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Romeo and Juliet – Exploring the theme of Masculinity

Shakespeare presents the theme of masculinity in the play Romeo and Juliet in both stereotypical and non-stereotypical ways. In act 1 we are introduced to Romeo, the main protagonist, who subverts expectations of masculinity. Lord Capulet later in the play, in Act 4 upholds an audience’s patriarchal views of males and Tybalt again reinforces both throughout, but especially in Act 3, an audience’s stereotype of a fiery, fighter, which is something expected by society (perhaps wrongfully) of a strong masculine figure. The extract deals with Romeo, Tybalt and Lord Capulet showing multiple sides of masculinity. 

Romeo shows his romantic side when he first meets Juliet at the ball with the metaphor “She doth teach the torches to burn bright” showing he is dazzled, amazed and delighted by his first sight of Juliet. This gives an insight into his non-stereotypical masculine traits as he is happy to express himself in an over – the – top exaggerated way to show the audience how loving he is and how easily he falls in love “Did my heart fall in love till now?” with this question showing that he immediately rejects Rosalind, who has been the cause of his non-masculine anguish, “tears augment the morning dew” which shows how fickle and changeable he is. Tybalt in contrast is enraged when he realises that a Montague has gate=crashed the party and immediately wants to fight, reinforcing how masculinity was seen “Fetch me my rapier, boy” is very commanding in the tone and shows that he expects to be obeyed. He also uses hyperbolic language when discussing this with Lord Capulet as he calls Romeo “that villain Romeo” and then repeats the insult. Tybalt is incensed by Lord Capulet’s refusal to allow him to fight there and then but Capulet in this instance shows restraint “let him alone;” showing he doesn’t always conform to his earlier fiery nature. In Act 1, when the fighting and civil unrest was taking place on the streets of Verona, Capulet was keen to get involved “Give me my longsword, ho” showing he was just as fiery as Tybalt, but that he understood the consequences more. 

Further in the play, in Act 3, we are again introduced to contrasting views of masculinity. Shakespeare presents this pivotal scene to perhaps act as a catalyst for the tragic ending. Romeo killing Tybalt was never going to have a happy ending. Shakespeare presents this pivotal scene as a catalyst for the tragic ending. Although he tried to keep the peace “the reason I do love thee” pacifying Tybalt while enraging Mercutio, leading to Mercutio’s death and prophetic dying statement “a plague both your houses” we understand that this scene is very important as Romeo is banished and Tybalt dies. When Mercutio uses the biblical reference “plague” we see the foreshadowing of certain death, again for both the Capulets and Montagues; it is as the prologue states an “ancient grudge” which will lead to the “star cross’d lovers” killing themselves “take their lives”. Shakespeare could have been reflecting on a society where there was no law. The Prince as the main hierarchal character represents the law, but it appears with the strong opposing sides being constantly engaged in a civil war, this peace is unsteady and difficult to keep, showing that even the masculine force of the law in this case is inefficient.

 Patriarchy is also another way in which masculinity manifests itself. Lord Capulet uses a range of horrific insults towards Juliet, when she disobeys him: “tallow face”, “hang thee”, “young baggage” and “drag thee on a hurdle” showing his unquestionable insistence on his authority and subservience from his daughter. She disobeys him as she feels marrying Paris, who is a good match “a man of wax” would be wrong, as she is already married to Romeo and this would make her a bigamist and would be a rejection of the church laws. However, this dramatic irony is vital to understanding Capulet’s anger as he is completely in the dark, so it is no wonder that his reaction is so antagonistic and stereotypically masculine. Juliet is behaving, in his eyes, irrationally, so he feels rightfully furious with her, even is his reaction is extreme. 

Ultimately, Shakespeare presents masculinity in a complex range of ways. Masculinity is shown in the way Shakespeare deliberately constructs characters as being more than just a one-dimensional character, showing the complexity of human nature and that flaws and downsides to being both overly emotional and overly aggressive. Perhaps, Shakespeare was commenting on the irony of applauding fighting over thinking and feeling deeply, to make the audience reflect on their own complex natures. 



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