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William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet it a classic piece of literature that introduces characters that can be interpreted in a range of ways. Shakespeare, through the use of literary devices, creates some very complex characters who represent different aspects Elizabethan values, one of which is Romeo Montague. In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare positions the audience to see Romeo as a passionate man with a complex evolving relationship with love and masculinity. Shakespeare has carefully created Romeo to represent a figure whose masculinity is questioned by Elizabethan normalities. The audience is manipulated to dislike Romeo during the early stages of the play due to his immaturity. Then, as he matures, they will begin to see him as a genuine and passionate lover.
Shakespeare carefully positions the audience to see Romeo’s development of maturity and ideas of love through his interactions with other characters. Early on in the play, Mercutio refers to Rome’s insincere love for Rosaline through stating “now he is for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in”. With Petrarch being a famous poet of the era, Mercutio is alluding to the fact that Romeo’s words for Rosaline are euphuistic with a lack of depth and passion. The factitious nature of Romeo’s word choices when describing Rosaline imply that his feelings for Rosaline are also artificial. This encourages the audience to see Romeo as insincere and immature.However, Romeo’s maturity begins to develop when he starts to fall in love with Juliet. When Romeo and Juliet first interact, Juliet comments on the fact that Romeo kisses “by th’book”. With this remark Juliet is suggesting that Romeo’s kiss is generic expressing little authenticity or passion. However, as the play progresses Romeo begins to become a more expressive and genuine lover speaking with substance and depth. This is shown in the quote “Heaven is here, Where Juliet is…”. Through this use of blank verse poetry, Shakespere portrays Romeo’s love as becoming more authentic with no need for Petrarch’s structure. With Romeo’s ideas of true love developing, the audience begins to see that his feelings for Juliet may be more than just puppy love. Romeo’s evolved(ing)? relationship with love influences the audience to see his feelings for Juliet to be genuine.
Shakespeare has created a dramatic foil between Romeo and Mercutio, two of his key male figures, to help position the audience to see Romeo as a love stricken and passionate character. Mercutio is portrayed to see love as lust. This opposes Romeo’s tendency to confuse lust with love, as he did with Rosaline. Mercutio’s advice to “Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down’ suggests that he is thinking in bawdy terms. This quote contrasts Romeo’s words of love that he pronounces for Rosaline saying “Love is a smoke raised with the fume of sighs”. Mercutio also tends to speak of love in a rather cynical way proclaiming “…for this drivelling love is like a great natural [fool], that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble”. This quote again refers to love in more sexual terms and in context aims to disregard Romeo’s feelings. These two opposing characters were created by Shakespeare with the intention to hold light to both of the characters actions and to show a juxtaposition.
Throughout the play, Shakespeare makes reference to Romeo’s questionable masculinity. The Elizabethan norms of masculinity are seen to be somewhat rejected by Romeo. General beliefs around Masculinity during the renaissance era include the ideas that men should be emotionally strong and should be the ‘rock’ for their wives. However, Romeo begins to fear that “his love for Juliet has Effeminized him”. This is evident in the quote “thy beauty hath made me effeminate”.
This quote makes it clear that Romeo is questioning his own masculinity in relation to what was considered normal during Elizabethan times. Not only does Romeo question his own masculinity, but Friar Laurence also questions it. When Romeo is sentenced to banishment by the king for murdering Tybalt, the Friar complains that he is an “unseemly woman in a seeming man” and that his tears are “womanish”. The Friars words cause the audience to view Romeo as an a-typical masculine figure with the uncontrollable emotions that would be expected of a woman.
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare manipulates the audience to see Romeo as a passionate man with a complex evolving relationship with love and masculinity. This is shown through his use of dramatic foil, language features and character interactions. Shakespeare has expertly manipulated his writing to portray characters in a certain way and to adapt when a character’s ideas begin to evolve. This play provides a piece of classic literature that can be read and interpreted in many different ways by a range of people.
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