayed them so realistically.
It was rare for such a play to be released with such passionate romance. Personally, this play has highlighted how lucky we are in the modern society, to be able to have the freedom to fall in love with who we want. However, the fact remains that this still is an on-going problem in third world countries where they are retaining the tradition of arranged marriages. So this cannot come as a shock because gender stereotypes still exist in cultural families, even though we are unaware of it living in a developed modern society.