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The Woman Behind the Man or Proving Masculinity?

The old saying goes Behind every great man, there is an even greater woman; or is there? Throughout Romeo and Juliet, Romeo was set out to prove how masculine he was, but the question can be raised that was Juliet really controlling him during the events of the play? It is apparent that two different critics view this same play in an entirely different way. The theme of masculinity seems to be an important aspect in this play. The characters of Romeo and Juliet are viewed as a pair since the play first originated; never were these two characters viewed separately. They are viewed as timeless lovers together for all eternity. Although, Romeo as a character tends to be a bit of a lovesick fool and it is for this reason Shakespeare feels he must prove Romeos masculinity throughout the course of the play. Romeo proving his masculinity is supposed to be his way of separating himself from the pair he is apart of throughout the play; it is a way to signify his independence as a character. This is most likely the main reason for the theme of rivalry between the houses. According to Robert Appelbaum, It is clear from its context that the rivalry between the Capulets and the Montagues is also, for the men, the impetus for an inward rivalry, an inward pressure to masculine self-assertion that cannot be appeased or concluded (Pressures in Masculinity in Romeo and Juliet By Robert Appelbaum 252). This pressure to prove which house was greater then the other signifies their need for male dominance or bravado. This quest for masculinity seems to be a major theme in Romeo and Juliet. The

male characters in the play always noticeably travel in packs trying to prove which group is better, more macho, and manlier then the other. The men in the play will stop at nothing until they have succeeded in proving they are in fact the most masculine. When men experience themselves in their masculinity-they find themselves in a condition of un-resolvability. But they also find themselves under compulsion, precisely, to resolve themselves, to struggle toward a condition of masculine fulfillment as if their masculinity were a single, stable, normative goal (Appelbaum 255). It is obvious that the goal of the Capulets and Montagues in this play is to fulfill their masculinity no matter whom they hurt in the process. Romeo kills Tybalt without any remorse or regret even though he knows that is Juliets (who is supposed to be his true love) cousin. Romeo doesnt even think twice about how it will affect his love; his main concern is vengeance for his friend and proving he is stronger then Tybalt, the unspoken leader of the Capulets. Another reason Romeo probably killed Tybalt was because he could not fail. If Romeo did not get revenge for his friend it would result in him ultimately failing. However, if Romeo had thought before he acted he would have foreseen it was unwise to kill Tybalt, which led him to be exiled. According to Appelbaum, Our dominant fiction prevents us from acknowledging the fallibility of masculine subjectivity; it seduces us into identifying masculinity as that which, precisely, cannot fail us. Failure in itself is emasculating; or rather, failure is emasculation, and emasculation is the one thing our dominant fiction will never concede to male subjects (Appelbaum 259). To Romeo, failure was the equivalent of emasculation; therefore, his logical response was to kill Tybalt; although, it is ironic that this single

event ultimately lead to the death of Romeo and Juliet. Romeos exile was what caused Juliet to make her decision to simulate her death; thus, leading Romeo to believe she was dead and kill himself etc. It would appear that after all the events of the play Romeo did fail since him and Juliet could not be together in life; so perhaps after all he was emasculated since masculinity is failure. Although Romeo was on his quest to find masculinity, the point can be raised that throughout the play Juliet was indiscreetly taming Romeo. Critic Carolyn E. Brown raises the point that even though Juliet is viewed as a secondary character to Romeo she was still a primary role in the play and not as secondary as she may seem. In Browns critical analysis called Juliets Taming of Romeo, Brown states, Instead of perceiving Juliet as shallow, criticism is now more willing to admit that under the surface lyricism there is another dimension to her words and actions where her more independent, controlling, and rebellious nature is lodged (Brown 334). Juliets quest in the play is to find her own identity apart from Romeo and other characters such as the Nurse; this is similar to how Romeo is trying to prove his masculinity to separate himself from Juliet in the first criticism written by Robert Appelbaum. Juliet wants to prove she is not in Romeos shadow, but rather she wants to control him. Brown phrases it that, Juliet wants to control Romeo and her life is not unusual. In the context of marriage, lovers-males and females-often try to control one another (Brown 335). Juliet wants to feel as though she has the power in the relationship while letting Romeo simply think he does. This makes Juliet one of Shakespeares smartest heroines. Although she appears innocent at the virginal

age of around 14 she manages to handle her man without having to go through some of the trials of some of other Shakespeares heroines (for example the character Viola in Twelfth Night dressing as a man). The entire balcony scene could be portrayed as Juliets way of controlling Romeo. Throughout the seen she is testing his obedience and want him to submit to her. The scene is filled with witty banter; there is even a point where Juliet is bidding Romeo goodbye and he replies with O wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied? (Act II Scene 2 line 125). Juliet then plays back at him with What satisfaction canst thou have tonight? (Act II Scene 2 line 126). The entire scene plays out this way; he will say something only to have Juliet reply with a witty remark leading to Romeos submission to her. Even though he is trying to prove his masculinity throughout the events of the play Juliet still has him wrapped around her finger. Brown explains, During the balcony scene, she can be read as trying to train RomeoJuliet transforms her future husband from a flighty, impractical man of fancy who engages in long, unrealistic speeches, into a pragmatic, obedient man of few words who learns to give her the succinct answers she wants and to fulfill her commands (Brown 334). Romeo learns quickly what he needs to say to get Juliet; he understands that she wants him eating out of the palm of her hand and he will deliver any line and say anything she is willing to hear to get her for himself; much like teenage boys do today I suppose. However, because of Romeos quest for masculinity he does not even realize Juliet is ultimately controlling him. She has him believing he is in control, thus, accomplishing her goal. It is interesting to see how two critics view the same play in an entirely

different way. I happen to agree with Carolyn E. Browns analysis of Juliet. Juliet is so often pushed aside as this insignificant teenage girl, but yet her very being set out the course o this play. If Juliet never existed the rivalry between the Montagues and the Capulets would have continued as it did, but Romeo would have never considered exile as awful as he did; Romeo would have never killed himself either. Juliets staged impersonation of death is what drove Romeo to make that awful choice. I see Robert Appelbaums point in that Romeo was searching for his masculinity and if he did not achieve it that would constitute as failure, but I think that he (like so many other critics) underestimated Juliets role in Romeos life. Brown implies Juliet was the driving force for Romeo and I agree completely. It was Juliet that Romeo was fighting for after all. He wanted to run away with her and start their lives together everyone else be damned. Juliet was Romeos motivation and I feel Appelbaum left that out in his essay. The prominent theme of masculinity is evident throughout the play, but people reading the play must remember the motivations for it. Romeo would have never felt the need to prove he was so masculine if he didnt already know on some subconscious level that he was submitting to Juliet. Juliets role was extremely important and as readers we owe it to her not to forget that.

Works Cited Appelbaum, Robert. Standing the Wall: The Pressures of Masculinity in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare Quarterly. Vol. 48, No. 3 (Autumn, 1997). Publisher:

Folger Shakespeare Library in association with George Washington University. JSTOR. 17 April 2010. <> pg. 251-272.

Brown, Carolyn E. Juliets Taming of Romeo. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 36. No. 2. Tudor and Stuart Drama (Spring, 1996). Publisher: Rice University. JSTOR. 17 April 2010. <> pg. 333355.

Crowther, John, ed. No Fear Romeo and Juliet. SparkNotes LLC. 2005. Web. 18 April 2010.