Romeo and Juliet
Romeo is son and heir of Montague and Lady Montague. He’s a handsome man of about sixteen who falls easily in and out of love demonstrating his immaturity.
At the beginning of the play he is hopelessly in love with Rosaline but immediately falls in love with Juliet at first sight – Could this be fate? Shakespeare encourages us to question Romeo’s feelings towards Juliet. However, Romeo proves his love through his integrity and actions and he secretly marries Juliet with the help of his friend and confident Friar Lawrence.
Romeo is not interested in the on-going feud between his family and the Capulets – he is not a violent man. Tybalt tries to provoke Romeo into fighting him but, true to character, Romeo is not drawn in. However, when his close friend is killed by Tybalt, Romeo retaliates and kills in a fit of rage and grief.
Juliet, from Romeo and Juliet, is the daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. At thirteen, Juliet is beautiful and at a marriageable age. Before meeting Romeo, Juliet has thought little about love and marriage. Her parents are keen to marry her to a husband with good prospects and have the County Paris in mind for a husband – he has expressed his interest in Juliet.
However, Juliet soon stumbles upon her fate when she meets Romeo and instantly falls in love with him, despite him being the son of her family’s enemy. “My only love sprung from my only hate,” she exclaims.
Like many women in Shakespeare’s plays, Juliet has very little freedom, but she is connected to the outside world through her closest friend, the Nurse. However, Juliet is prepared to abandon the Nurse entirely when she turns against Romeo. Juliet matures throughout the plot of the play and is eventually prepared to abandon her family in order to be with Romeo.
The House of Montague in Romeo and Juliet is one of “fair Verona’s” two feuding families – the other being the House of Capulet. Montague’s son, Romeo, falls in love with the daughter of Capulet and they elope much to the anger of their respective families.
This guide provides commentary on all the main characters in the House of Montague. Commentary on the House of Capulet is also available.
House of Montague
- Montague: Father to Romeo and married to Lady Montague. Head of Montague clan, he is locked in a bitter and on-going feud with the Capulets. He is concerned that Romeo is melancholy at the beginning of the play.
- Lady Montague: Mother to Romeo and married to Montague. She dies in grief when Romeo is banished.
- Romeo Montague: Romeo is son and heir of Montague and Lady Montague. He’s a handsome man of about sixteen who falls easily in and out of love demonstrating his immaturity. You can read a more detailed analysis in our Romeo Character Study.
- Benvolio: Montague’s nephew and Romeo’s cousin. Benvolio is a loyal friend to Romeo who tries to counsel him in his love life – he attempts to distract Romeo from thinking about Rosaline. He avoids and tries to defuse violent encounters, but it is implied by Mercutio that he does have a temper in private.
- Balthasar: Romeo’s serving man. When Romeo is in exile, Balthasar brings him news of Verona. He unwittingly informs Romeo of Juliet’s death, but is not being aware that she has taken a substance to only appear dead.
- Abraham: Montague’s serving man. He fights Capulet’s serving men Samson and Gregory in Act 1, Scene 1, establishing the discord between the families.
The House of Capulet in Romeo and Juliet is one of “fair Verona’s” two feuding families – the other being the House of Montague. Capulet’s daughter, Juliet, falls in love with the son of Montague and they elope much to the anger of their respective families.
This guide provides commentary on all the main characters in the House of Capulet. Commentary on the House of Montague is also available.
The House of Capulet
- Capulet: Head of the Capulet clan, married to Lady Capulet and father to Juliet. Capulet is locked in an on-going, bitter and unexplained dispute with the Montague family. Capulet is very much in charge and demands respect. He is prone to rage if he does not get his own way. Capulet loves his daughter very much but is out of touch with her hopes and dreams. He believes that she should marry Paris.
- Lady Capulet: Married to Capulet and mother to Juliet. Lady Capulet appears distanced from her daughter, Juliet. It is interesting to note that Juliet receives most of her moral guidance and affection from the Nurse. Lady Capulet, who also married young, believes it was high time Juliet was married off and believes Paris to be the most appropriate candidate.
- Juliet Capulet: Daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. At thirteen, Juliet is beautiful and about to be married to Paris. However, Juliet soon stumbles upon her fate when she meets Romeo and instantly falls in love with him, despite him being the son of her family’s enemy. You can read a more detailed analysis in our Juliet Character Study.
- Tybalt: Lady Capulet’s Nephew and Juliet’s cousin. Tybalt is antagonistic and has a deep hatred of the Montagues. He has a short temper and is quick to draw his sword when his ego is in danger of being damaged. Tybalt has a vindictive nature and is feared.
- Juliet’s Nurse: A loyal maternal figure and friend to Juliet, who provides moral guidance and practical advice having breast fed and brought Juliet up from birth. She knows Juliet better than any other and provides comic relief in the play with her bawdy sense of humor. The Nurse does not really understand Juliet’s desire to be taken over completely by love but despite this, assists her in attaining it. The Nurse has a disagreement with Juliet near the end of the play which demonstrates her lack of understanding about the intensity of Juliet’s feelings.
- Samson: Serving man of the Capulets. After the Chorus, he is the first character to speak and establishes the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues.
- Gregory: Serving man of the Capulets. Along with Samson, he discusses the tension in the Montague household.
- Peter: A serving man of the Capulets, illiterate and a bad singer. Peter invites guests to the Capulets’ feast and escorts the Nurse to meet with Romeo.
- Friar Lawrence: A religious man and friend to both Romeo and Juliet. The Friar is intent on negotiating a friendship between the Montagues and Capulets in order to restore peace to Verona. He believes that the joining of Romeo and Juliet in marriage could establish this friendship and performs their marriage in secret to this end. The Friar is resourceful and has a plan for every occasion. He also has medical knowledge and uses herbs and potions. It is the Friar’s idea that Juliet administers a potion in order that she may appear dead until Romeo can return to Verona to rescue her.
- Mercutio: The Prince’s kinsman and a close friend to Romeo. Mercutio is a colorful character who enjoys word-play and double entendres particularly of a sexual nature. He does not understand Romeo’s desire for romantic love believing that sexual love is sufficient. Mercutio can be easily provoked and hates people who are pretentious or vain. Mercutio is one of Shakespeare’s best loved characters. On standing up for Romeo against Tybalt, Mercutio is slain, uttering the famous line, “A plague on both your houses.” This prophecy is realized as the plot unfolds.
- Paris: The County Paris is a kinsman to the Prince. Paris expresses his interest in Juliet as a prospective wife. Capulet believes that Paris is an appropriate husband for his daughter and encourages him to propose. With Capulet’s backing Paris arrogantly believes that Juliet is his and behaves accordingly.
- Prince of Verona: The political leader of Verona and kinsman to Mercutio and Paris. The Prince is intent on keeping peace in Verona and as such has a vested interest in establishing a truce between the Montagues and Capulets.
- Friar John: A holy man employed by Friar Lawrence to deliver a message to Romeo about Juliet’s faked death. Fate causes the Friar to be delayed in a quarantined house and, as a result, the message does not reach Romeo.
- Rosaline: Never appears onstage but is the object of Romeo’s initial infatuation. Renowned for her beauty and vow of lifelong chastity she cannot (or will not) return Romeo’s love.
- Scene 1: Samson and Gregory, Capulet’s men, discuss strategies to provoke a fight with the Montagues – banter between the two sides soon starts. Benvolio encourages peace among the families just as Tybalt enters and challenges him to a duel for being a cowardly Montague. Montague and Capulet soon enter and are encouraged by the Prince to keep the peace. Romeo is feeling dejected and forlorn – he explains to Benvolio that he is in love, but that his love is unrequited.
- Scene 2: Paris asks Capulet if he may approach Juliet for her hand in marriage – Capulet approves. Capulet explains that he is holding a feast at which Paris could woo his daughter. Peter, a serving man, is dispatched to give out invitations and unwittingly invites Romeo. Benvolio encourages him to attend because Rosalind (Romeo’s love) will be present.
- Scene 3: Capulet’s wife informs Juliet of Paris’ desire to marry her. The Nurse also encourages Juliet.
- Scene 4: A masked Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio enter the Capulet celebration. Romeo tells of a dream he had about the consequences for attending the celebration: the dream foretold “untimely death”.
- Scene 5: Capulet welcomes the masked revelers and invites them to dance. Romeo notices Juliet among the guests and instantly falls in love with her. Tybalt notices Romeo and informs Capulet of his presence offering to remove him. Capulet allows Romeo to stay in order to preserve the peace. Meanwhile, Romeo has located Juliet and the couple kisses.
- Scene 1: Upon leaving the Capulet grounds with his kinsman, Romeo has run off and hid himself in the trees. Romeo sees Juliet on her balcony and overhears her profess her love for him. Romeo responds in kind and they decide to marry the next day. Juliet is called away by her Nurse and Romeo bids her farewell.
- Scene 2: Romeo asks Friar Lawrence to marry him to Juliet. The Friar chastises Romeo for being fickle and asks what happened to his love for Rosalind. Romeo dismisses his love for Rosalind and explains the urgency of his request.
- Scene 3: Mercutio informs Benvolio that Tybalt has threatened to kill Mercutio. The Nurse ensures that Romeo is serious about his love for Juliet and warns him of Paris’ intentions.
- Scene 4: The Nurse delivers the message to Juliet that she is to meet and marry Romeo in Friar Lawrence’s cell.
- Scene 5: Romeo is with Friar Lawrence as Juliet hastily arrives. The Friar resolves to marry them quickly.
- Scene 1: Tybalt challenges Romeo, who attempts to pacify the situation. A fight breaks out and Tybalt kills Mercutio – before dying he wishes “a plague on both your houses.” In an act of revenge, Romeo kills Tybalt. The Prince arrives and banishes Romeo.
- Scene 2: The Nurse explains that her cousin, Tybalt, has been killed by Romeo. Confused, Juliet questions Romeo’s integrity but then decides that she loves him and wants him to visit her before he is exiled. The Nurse goes to find him.
- Scene 3: Friar Lawrence informs Romeo that he is to be banished. The Nurse enters to pass on Juliet’s message. Friar Lawrence encourages Romeo to visit Juliet and fulfill their marriage contract before going to exile. He explains that he will send a message when it is safe for Romeo to return as Juliet’s husband.
- Scene 4: Capulet and his wife explain to Paris that Juliet is too upset about Tybalt to consider his marriage proposal. Capulet then decides to arrange for Juliet to marry Paris the following Thursday.
- Scene 5: Romeo bids Juliet an emotional farewell after spending the night together. Lady Capulet believes that Tybalt’s death is the cause of her daughter’s misery and threatens to kill Romeo with poison. Juliet is told that she is to marry Paris on Thursday. Juliet refuses much to her father’s distain. The Nurse encourages Juliet to marry Paris but she refuses and decides to go to Friar Lawrence for advice.
- Scene 1: Juliet and Paris discuss the marriage and Juliet makes her feeling clear. When Paris leaves Juliet threatens to kill herself if the Friar cannot think of a resolution. The Friar offers Juliet a potion in a vial which will make her appear dead. She will be placed in the family vault where she is to wait for Romeo to take her to Mantua.
- Scene 2: Juliet begs her father’s forgiveness and they discuss Paris’ marriage proposal.
- Scene 3: Juliet asks to spend the night alone and swallows the potion with a dagger by her side in case the plan does not work.
- Scene 4: The Nurse discovers Juliet’s lifeless body and the Capulets and Paris grieve her death. The Friar takes the family and Juliet’s seemingly dead body to church. They hold a ceremony for Juliet.
- Scene 1: Romeo receives news from Balthasar about Juliet’s death and is determined to die by her side. He buys some poison from an apothecary and makes the return journey to Verona.
- Scene 2: The Friar finds out that his letter explaining the plan about Juliet’s faked death was not delivered to Romeo.
- Scene 3: Paris is in Juliet’s chamber grieving her death when Romeo arrives. Romeo is apprehended by Paris and Romeo stabs him. Romeo kisses Juliet’s body and takes the poison. The Friar arrives to find Romeo dead. Juliet wakes to find Romeo dead and no poison left for her, she uses the dagger to kill herself in grief.
When the Montagues and Capulets arrive, the Friar explains the events leading to the tragedy. The Prince pleads with the Montagues and Capulets to bury their grievances and acknowledge their losses. The Montague and Capulet families finally lay their feud to rest.
Shakespeare’s treatment of love in the play is complex and multifaceted. He uses love in its many guises to thread together the key relationships in the play.
Some characters fall in and out of love very quickly in Romeo and Juliet. For example, Romeo is in love with Rosaline at the start of the play, which is presented as an immature infatuation. Today, we might use the term “puppy love” to describe this. Romeo’s love for Rosaline is shallow and nobody really believes that it will last, including Friar Laurence:
Romeo. Thou chid’st me oft for loving Rosaline.
Friar Laurence. For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.
Similarly, Paris’ love for Juliet is borne out of tradition, not passion. He has identified her as a good candidate for a wife and approaches her father to arrange the marriage. Although this was the tradition at the time, it also says something about Paris’ staid attitude towards love. He even admits to Friar Laurence that in his haste to rush the wedding through he hasn’t discussed it with his bride-to-be:
Friar Laurence. On Thursday, sir? the time is very short.
Paris. My father Capulet will have it so;
And I am nothing slow to slack his haste.
Friar Laurence. You say you do not know the lady’s mind:
Uneven is the course, I like it not.
Paris. Immoderately she weeps for Tybalt’s death,
And therefore have I little talked of love;
Our classic idea of romantic love is embodied in Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare presents this as a force of nature, so strong that it transcends societal conventions. This idea is established in the play’s prologue with the line “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.”
Perhaps Romeo and Juliet’s love is fate – there love is given cosmic significance which can therefore overturn the social boundaries of “fair Verona.” Their love is disallowed by the Capulet and Montague households, and Juliet is to marry Paris – Yet, they inevitably find themselves drawn together.
Other Types of Love
Many of the friendships in the play are as sincere as Romeo and Juliet’s love for one another. The close relationships between Juliet and her Nurse, and between Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are meaningful and heartfelt. They care deeply for another and protect each others honor – this ultimately costs Mercutio his life.
This platonic love is offset by the sexual innuendos made by some characters – particularly Juliet’s Nurse and Mercutio. Their view of love is earthy and purely sexual, creating an effective contrast with Romeo and Juliet’s romanticism.
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.”
—Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene V
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare explores the theme of fate by allowing the audience to be party to his characters’ destiny. In the opening lines of the play the audience is told what is going to happen to the lovers: “a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.” Throughout the story, the audience is put in an omnipotent, god-like position from the start encouraging them to think about fate and to what extent our actions are free.
Because we know Romeo and Juliet’s fate from the outset we are constantly hoping that they will take a different course – perhaps that Romeo will arrive just after Juliet has woken. However, their fate is sealed and we are forced to question our own destiny and ability to make free choices.
When Mercutio shouts “a plague on both your houses” in Act 3, Scene 1, we are reminded of the protagonists’ fate. This bloody scene in which characters are killed gives us a glimpse of what fate has in store, marking the beginning of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic downfall.
Fate permeates the events and speeches in the play. Is it fate that Friar Lawrence’s plan to inform Romeo of Juliet’s faked death is not realized due to unforeseen circumstances? Is it fate that Romeo kills himself when he does?
Romeo and Juliet see omens throughout the play, continually reminding the audience of their fate. Their death is a catalyst for change in Verona: the dueling families are united in their grief creating a political shift in the city. Perhaps Romeo and Juliet were fated to love and die for the greater good of Verona.
“O, I am fortune’s fool!”
—Romeo, Act III Scene I
Duality (light and dark)
Scholars have long noted Shakespeare’s widespread use of light and dark imagery throughout the play. Caroline Spurgeon considers the theme of light as “symbolic of the natural beauty of young love” and later critics have expanded on this interpretation. For example, both Romeo and Juliet see the other as light in a surrounding darkness. Romeo describes Juliet as being like the sun, brighter than a torch, a jewel sparkling in the night, and a bright angel among dark clouds. Even when she lies apparently dead in the tomb, he says her “beauty makes This vault a feasting presence full of light.” Juliet describes Romeo as “day in night” and “Whiter than snow upon a raven’s back.”This contrast of light and dark can be expanded as symbols—contrasting love and hate, youth and age in a metaphoric way. Sometimes these intertwining metaphors create dramatic irony. For example, Romeo and Juliet’s love is a light in the midst of the darkness of the hate around them, but all of their activity together is done in night and darkness, while all of the feuding is done in broad daylight. This paradox of imagery adds atmosphere to the moral dilemma facing the two lovers: loyalty to family or loyalty to love. At the end of the story, when the morning is gloomy and the sun hiding its face for sorrow, light and dark have returned to their proper places, the outward darkness reflecting the true, inner darkness of the family feud out of sorrow for the lovers. All characters now recognise their folly in light of recent events, and things return to the natural order, thanks to the love of Romeo and Juliet. The “light” theme in the play is also heavily connected to the theme of time, since light was a convenient way for Shakespeare to express the passage of time through descriptions of the sun, moon, and stars.
“O brawling love, O loving hate,
O any thing of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!”
Time plays an important role in the language and plot of the play. Both Romeo and Juliet struggle to maintain an imaginary world void of time in the face of the harsh realities that surround them. For instance, when Romeo swears his love to Juliet by the moon, she protests “O swear not by the moon, th’inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb, / Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.” From the very beginning, the lovers are designated as “star-cross’d” referring to an astrologic belief associated with time. Stars were thought to control the fates of humanity, and as time passed, stars would move along their course in the sky, also charting the course of human lives below. Romeo speaks of a foreboding he feels in the stars’ movements early in the play, and when he learns of Juliet’s death, he defies the stars’ course for him.
Another central theme is haste: Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet spans a period of four to six days, in contrast to Brooke’s poem’s spanning nine months. Scholars such as G. Thomas Tanselle believe that time was “especially important to Shakespeare” in this play, as he used references to “short-time” for the young lovers as opposed to references to “long-time” for the “older generation” to highlight “a headlong rush towards doom”. Romeo and Juliet fight time to make their love last forever. In the end, the only way they seem to defeat time is through a death that makes them immortal through art.
“These times of woe afford no time to woo.”—Paris, Act III Scene IV
Criticism and interpretation
The earliest known critic of the play was diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote in 1662: “it is a play of itself the worst that I ever heard in my life.” Poet John Dryden wrote 10 years later in praise of the play and its comic character Mercutio: “Shakespear show’d the best of his skill in his Mercutio, and he said himself, that he was forc’d to kill him in the third Act, to prevent being killed by him.” Criticism of the play in the 18th century was less sparse, but no less divided. Publisher Nicholas Rowe was the first critic to ponder the theme of the play, which he saw as the just punishment of the two feuding families. In mid-century, writer Charles Gildon and philosopher Lord Kames argued that the play was a failure in that it did not follow the classical rules of drama: the tragedy must occur because of some character flaw, not an accident of fate. Writer and critic Samuel Johnson, however, considered it one of Shakespeare’s “most pleasing” plays.
In the later part of the 18th and through the 19th century, criticism centred on debates over the moral message of the play. Actor and playwright David Garrick’s 1748 adaptation excluded Rosaline: Romeo abandoning her for Juliet was seen as fickle and reckless. Critics such as Charles Dibdin argued that Rosaline had been purposely included in the play to show how reckless the hero was, and that this was the reason for his tragic end. Others argued that Friar Laurence might be Shakespeare’s spokesman in his warnings against undue haste. With the advent of the 20th century, these moral arguments were disputed by critics such as Richard Green Moulton: he argued that accident, and not some character flaw, led to the lovers’ deaths.
In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare employs several dramatic techniques that have garnered praise from critics; most notably the abrupt shifts from comedy to tragedy (an example is the punning exchange between Benvolio and Mercutio just before Tybalt arrives). Before Mercutio’s death in Act three, the play is largely a comedy. After his accidental demise, the play suddenly becomes serious and takes on a tragic tone. When Romeo is banished, rather than executed, and Friar Laurence offers Juliet a plan to reunite her with Romeo, the audience can still hope that all will end well. They are in a “breathless state of suspense” by the opening of the last scene in the tomb: If Romeo is delayed long enough for the Friar to arrive, he and Juliet may yet be saved. These shifts from hope to despair, reprieve, and new hope, serve to emphasise the tragedy when the final hope fails and both the lovers die at the end.
Shakespeare also uses sub-plots to offer a clearer view of the actions of the main characters. For example, when the play begins, Romeo is in love with Rosaline, who has refused all of his advances. Romeo’s infatuation with her stands in obvious contrast to his later love for Juliet. This provides a comparison through which the audience can see the seriousness of Romeo and Juliet’s love and marriage. Paris’ love for Juliet also sets up a contrast between Juliet’s feelings for him and her feelings for Romeo. The formal language she uses around Paris, as well as the way she talks about him to her Nurse, show that her feelings clearly lie with Romeo. Beyond this, the sub-plot of the Montague–Capulet feud overarches the whole play, providing an atmosphere of hate that is the main contributor to the play’s tragic end.
Shakespeare uses a variety of poetic forms throughout the play. He begins with a 14-line prologue in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, spoken by a Chorus. Most of Romeo and Juliet is, however, written in blank verse, and much of it in strict iambic pentameter, with less rhythmic variation than in most of Shakespeare’s later plays. In choosing forms, Shakespeare matches the poetry to the character who uses it. Friar Laurence, for example, uses sermon and sententiae forms, and the Nurse uses a unique blank verse form that closely matches colloquial speech. Each of these forms is also moulded and matched to the emotion of the scene the character occupies. For example, when Romeo talks about Rosaline earlier in the play, he attempts to use the Petrarchan sonnet form. Petrarchan sonnets were often used by men to exaggerate the beauty of women who were impossible for them to attain, as in Romeo’s situation with Rosaline. This sonnet form is used by Lady Capulet to describe Count Paris to Juliet as a handsome man. When Romeo and Juliet meet, the poetic form changes from the Petrarchan (which was becoming archaic in Shakespeare’s day) to a then more contemporary sonnet form, using “pilgrims” and “saints” as metaphors. Finally, when the two meet on the balcony, Romeo attempts to use the sonnet form to pledge his love, but Juliet breaks it by saying “Dost thou love me?” By doing this, she searches for true expression, rather than a poetic exaggeration of their love. Juliet uses monosyllabic words with Romeo, but uses formal language with Paris. Other forms in the play include an epithalamium by Juliet, a rhapsody in Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech, and an elegy by Paris.Shakespeare saves his prose style most often for the common people in the play, though at times he uses it for other characters, such as Mercutio. Humour, also, is important: scholar Molly Mahood identifies at least 175 puns and wordplays in the text. Many of these jokes are sexual in nature, especially those involving Mercutio and the Nurse.
Early psychoanalytic critics saw the problem of Romeo and Juliet in terms of Romeo’s impulsiveness, deriving from “ill-controlled, partially disguised aggression”, which leads both to Mercutio’s death and to the double suicide. Romeo and Juliet is not considered to be exceedingly psychologically complex, and sympathetic psychoanalytic readings of the play make the tragic male experience equivalent with sicknesses. Norman Holland, writing in 1966, considers Romeo’s dream as a realistic “wish fulfilling fantasy both in terms of Romeo’s adult world and his hypothetical childhood at stages oral, phallic and oedipal” – while acknowledging that a dramatic character is not a human being with mental processes separate from those of the author. Critics such as Julia Kristeva focus on the hatred between the families, arguing that this hatred is the cause of Romeo and Juliet’s passion for each other. That hatred manifests itself directly in the lovers’ language: Juliet, for example, speaks of “my only love sprung from my only hate” and often expresses her passion through an anticipation of Romeo’s death. This leads on to speculation as to the playwright’s psychology, in particular to a consideration of Shakespeare’s grief for the death of his son, Hamnet.
Feminist literary critics argue that the blame for the family feud lies in Verona’s patriarchal society. For Coppélia Kahn, for example, the strict, masculine code of violence imposed on Romeo is the main force driving the tragedy to its end. When Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo shifts into this violent mode, regretting that Juliet has made him so “effeminate”. In this view, the younger males “become men” by engaging in violence on behalf of their fathers, or in the case of the servants, their masters. The feud is also linked to male virility, as the numerous jokes about maidenheads aptly demonstrate. Juliet also submits to a female code of docility by allowing others, such as the Friar, to solve her problems for her. Other critics, such as Dympna Callaghan, look at the play’s feminism from a historicist angle, stressing that when the play was written the feudal order was being challenged by increasingly centralised government and the advent of capitalism. At the same time, emerging Puritan ideas about marriage were less concerned with the “evils of female sexuality” than those of earlier eras, and more sympathetic towards love-matches: when Juliet dodges her father’s attempt to force her to marry a man she has no feeling for, she is challenging the patriarchal order in a way that would not have been possible at an earlier time.
Critics utilizing queer theory have examined the sexuality of Mercutio and Romeo, comparing their friendship with sexual love. Mercutio, in friendly conversation, mentions Romeo’s phallus, suggesting traces of homoeroticism. An example is his joking wish “To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle … letting it there stand / Till she had laid it and conjured it down.” Romeo’s homoeroticism can also be found in his attitude to Rosaline, a woman who is distant and unavailable and brings no hope of offspring. As Benvolio argues, she is best replaced by someone who will reciprocate. Shakespeare’s procreation sonnets describe another young man who, like Romeo, is having trouble creating offspring and who may be seen as being a homosexual. Gender critics believe that Shakespeare may have used Rosaline as a way to express homosexual problems of procreation in an acceptable way. In this view, when Juliet says “…that which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”, she may be raising the question of whether there is any difference between the beauty of a man and the beauty of a woman.