The Role Patriarchy Plays in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet Stephen Evans’ “Study guide for Romeo and Juliet” quotes Anthony Fletcher’s definition of patriarchy as: “the institutionalised male dominance over women and children in the family and the subordination of women in society in general (xv)” (Evans, 4) Looking at this definition, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet displays examples of “patriarchy” in many ways. While Fletcher’s definition focuses on women and children there can be an argument that, from cradle to grave, all members of Verona’s society are subject to the male-dominated patriarchy in one form or another.
By studying the familial structure of the major players, the social roles of the populace, the hierarchical structure of leadership, and the interactions between each, the motif is a very dominate one. Shakespeare’s representation of patriarchy in the Capulet family is a major example of Fletcher’s meaning. Women are dependent on the will of men, an example is Juliet’s nurse’s advising her to cast aside her marriage to exiled Romeo: “Your first is dead, / or ’twere as good he were. / As living here and you no use of him. ” (4. 0. 225-226).
Evans quotes Russ McDonald as saying, “Juliet’s father at first mouths enlightened sentiments about needing his daughter’s consent before he agrees to her marriage to Paris… ” (5). It is a show of concern for her age and her desires that give an appearance of consideration of his daughter. Yet this concern is belied and the true nature of Lord Capulet’s familial structure overtakes any feelings of those under his authority. Lord Capulet expects gratitude from Juliet when he enters the room after Lady Capulet informs Juliet of his decision in her marrying. Doth she not count her blessed, / Unworthy as she is, / that we have wrought” (3. 5, 142-144), Lord Capulet spits out in anger. If Juliet’s desires do not differ with his wishes, his wrath is held at bay. In Simply Shakespeare, Toby Widdicombe lists the major characteristics of tragedies. Widdicomb states that: “The tragedies focus on the trials of one extraordinary man against the back drop of society” (137). While Widdicomb points out that Romeo and Juliet are “paired protagonists” (Widdicomb, 137). Juliet’s actions can be looked at in this light.
She is fighting against the expectations of society. This is a rarity in the Capulet house. He mother bows to her father’s will, and Juliet’s dishonoring Lord Capulet’s will is not an example set by Lady Capulet. In her defiance of her father is her raging and struggle against the norm and constraints of society’s dictates on women. She has followed her heart and must face the consequences, her father’s wrath for not marrying Paris, or God’s wrath by marrying Paris while still married to Romeo. She holds hot fury against her nurse’s advice to marry Paris because Romeo is banished. Ancient damnation! / 0 most wicked fiend! / Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue” (4. 1. 236-238). In the fourth act, Lord Capulet proceeds to threaten to disown Juliet when she refuses to marry Count Paris. “Graze where you will, you shall not house with me! / … / I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee/ Nor what is mine shall never do thee good… ” (3. 5. 189, 194-195). Patriarchy does not mean that they are necessarily cold displacement of care for those under it, and an argument can be made that Lord Capulet is looking after Juliet’s best interest.
He believes her depression, and despondency involves the mourning of her cousin Tybalt. A misunderstanding of the nature of her emotions, even if his belief of the root is true, can show the disconnect of the patriarch and those below him. The advantages of a marriage to Count Paris are many. These advantages will ensure that Juliet have care, rise in social status, and distract her from Tybalt’s death. While the marriage will tie the Capulet house to the Prince, and soothe over the ill will that Tybalt’s killing of Mercutio, it is not the sole reason for the marriage.
All Juliet’s pronouncements, begging, tears, and anger will not change his mind. The only way Juliet can escape the ruling thumb of society is in death as she states to her nurse, “If all else fail, myself have power to die. ” (4. 0. 243). To set her plan in motion Juliet decries her defiance, “… learnt me to repent sin / of disobedient opposition / … /By holy Laurence to fall prostrate here / To beg your pardon. / [She kneels down. )” (4. 2. 18,19-20). For Verona, the Bible is clear, women must submit to the rule of the head of the house, and that head is male.
On her knees, she gives the illusion of what her father what he expects, complete subjection to his will. “Pardon, I beseech you. / Henceforward I am ever ruled by you. ” (4. 2. 23-24). For the citizen women of Romeo and Juliet life is precarious. This is a male dominate society, and their views that women are they are inherently weak. “… women, being the weaker / vessels, are ever thrust to the wall;” (1. 1. 14-15). Even in the serving class, men look at women, noble or not, as beneath them. “Evans’ Study Guide of Romeo and Juliet” speaks of the role that the Bible lays out for women, obedient, chaste, and silent.
With threats of rape and violence against all Montague women who cross their paths, “… therefore I will push Mon- / tague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall. / … /l will be civil with the maids- I will / cut off their heads. /… / or their maidenheads… ” (1. 1. 15-16, 20,23). The value of an unmarried woman is who chasteness. It is in this that determines her marriage and future protection. Not only is this a threat of violence, using sex as a weapon physically, this is a threat of cutting off their futures.
The simple act of walking the street without protection is threating, and Juliet’s nurse’s clandestine errand to speak to the friar for Juliet is given more value at the risk she is taking. Shakespeare shows Romeo shaking off these traditional views on women’s place in his balcony scene. He places Romeo below Juliet’s feet. Romeo as a man is the head, yet here he is below her beseeching her instead of commanding her. For Romeo, Juliet has value and her love adds value to him. Like Juliet’s defiance of her father, Romeo is fighting the view that society holds of how women should be viewed.
Instead of chattel, they are there beings that have value in their self. Romeo is shaking off and defying his own role in the patriarchy. Just as Juliet must follow her father, he must follow his own. By wooing and later marrying Juliet, he is denying his father’s obligation to obtaining a match for him. Marriage is alliances meant to forge power and security. Yet the true power lies even higher in rank, Prince Escalus. Ultimately, the power behind patriarchal society is the following of the decree of the patriarch. His will is law.
When the decree is ignored, it is the patriarch’s duty to set an example in the treatment of the perpetrator. In Act 1, Prince Escalus the fighting between the two houses is expressly forbidden by Prince Escalus. This decree demands the death of those who break it. “If ever you disturb our streets again, / Your lives shall pay the forfeit of peace” (1. 1. 91-92). When in grief over Mercutio’s death, Romeo kills Tybalt, it is in Prince Escalus’ power to banish Romeo from the city. As the head of Verona’s patriarchy, the Prince can change his decree if it is his will.
Mercutio is of Prince Escalus bloodline and his death is an affront to his authority and the class system within Verona. It is in the fact that Romeo committed his act against the Prince’s will by avenging the death of ruling class blood that saves Romeo from death. As the Capulet’s demand Romeo’s death, Prince Escalus’s responds, “Romeo slew him; he slew Mercutio:/ Who now the price of his dear blood doth owe? ” (3. 2. 180-181). Prince Escalus punishes both the families with hefty fines for their actions. In Verona, every resident plays a role in the patriarchy.
A hierarchal society that is based on the rule of the Prince, with the authority over all houses in the Lords underneath his rule. Within the Lords houses, the Lords rule over his servants and retainers. The power of the Prince and the nobility is over the citizens within. Males, females, and children have a place, and everyone must be in their place. It is Romeo’s banishment that shows that there is more to patriarchy than Fletcher’s definition. Political patriarchy has the top authority. As Prince Escalus demonstrates this ultimate authority, “It will be deaf to pleading and excuses.
Nor tears nor prayers shall purchase out abuses;” (3. 2. 185-187, 190-191). Even at the end, this power is still thriving. The Prince recognizes that it is his own failing as the head of Verona that has brought them all to this point, “And I for winking at your discords, too/ Have lost a race of kinsmen. All are punished. ” (5. 3. 294-295). Prince Escalus is acknowledging that ultimate patriarch, God, has punished him for his failure by the loss of his kinsmen. As families mourn the loss of three nobles in the recklessness of youthful passion, Prince Escalus declares, “Some shall be pardoned, and some punished— “(5. 3. 308).