Examine the role of women in Romeo and Juliet, and explore the role of women in 16th century society

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Examine the role of women in Romeo and Juliet, and explore the role of women in 16th century society

Shakespeare wrote the play Romeo and Juliet in the 16th century, a time in which the role of women was not to be a person in their own rights, but to be a wife to their husband and a mother to their children. Women had a specific place in society, and they were expected to conform to expectations of their positions. Women were owned by their husbands, and had little to no freedom from their spouses or parents. In the play, Shakespeare depicts this situation through the character Juliet and her relationships and role in society, a young girl growing into the expectations of women at that time. The theme of this essay is to examine the role of women in 16th century society i.e. Juliet, and contrast it to the role of women today.

Juliet’s relationship with her parents is very different to what would be expected today. In the 16th century it was common for wealthy parents to employ a nurse to bring up their children, to be what a mother figure is like today. Juliet’s relationship is typical of the period in which the play was set: her affluent parents employed the Nurse (who had given birth at the same time as Lady Capulet) to care for their daughter when she was born, and “wean” her. A woman who had lost her own baby was an ideal source of milk for an upper-class infant whose mother preferred not to be troubled with doing her own nursing. This meant that Juliet had a stronger bond with her Nurse than with her biological mother, a customary situation in the Elizabethan era. However, this did not mean that the Nurse would have had any more say in Juliet’s upbringing than Capulet and Lady Capulet. Parents have a duty to make certain decisions for their children, as they did in the 16th century, however at that time a girl or women would barely ever make her own decisions, these would be made by her parents.

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In the play, Shakespeare places the character Juliet into a situation typical of the era: arranged marriage. At that time parents always chose a suitor for their daughter, regardless of her age or class. At this part in the play, Juliet’s mother enquires on her daughter’s “disposition to be married”. Here, Juliet behaves very uncharacteristically of the Elizabethan era, saying “It is an honour that I dream not of”, avoiding the proposal and demonstrating independent thinking.  Lady Capulet has already made the decision for her daughter, and expects her to react dutifully as a daughter at that time would. ...

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This student has consistently answered the question thoughtfully and with some skill. They show a clear and developed knowledge of both social and historical attitudes and knowledge of the play. ****