Study Guide

Romeo and Juliet Gender

By William Shakespeare

Gender

Act 1, Scene 1

GREGORY
I will frown as I pass by, and let them take it
as they list.

SAMPSON
Nay, as they dare. I will bite my thumb at
them, which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.
(1.1.41-44)

Oh no he did not: this is basically the equivalent of flipping someone the bird while sticking out your tongue. So, the Capulets are being insulting and childish all at the same time—but if the Montagues don't get offended (if they "bear" it), then they're the ones who'll be disgraced. Seems a little backward to us.

SAMPSON
My naked weapon is out. Quarrel, I will back
thee.
(1.1.34-35)

Physical violence is equated with forceful sexuality, and both are proof of manliness.

GREGORY [House of Capulet]
Do you quarrel, sir?

ABRAHAM [House of Montague]
Quarrel sir?  No, sir.

SAMPSON [House of Capulet]
But if you do, sir, I am for you. I serve as
good a man as you.

ABRAHAM [House of Montague]
No better.

SAMPSON [House of Capulet]
Well, sir.

GREGORY, aside to Sampson [House of Capulet]
Say 'better'; here comes
one of my master's kinsmen.

SAMPSON [House of Capulet]
Yes, better, sir.

ABRAHAM [House of Montague]
You lie.

SAMPSON [House of Capulet]
Draw, if you be men.—Gregory, remember
thy swashing blow.
(1.1.53-64)

This argument is about as mature as two kids in the schoolyard arguing about whose dad has a better job. Unfortunately, it's a lot more deadly.

SAMPSON
'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.

GREGORY
The quarrel is between our masters and us
their men.

SAMPSON
'Tis all one, I will show myself a tyrant.
when I have fought with the men, I will be civil
with the maids; I will cut off their heads.

GREGORY
The heads of the maids?

SAMPSON
Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads.
Take it in what sense thou wilt.
(1.1.16-27)

You know what's really manly? Rape and murder. Trust a bunch of hotheaded servants to define masculinity in a really brutal, antisocial way, right?

Act 1, Scene 2
Lord Capulet

CAPULET
[…]
My child is yet a stranger in the world.
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years,
Let two more summers wither in their pride
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

PARIS
Younger than she are happy mothers made.
(1.2.8-12)

You know what's missing from this friendly little negotiation about marrying off Juliet? Juliet herself. Women (or girls) from wealthy families in Shakespeare's time didn't usually get much say in who they married; marriages were made for the convenience of the families, not the individuals.

Act 1, Scene 5
Tybalt Capulet

TYBALT
This, by his voice, should be a Montague.—
Fetch me my rapier, boy.
                                         What dares the slave
Come hither covered with an antic face
To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?
Now, by the stock and honor of my kin,
To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin.
(1.5.61-67)

Tybalt's notion of honour is all bound up in the masculine code of revenge: if he doesn't fight back against the teeniest, tiniest little insult, then his reputation as a man is in danger. Notice how male reputations are all about what they do (fight) and women's are all about what they don't do (have sex)?

Act 2, Scene 4
Mercutio

MERCUTIO
Why, is not this better now than groaning
for love? now art thou sociable, now art thou
Romeo, now  art thou what thou art, by art as well as
by nature. For this driveling love is like a great
natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his
bauble in a hole.
(2.4.90-95)

Translation: being in love makes Romeo seem like a "natural," i.e. someone who's mentally challenged, and runs around trying to hide a toy. Hm. Is Mercutio a little jealous of Juliet? Is he worried that she's going to break up the band, Yoko-style?

Act 3, Scene 1
Romeo

ROMEO
This gentleman, the Prince's near ally,
My very friend, hath got his mortal hurt
In my behalf. My reputation stained
With Tybalt's slander—Tybalt, that an hour
Hath been my cousin! O sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty hath made me effeminate
And in my temper softened valor's steel!
(3.1.114-120)

Brain snack: for centuries, "effeminate" didn't just mean that you were acting like a woman; it meant that you liked women too much. And hanging around sucking up to women would make you womanly—just like catching cooties.

ROMEO
Alive in triumph, and Mercutio slain!
Away to heaven, respective lenity,
And fire-eyed fury be my conduct now.—
Now, Tybalt, take the 'villain' back again
That late thou gavest me, for Mercutio's soul
Is but a little way above our heads,
Staying for thine to keep him company.
Either thou or I, or both, must go with him.
(3.1.127-134)

Romeo reasserts his masculinity by fighting Tybalt. He also avenges the death of his best friend, which makes us wonder whether or not Juliet is the most important person in Romeo's life.

Act 3, Scene 3
Friar Laurence

FRIAR LAURENCE
Hold thy desperate hand!
Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art.
Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote
The unreasonable fury of a beast.
Unseemly woman in a seeming man,
Or ill-beseeming beast in seeming both!
(3.3.118-123)

In Romeo and Juliet, boys don't cry. Here, the Friar calls Romeo a "womanish" wimp for crying and threatening suicide. Give the guy a break, okay? Not only has he been in and out of love for the past month, he's just found out that he's going to be exiled without even getting to make love to his thirteen-year-old wife. (Heavy sarcasm.)

The Nurse

NURSE
O, 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 blubb'ring.—
Stand up, stand up. Stand an you be a man.
For Juliet's sake, for her sake, rise and stand.
(3.3.92-97)

Nice to know some things don't change (not): excessive "weeping and blubbering" was considered just as unmanly in the sixteenth century as it is today.

Act 3, Scene 5
Lord Capulet

CAPULET
Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church o' Thursday,
Or never after look me in the face.
Speak not; reply not; do not answer me. (3.5.166-169)

Juliet's father seriously flips out when Juliet refuses to marry Paris and treats his daughter like a piece of property that he can just give away to another man (Paris). So, what happened to his earlier stance that Juliet should marry for love, when she's ready?