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How Shakespeare’s Use Of Universal Themes Still Manages To Engage Modern Audiences

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William Shakespeares’ play Romeo and Juliet continues to engage audiences over 400 years after its release through the use of timeless universal themes. Shakespeare was born in 16th-century England. Living through the reformation and the renaissance period influenced Shakespeare’s’ writing was influenced greatly by his surroundings. The gender roles portrayed in Romeo and Juliet, whilst being that of a blatantly patriarchal society, are still relevant to modern audiences. Modern society, though less blatant, is still a predominantly patriarchal society. The struggles experienced by the female characters in Romeo and Juliet can still be related to by modern audiences. The theme of revenge is omnipresent throughout the whole play. Revenge will forever be an important theme as it teaches audiences that revenge isn’t always as smart as it may seem in the heat of the moment.

The theme of gender roles is a common one amongst William Shakespeare’s plays. Whilst Shakespeare’s plays reflect a less gender developed society there is still a lot of credibility behind the portrayal of women in his plays, especially in Romeo and Juliet. Throughout Romeo and Juliet, the women are often depicted as the weaker sex, and whilst society today is much more respectful and strives to be an equal society, many women relate to the female characters of Romeo and Juliet because even though the men that lead Western countries to claim they are not sexist and appear to believe in an entirely equal world, there is still prevalent underlying sexism in the modern world. This omnipresent sexism in both Romeo and Juliet’s world and the world of the female audience capture, not just the attention of female audience members, but of all audiences. During a conversation between Gregory and Sampson, two servants of the house of capulet, many sexist comments are made. During this conversion Sampson proclaims; “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.”.

The use of ambiguity during this quote is seen in the violent and sexual reference made towards the women of the Montague house, whilst not stating outright that he would enjoy raping the women of the Montague house, the reference is clear. Shakespeare’s use of ambiguity is possibly a quiet nod to the entirely biased gender roles throughout Romeo and Juliet. Throughout the discussion of the marriage between Paris and Juliet, Paris adds; “Younger than she are happy mothers made.” This quote acknowledges the context in which Romeo and Juliet was written, these two men brazenly talking about a young girls’, not only romantic life but also her sexuality. The quote showcases the fact that Juliet would have had no opinion that would be heard on the subject of her marriage and would not have had the luxury that many women today have of being able to choose if and when they would like to have children. Whilst many may believe that Romeo and Juliet is an archaic story that depicts an ancient society, the gender roles that Shakespeare depicts during Romeo and Juliet will forever affect women whilst we live in an unequal society. This depiction of gender roles helps to keep Romeo and Juliet relevant and interesting to all modern audiences by relating to many female audience members.

Revenge will forever be an ingrained ritual practiced in society. The theme of revenge is popular and frequently used in many of Shakespeare’s plays. Although he seems to encourage revenge in the moment, the overall tone regarding revenge in Romeo and Juliet shows that Shakespeare is of a negative opinion regarding revenge. From the beginning of the play, the two houses of Capulet and Montague are seen to be stuck in a vicious cycle of revenge, that only escalates throughout the play. During the death scene of both Mercutio and Tybalt Romeo proclaims;

“Either thou, or I, or both, must go with him.”

The use of foreshadowing in this quote is seen as Romeo is insisting that either himself or Tybalt must die and join Mercutio as an act of vengeance. The idea that revenge is a necessity, demonstrated by many of the characters in Romeo and Juliet creates an idealistic belief that two wrongs form a right adopted by everyone in the world of Romeo and Juliet. The idea of revenge is one that has been popular for hundreds of years in popular culture, the ideas surrounding revenge in Romeo and Juliet are still relevant to a modern audience as revenge is a theme that will forever be ingrained in popular culture. During a conversation between Juliet and Lady Capulet surrounding the murder of Tybalt Lady Capulet consoles Juliet by stating;

“We will have vengeance for it, fear thou not.

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Then weep no more. I’ll send to one in Mantua,

Where that same banished runagate doth live,

Shall give him such an unaccustomed dram,

That he shall soon keep Tybalt company;

And then I hope thou wilt be satisfied.”

The ambiguity used in this quote is seen where Lady Capulet insinuates that she will be sending poison to Romeo in Mantua to get vengeance for Tybalt’s death. The need for revenge is once again a theme that sways the plot of the play. The constant message relayed regarding revenge stays the same. The overarching view toward revenge in Romeo and Juliet is that it triggers an immediate relief for issues that lack an obvious solution, but overall it damages more than it fixes. The use of revenge in Romeo and Juliet continues to capture modern audiences as it will never become an irrelevant topic. For as long as the human race continues to exist and human nature sways emotions every modern audience will relate to the theme of revenge, whether their opinion on the subject is negative or positive.

William Shakespeare continues to capture the minds and hearts of modern audiences throughout generations by introducing universal themes that audiences will forever relate to. The portrayal of women and gender roles in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet continues to capture audience members of all genders forcing the audience to accept that society has not come as far as it claims, as well as gives the audience a perspective of how far society has come. Shakespeare’s knowledge of the consequences of revenge is often depicted in Romeo and Juliet. The timeless theme of revenge will be relevant to modern audiences for as long as human emotion stays the basis of human reactions. As long as William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet remains an iconic play it will continue to captivate and teach modern audiences lessons on a range of topics, including but certainly not limited to, Revenge and Gender Roles.

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How Shakespeare’s Use Of Universal Themes Still Manages To Engage Modern Audiences. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 10, 2023, from
“How Shakespeare’s Use Of Universal Themes Still Manages To Engage Modern Audiences.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
How Shakespeare’s Use Of Universal Themes Still Manages To Engage Modern Audiences. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 10 Jun. 2023].
How Shakespeare’s Use Of Universal Themes Still Manages To Engage Modern Audiences [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Feb 17 [cited 2023 Jun 10]. Available from:
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