Juliet v Romeo
Shakespeare plays around with gender expectations in his plays. Lady Macbeth has her famous “unsex me here” line, but there is some more subtle exploration of it in Romeo and Juliet.
The eponymous lovers appear to contradict the expectation within a patriarchal society: logic and courage was commonly associated with men, emotion and impulse with women.
In fact, after Mercutio has been stabbed, Romeo blames his weakness on his love for Juliet, claiming “thy beauty hath made me effeminate.” Juliet definitely seems the more courageous, all her actions risky but centred on enabling her and Romeo to be together.
By contrast, Romeo’s impulsive and emotional behaviour creates more boundaries to them, showing he lacks control.
If Juliet embodies some of the positive attributes of masculinity, then Mercutio embodies some of the bad bits.
He is cynical, dismissing Romeo’s romanticised views in his Queen Mab speech. He is also crass and intimidating with the Nurse, mocking and insulting her with no provocation.
And then we have his final appearance: at the start of the scene he is pushing for a fight, refusing to leave with Benvolio and riling Tybalt up. Yet by the end, he is blaming both houses for his death.
The “plague o’ both your houses” moment is often analysed as a profound and insightful comment on the impact of the feud; but, in reality, it is an example of Mercutio not taking responsibility for his actions.
The feud itself is an embodiment of masculine pride, two old men unwilling to let a quarrel, of years past, go. Does Fate have to do anything, when the masculinity of these men is so fragile?
Prince v Benvolio v Tybalt
We see a range of types of men in the play, running as a spectrum from the Prince, through to Benvolio and ending at Tybalt.
Prince Escalus is the epitome of control and logic. He acts in accordance with the law and does what he can to uphold it. He even does this when he recognises the danger of it, noting that murderers tend to kill again, yet choosing not to kill Romeo.
Along from him is Benvolio. He is a moderate individual, who does not seem to wish to fight. Yet he does fight when necessary, showing that he is adaptive to what is going on.
He is the individual who Romeo opens up to about Rosaline, but he disappears halfway through the play, and his absence is, coincidentally or not, at the time when everything starts to unravel.
Tybalt personifies a level of uncontrolled rage. He is illogical, willing to risk the reputation of the Capulets at their party and his own life, to exact revenge on the Montagues. It is unclear where his anger stems from but it is absolute.
Juliet v Nurse v Lady Capulet
There is also a scale of types of women.
Juliet, notably, is the closest in control to the Prince. Even though she is led by her love for Romeo and talks of killing herself, it is always from a logical place.
She recognises the dangers of her love for Romeo. She also shows courage in risking her own life and a relationship with her family to try and be with Romeo.
The Nurse is the loving and caring individual of the piece. She genuinely wants what is best for Juliet, changing from supporting her love for Romeo to suggesting Paris might be the better option, purely for the sake of Juliet’s happiness.
The Nurse also risks a lot to act as a messenger for the two.
Finally we have Lady Capulet, who attempts to convince Juliet throughout to marry Paris.
This begins as a comical scene where she is reminded of Juliet’s age by The Nurse, but ends with the foreboding comment, “would the fool were married to her grave!.”
For whatever reason, Lady Capulet does not demonstrate empathy and kindness to her daughter. She seems to be bound more by her role within a patriarchal society than her love for Juliet.