Romeo and Juliet Essay
Although many of Shakespeare’s plays have remarkably strong female characters and many a time gender roles are seen to be inverted in his plays, William Shakespeare, by today’s standards, does not reflect feministic values, but there are a few exceptions created. The 1976 film Private Romeo has some similarities and differences with the iconic play Romeo and Juliet when analyzed with the lens of gender roles.
In the play Romeo and Juliet, men in Verona, Italy, the setting of the play, are shown to be agents of power, sexual authority, subjugation, and general political authority. Sampson, a Capulet’s servant remarks in Act 1, Scene 1, lines 15-18, “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.” These phallocentric lines are indicative of the hegemony of males in the society of the play and go on to display that women are primarily considered sexual beings. Likewise, Sampson once again declares, “Draw, if you be man,” in Act 1, Scene 1, line 62. This small line serves as a micro for the macro collective conscious of this play that appears to be that the ideas of masculinity are completely fixed so much so that the mere act of being reluctant to be angry drags the gender of man in question in the play. Additionally, Romeo’s friend, Mercutio, in Act 1, Scene 4, lines 27-28, says, “If love be rough with you, be rough with love; / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.” This line is indicative of the societal norm that a man ought to be strong enough to deal with sentiments in a violent way suggesting that man is above the weaknesses of sentiments, unlike woman. Likewise, there are many recurring themes in the movie Private Romeo that represent that the larger parts of the society believe in the hegemonic ideas of masculinity. For instance, the very setting of the movie in a male cadet college, their daily routines and exercises represent the essence of this idea.
In the play, Romeo goes against the conventions of Verona, as depicted by Shakespeare. He does not wholly abide by the hegemonic masculine strength defined by the patriarchs of the society and family. Romeo defies the gender roles to an extent by succumbing to feelings and the associated toll generated. Romeo is a classical romantic as his thoughts are persistently filled with love and desires and lack the sort of “manliness” prevalent in most of the city. He is charmed by love twice and does not turn away or feel humiliated when his friends ridicule him for harnessing such feelings. Many critics go on to suggest that his character is weakened in his scenes with Juliet as she appears to be the stronger one, mainly judged as per emotional maturity. He places himself below his lover in an attempt to woo her and goes into submission. During the famous balcony scene in Act 2, Scene 2, lines 26-28, Romeo says, “O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art / As glorious to this night, being o’ver my head, / As a winged messenger of heaven.” No man of Verona in the play would have willingly let down his stature, but Romeo does so by raising his lover on a higher plane and value. He also makes a vow that is a digression from the conventional masculinity found in the play as he says to Juliet in the same scene, lines 50-51, “Call me but love, and I’ll be baptiz’d; / Henceforth I never will be Romeo.” The act of suggesting to give up his name for his lover is unconventional even by today’s standards and hence Romeo serves as a digression to the gender roles in the play. Likewise, the leading role of Romeo in the movie is also attributed with the vulnerable quality of embracing his feeling towards another man and be unashamed of being gay. Hence, there are similarities to be found in the attachment both the Romeo from the play and the Romeo from the movie have with their inner feelings and how dedicated both of them are to pursue them. However, the movie Romeo, does not depict the themes of lowering his own stature for Juliet, yet typical gender role seems to be inverted, or at least altered to an extent.
The females in the play in the city of Verona are almost considered second class citizens, suppressed by patriarchal regimes and households that quench their inner desires and control their lives absolutely. They are primarily considered a weaker sex, and hence, their opinions are not paid heed to. They are burdened by the traditions of pleasing their male family members, such as satisfying their parents, husbands, and bearing offspring. In this play, Lady Capulet, Juliet’s mother, exemplifies this image in Act 1, Scene 4, lines 70-72, as she says, “Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, / Are already made mothers. By my count, / I was your mother much upon these years”. This depicts the social burden women bear of being there for everyone and the cost of having no identity and life for their own selves.A difference in the play version and the movie version is that there are no female characters in the movie. But it is important to point out that all female characters were played by men in Shakespeare’s time and in this version too, a man is playing Juliet. Gender roles of female characters are layered with complexities in both instances.
Like Romeo, Juliet too deviates from the traditional female roles found in the play. Juliet disobeys the societal roles imposed on women. For instance, when Juliet sees Romeo at her Father’s party for the first time, she does not shy away from indulging in flirtations with Romeo, unlike the role assigned to an unmarried girl in the play’s social setting. She is instead brave and bold and even allows Romeo to kiss her. Similarly, there are many other instances where Juliet exemplifies opposite gender roles. She is shown to be the dominant one in her relationship with Romeo as during the balcony scene in Act 2, Scene 2, lines 143-144, she mentions, “If that thy bent of love be honorable, / Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow.” These lines indicate that Juliet is the one wearing pants and is outward enough to initiate the marriage plans with Romeo, despite knowing the intensity of the family feuds between their houses, Capulets, and Montagues. Moreover, Juliet is very open about her desires as she states in Act 3, Scene 2, lines 26-28, “O, I have bought the mansion of love, / But not possess’d it, and though I am sold, / Not yet enjoy’d. So tedious is this day”. Additionally, Juliet is an absolute rebel who goes against her parents’ orders and rebels against marrying Paris. On the other hand, Romeo too is comfortable with Juliet handling the business on her own and having her air of authority. Hence their characters defy conventional standards of prescribed gender roles.It is essential to note that although there are no females in the movie, the gender pronouns remain the same in the movie. So, despite the fact that Juliet in the movie is actually a male, the character is still given feminine pronoun. This act in itself is a diversion from the norm. Further, like Juliet in the play questions the family divide, the Juliet in the movie questions the gender divide in the sense that a “she”, despite being a male, can survive in a cadet college. Additionally, the movie also attempts to dethrone the stigma attached with gay relationships by calibrating two men in a relationship like Shakespeare attempted to demonstrate the power of star-crosses lovers in the face of political divisions.
All in all, it can be said that majority of the play’s characters conform to the assigned gender roles of being a man and being a woman in Verona. They succumb to societal values and make sexist remarks and supplement the patriarchy. While the movie Private Romeo is quite different in that regard, it has some similarities. The two main heroes of the play, Romeo and Juliet, defy the societal norm in the world of the play and movie. They go on a different stream and find their own personalities by sidelining the gender roles. Hence, it can be concluded that the play and the movie might be seemingly very different but do share some sort of common grounds with respect to their depiction of gender roles.