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Romeo and Juliet- Treatment of Women essay

Updated on April 22, 2016

In Elizabethan times women were treated as lower class citizens. Because in Elizabethan times religion was considered very important, many people used the bible to justify their treatment of womenEven religious leaders thought of women as being not as good as men, Protestant leader John Knox said "women in here greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man." This shows that everybody treated women as worse than men. In the play Capulet even treated his daughter as somebody that should do as he says. He orders her around and doesn't give her a choice, " get thee," he says showing that he is telling her what to do. Even the minor characters consider women inferior, as Samson says" women,being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall." Almost All of the male characters in the play abuse their power as men to boss the women around or speak of them as inferior to men.

Juliet’s father sees her as his property and wants her to marry Paris. It's shown in then play when he says"I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday,
Or never after look me in the face"This shows that Capulet is angry and wants Juliet to obey him. He even threatens to disown her ' and or never after look me in the face' this shows how strongly people thought that a daughter must obey their father.‘Get thee’ shows that he is ordering Juliet; he does not give her a choice.This was typical of Elizabethan times as fathers arranged for their daughters to be married at a young age, like Juliet was in the play. And for one to rebel in such a Manor would be strange and shocking.In modern times most women are given a choice in marriage.However in Elizabethan times it was perfectly normal to arrange a marriage for your daughter. An Elizabethan audience would probably side with capulet at this point whilst a modern perspective on the scene would be shocking to think about to most.

When it came to marriage, most upper class women were married before they were even 15 years old. In the play, Juliet was not even 14 years old; even Capulet thinks that Juliet is too young to marry. Paris persuades him otherwise.'CAPULET: My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,Let two more summers wither in their pride, Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride. PARIS : Younger than she are happy mothers made.'

In this conversation between Paris and Capulet, Paris manages to convince Capulet to let him marry Juliet. Despite Capulet’s protests, Paris argues that girls even younger than Juliet are already married with children. By saying this he makes Capulet think about how he had married his wife when she was even younger than Juliet. Paris was trying to get across that he was more similar to Capulet than he realised. Capulet is being over protective of his daughter,at least in the times of the play. When capulet calls Juliet his "child" he is showing that he still thinks of her as an innocent kid but Paris says that"younger than she are happy mothers made" which shows that if he were to marry her then she would become a mother and he would treat her badly as mothers were usually treated back then. She would just be expected to give Paris children . When Paris contradicts Capulet by saying " mother" it shows that he thinks of her much differently than Capulet thinks of his " child". These are binary opposites showing that Capulet is only letting Juliet marry him because of his wealth and social status. In Elizabethan times the life expectancy was not as long as it is today so it was not unusual for women as young as 10 to be married, maybe even with kids by this age. With Juliet being fourteen in the play, it would be normal for a girl like her to already be married. In this scene Capulet actually shows himself to be an honourable man by defending his daughter from Paris' advances. It would be considered strange to an Elizabethan audience but to a modern audience it makes you respect him.

Other characters treat women as below men, Sampson (a minor character) considers women to be inferior to men. He shows this when he says‘True; and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall.’ This shows that men did not think of women as equals because he thinks that they are pushed to the side of society. The words "ever thrust" shows that all men and superior to all women, or at least this is what he believes, it shows that he believes because it has happened throughout history then it should happen then. This was a fairly normal view for the time as women were seen as property to men,to be passed down from father to husband. The fact that Sampson is just a minor character in the play shows that his views would more than likely be normal and representative of most men of the time. The thought of inequality is unimaginable in the modern world but to an Elizabethan audience, it was perfectly normal for women to be classed as second class citizens.

Women were blamed for the weaknesses of the men and an instance of this in the play is when Romeo talks about Mercutio’s death and blames Juliet for making him unable to fight. He thinks that Juliet has 'softened' him making him weaker "This gentleman, the prince's near ally, My very friend, hath got his mortal hurt In my behalf; my reputation stain'd With Tybalt's slander,--Tybalt, that an hour Hath been my kinsman! O sweet Juliet, Thy beauty hath made me effeminate And in my temper soften'd valour's steel! " Romeo sees his love for Juliet as making him like a woman i.e. weak and lacking in bravery. The word 'effeminate means that Romeo is comparing his weakness and lack of bravery to that of a woman. In the Elizabethan times, the audience would have likely agreed that Romeo was weak and 'woman-like' but a modern audience would see it as being a compassionate person.

The Nurse tells Friar Lawrence that Romeo is acting like Juliet.O, he is even in my mistress' case,Just in her case! O woful sympathy!Piteous predicament! Even so lies she,Blubbering and weeping, weeping and blubbering.Stand up, stand up; stand, and you be a man:For Juliet's sake, for her sake, rise and stand; She says "be a man" because men were meant to be the stronger sex and to show weakness was 'woman-like'.‘ O, he is even in my mistress' case’ means that Romeo is sobbing uncontrollably like Juliet.The nurse says ‘Be a man’ because In Elizabethan times men were considered stronger so to be a man meant to stop crying and be strong. In Elizabethan times men were considered so to be a man meant to stop crying and be strong.Hold thy desperate hand:Art thou a man? thy form cries out thou art:Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denoteThe unreasonable fury of a beast:Unseemly woman in a seeming man! Or ill-beseeming beast in seeming both! Friar Lawrence is calling Romeo a girl because of the way he is acting about Juliet. ‘Thy tears are womanish' means that to show tears is to act like a woman. Being like a woman is used as an insult by Friar Lawrence. This reinforces the idea of them as the weaker sex in Elizabethan society.

Friar Lawrence is insulting Romeo because of his behaviour.Hold thy desperate hand:Art thou a man? thy form cries out thou art:Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote The unreasonable fury of a beast:Unseemly woman in a seeming man!Or ill-beseeming beast in seeming both! Friar Lawrence is calling Romeo a girl because of the way he is acting about Juliet.‘Thy tears are womanish’ and ‘Unseemly woman in a seeming man!’ Means that romeo's tears are that of a woman's.Friar Lawrence is saying that he looks like a man but he cries like a woman.Being like a woman is used as an insult by Friar Lawrence. This reinforces the idea of them as the weaker sex in Elizabethan society.

Capulet is clear about the fact that Juliet will not question his decision. This is shown in his conversation with Paris.‘Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender of my child’s love:I think she will be ruled in all aspects by me; nay, more, I doubt it not.’ And When he is talking to Juliet ‘She shall be married to this noble earl.’ Capulet is confident that Juliet will do as he says. He is certain that he will make her marry Paris. "She will be ruled " shows that Capulet has complete power over Juliet. He says "Ruled" to show that there will be no question, he is showing that he will not ask Juliet to marry Paris,He will tell her to marry Paris. In the Elizabethan era, women were expected to obey their fathers without question because they were merely the fathers possession until they were married. The idea that Juliet would disobey her father would be almost unthinkable to an Elizabethan audience.

Capulet attacks Juliet for failing to obey his orders. ‘Hang thee, young baggage! disobedient wretch! ...Speak not, reply not, do not answer me;’ Capulet is so enraged by Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris that he turns to insulting her. He refuses to negotiate with her or have any conversation on the matter. When Capulet says " disobedient wretch!"it shows that he expects her to do as he says so when she doesn't, he gets mad because he has never been disobeyed before.At least not from a woman. Daughters were seen as the possession of the father in Elizabethan times. They were expected to fulfil their father’s wishes and were often subjected to arranged marriages.

Friar Lawrence believes that men only fall in love with women because they admire their looks. ‘Young men’s love then lies. Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.’This mean he thinks that men don’t really love with their ‘hearts’ but judge women on a superficial level for the way that they look.The word "eyes" shows that all men would have to do is find a girl that they think looks nice. They could marry them without even getting to know them like Paris tries to do in the play. With men being the stronger sex, women's opinions were not taken into account in marriage so men could just ask the father for the daughters hand in marriage. Women were often admired due to the traditions of courtly love without necessarily having their personality taken into account.

Overall in Romeo and Juliet women have minor roles in the society. They didn't have any authority and were never really allowed to speak their minds. In the play, they did not play a big part and people were shocked when Juliet acted out and did her own thing.


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