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Is Shakespeare's portrayal of a patriarchal Veronaironic and subversive, or is the play an endorsement of male power?

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Is Shakespeare's portrayal of a patriarchal Verona ironic and subversive, or is the play an endorsement of male power? In order for me to answer the essay question the definition of patriarchy must first of all be established. The Oxford English dictionary describes patriarchy as 'a system of society or government ruled by men', suggesting that a patriarchal society is a society in which men completely dominate everything, such as political life and domestic life. Feminist critic Sasha Roberts supports this meaning as she defines patriarchy as 'a society dominated by men'. During the Elizabethan period, brawls and feuds were part of peoples' daily routine. Joan Homler views the constant quarrelling as 'a daily reality for the Elizabethans'. In 'Romeo and Juliet' the feud between the families of Montague and Capulet is a feud so ancient nobody recalls its genesis, and yet it is so widespread it threatens civic order. Although feuds were very common, they were mainly between factions of the aristocracy Sasha Roberts depicts this irrelevant-violence as a 'crucial facet of masculinity' and also suggests that a certain faction of the aristocracy used duelling 'as a means of asserting power'. Coppelia Kahn agrees with this patriarchal reason for feuding as she argues that feuding was 'the medium through which criteria of patriarchy oriented masculinity is voiced'. The feuding appears to symbolise the malevolent masculinity that pervades Elizabethan England. The historian Robert Lacey, in his book, 'Robert, Earl of Essex', contributes to this view saying: In such an age of naked brutality and casual bloodshed it was no coincidence that Shakespeare's plays should centre on personally inflicted acts of justice and revenge... ...read more.


Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee. (Act 3 Scene 3 lines 202-203) Lady Capulet appears to be commanding her daughter, just like Capulet always does, but this time to submit to a patriarchal society just like she herself has. Through this Lady Capulet has endorsed patriarchy when she aligns herself with him and his control over Juliet. It is impossible to establish a full conclusion as to whether Romeo's character is weak or strong and passive or assertive; this is due to various examples of Romeo being each of these characteristics. For instance Romeo is portrayed as a weak character is through his refusal to be aggressive and to quarrel with Tybalt. Another example of Romeo's weakness is witnessed during his feminine behaviour as he cries after being banished from Verona. Friar Laurence criticizes his effeminacy, saying 'Art thou a man? ...Thy tears are womanish'. (Act 3 Scene 3 lines 108&109) Friar Laurence reveals his attachment to patriarchal assumptions of feminine weakness and masculine mastery, and it is also clear that he believes, 'tears' are conceived to be a sign of emotional vulnerability which should be only found in women. Friar Laurence also describes Romeo as an 'ill-beseeming beast' (Act 3 Scene 3 line 112) that is 'unseemly woman in a seeming man' (Act 3 Scene 3 line 111). Friar Laurence is suggesting that Romeo is behaving in an inappropriate manner like a woman; whereas men, by contrast, should show more strength and assume their position as the head of the house. ...read more.


This treatment reflects the subordinate position of women during the Elizabethan period. An example of this is Capulet's commandment over his wife, '... go you to her ere you go to bed', this mirrors the reality that women had limited personal autonomy; their status and roles were subject to the tyranny of patriarchy and their rights were restricted, legally, socially and economically. Having analysed the question of patriarchy in Romeo and Juliet, I conclude that there is insufficient evidence to conclude whether Shakespeare's portrayal of a patriarchal Verona is endorsed or subverted and ridiculed. This is due to various examples which support both ideas; for example Romeo's effeminacy and Juliet's assertiveness can be viewed as Shakespeare subverting patriarchy; however the dominance of male characters such as Capulet, Tybalt, Mercutio, Benvolio and Sampson, and also the inclusion of a biblical term which hints that patriarchy is accepted can both be viewed as Shakespeare's support of patriarchy. In my opinion, another element which could affect how the audience views Shakespeare's portrayal of a patriarchal is the interpretation of Romeo and Juliet, for example I recently saw a production of Romeo and Juliet performed by an all-boys' school. In this production the homo-eroticism of the play is emphasized and there appeared to be an ironic and subverted depiction of a patriarchal Verona, due to an all male cast. Overall the ambiguity of Shakespeare's portray of Verona has made it very difficult to come to a definite conclusion therefore I end this essay by suggesting that Shakespeare's opinion of patriarchy, obtained from the Elizabethan society and reflected in his portray of Verona, is that of both subversion and endorsement. ...read more.

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