In William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, he demonstrates and critiques the strong gender norms that were present at the time in which the play is set in Verona, Italy. He portrays the role of men and women as they were at this time. Men are shown as having a sense of honour, masculinity and are the head of their households whereas women are seen as having to obey men and had a lack of independence due to men being superior. Shakespeare’s play suggests that gender norms were so strict at this time that you had to represent what society dictates upon genders properly or you’d be under severe judgement.
Throughout Romeo and Juliet there are many times in which men are depicted representing masculinity during Shakespeare’s time, such as Sampson directly saying to Gregory after both jokingly exchange lines on being tough “Tis true, and therefore women being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall. Therefore, I will push Montague’s men from the wall, and thrust his maids to the wall.” (1.1. 17-20.) This quote shows Sampson explaining how women are of lower class than men and showcases his masculinity in a brutal matter by saying he will conquer Montague’s men and rape his maids. Sampson then goes on to state “When I have fought with the men. I will be civil with the maids, I will cut off their heads… ay, the heads of the maids or their maidenheads.” (1.1. 24-28.) He continues to represent women as victims of violence and sexual assault due to male domination in an even more severe fashion by combining both violence and sexuality. In society and for both servants of Capulet, Sampson and Gregory, violence and sexually violation are seen as qualities of being a “man” at this time.
Besides men being forced to act certain ways, women are also required and demanded to portray a certain character being lesser than men. An example of women being demanded to follow orders by men is Capulet expressing to Paris “My child is yet a stranger in the world, she hath not seen the change in fourteen years; let two more summers wither in their pride, ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.” (1.2. 8-11) This quote by Capulet explains his thoughts regarding Juliet’s marriage. He suggests that she is inexperienced and needs to gain more knowledge in the world and is too young to be getting married. It shows that men have power over women, because Juliet wasn’t even participating in discussions of her marriage, which is primarily about her. Being that she is the daughter of a wealthy family, it’s for her family to decide when it’s the right time for her to be married without her input.
In Shakespeare’s play he challenged the stereotypical male gender norm by utilizing Romeo as a character that isn’t afraid to differ from other males by at times expressing emotions and acting “feminine” rather than acting overly masculine like others. An example in which men are being told to act man-like is when the Friar says “Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art; the unreasonable fury of a beast. Unseemly woman in a seeming man! And ill-beseeming beast in seeming both!” (3.3. 109-113.) His response to Romeo’s emotional breakdown implies that he’s unimpressed by Romeo for committing an act considered to be “womanish”, because it shows a sign of weakness to one’s self esteem, which is how a man in the society of Verona shouldn’t be acting. Later on, the Nurse also gives her judgement on Romeo by explaining “Oh, he is even in my mistress’ case, just in her case. O woeful sympathy, piteous predicament! Even so lies she, blubbering and weeping, weeping and blubbering. Stand up, stand up. Stand, an you be a man. For Juliet’s sake, for her sake, rise and stand.” (3.3 84-89.) The Nurse compares both Romeo and Juliet for acting the same way by “blubbering and weeping” and he should stand up if he’s really a man, because he’s acting as if he were a female. These two quotes by the Friar and the Nurse show that men were harshly judged for acting unmanly and without a sense of pride or confidence.
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare depicts the society in Verona as a time in which there were harsh gender norms that differentiated between men and women. Men were viewed as being rulers and having extreme power and differed from women, because they were seen as being of lower status and inferior to men. If men were seen acting like a female it was considered cowardly and soft. Although there were gender stereotypes present in Verona it didn’t change the abilities of both men and women at a time of judgement.