How do any TWO OR MORE plays written between 1580 and 1642 represent the relationships between sexuality, gender and power? (Using Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet) ’The course of true love never did run smooth’ – This is the answer indeed. As well as this we come to understand that with the roughness of love comes indifferent sexualities, gender conflicts and powered bravados that entwine themselves into one big mess to indeed create the established plays we read today.
Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet very much represent the themes of sexuality, gender and power through the relationships of their family, lovers and acquaintances during each of these Shakespeare plays. This will be further analysed throughout the essay with evidentiary support from quotes, comparable and contrasting subject areas involving both of the plays once viewed ‘together’ also. First, we come to recognise Hamlet. With frustration towards his mother on her new marriage; ‘’She married. O, most wicked speed, to post. With such dexterity to incestuous sheets! ’ (Act 1, Scene 2, Page 6), but can Hamlet truly say anything to his mother? She may be a woman, but his Kin nonetheless. Fear and anger follow from the death of his father caused by a now, ‘King’ Claudius; ‘’Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder. ’’(Act1, Scene 5. Page 6) suspecting of Claudius killing his father, Hamlet wishes to overthrow his newly found ‘power’ and attempt a vengeful rampage to execute him. And finally, recognising the pugnacious relationship between ‘loved ones’ Hamlet and Ophelia. ‘’I loved Ophelia, forty thousand brothers could not with all their quantity of love make up my sum. ’ (Act 5, Scene 1, Page 12). With the example of this quote especially comes an easy sentiment which is love. Hamlet seems sincerely in love with Ophelia yet throughout the course of the play comes out as an opposite stance of his affections, ultimately driving both of them to a bad place. Right through Hamlet, it is evident that the relationship between them all are relatable to the themes being discussed (sexuality, gender, power). Broken down, we become aware of the constant bombardment of power between gender. Women must be obedient to men, men are the rulers of women so on and so forth.
Thus comes to concluding the powerlessness of women within Hamlet and therefore the power of gender roles and how much men really do uphold. Ophelia is at the mercy of the men in her life; Her lover Hamlet, her brother Laertes and her father, Polonius. Examples of this; her brother, off on his travels (France), gives Ophelia advice on how she should conduct herself – “Best safety lies in fear’’ () as well as warning her of her virginity, because that is all Hamlet would want from her ‘’Or lose your heart, or your chaste treasure open. To his unmastered importunity‘’ (Act 1, Scene 3, Page 27).
Moreover, Polonius is apparent about this double-standard “Lord Hamlet…is young, and with a larger tether may he walk than may be given you” (Act 1, Scene 4, Page 33). As a woman she must accept her isolated and far more supervised life. She is powerless to change anything. But she is obedient, following Polonius’ advice, agreeing to participate in his schemes; As he plans to spy on her meeting with Hamlet and with her submissive response “I shall obey, my Lord”(Act 1, Scene 4, Page 33) Whilst looking at these examples, it is palpable that the power of gender and gender power come hand in hand whether you are related or not.
Familial obedience was something that was taken seriously during this period, with obvious constructions of the subservient relationship Ophelia has with her father, brother and even Hamlet. Hamlet does eventually express his contempt for women “Frailty thy name is woman” he continues thrashing naive Ophelia with more abuse as the play proceeds and as a male he relies on his gender to express his feelings as well as them being heard “I loved you not…You should not have believed me…. Get thee to a nunnery, go”. Ophelia is sacrificed to this male egotism.
Her drowning, her breakdown are demoralising, as she wanders through the Court, singing, pitifully handing out flowers and herbs “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance, and there is pansies, that’s for thoughts” . It can be easily said that Ophelia does indeed go mad, resulting in her death. Her relationship with all men drive her to this fatality and presenting women’s sexuality, gender and power are miniscule to men’s. Moreover, female sovereignty was uncommon during the Renaissance period. The social structure or hierarchy of the family assured the subjugation of woman under man.
This notably witnessed through Hamlet but now we see this same subject area through Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as well as other underlying themes which will be further discussed. Firstly, male domination is shown in the play through Lord Capulet’s relationships between his daughter, wife etc. This patriarchal hierarchy formulates a highly powerful male and makes other characters in the play weaker by comparison. Their seems to be an obvious depiction of Lord Capulet; a man who wishes to obtain all familial power and for no woman to defy his final judgments.
He is expectant of his wife (Lady Capulet), daughter (Juliet) and his servants to do exactly as he tells them, when he tells them. Remind us of anyone? I think so, this governing fatherly role was before considered throughout Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (Polonius to Ophelia) signifying obvious comparable depictions throughout both of these plays. With historical context/background we diverge into the language of Shakespeare surrounding the Elizabethan age or era. Naturally he based most of his plays on the morals and social standards of the time.
Therefore, the Elizabethan period undoubtedly was engulfed by noble women, expected to be married off to rich, socially acceptable men. Fathers would choose the men they considered “reliable” for their daughters just as Polonius and Lord Capulet had done, aiming to marry them off to a higher social circle to levitate their own. Women were able to refuse to marry but would be immediately disowned by their families; (Just as Capulet’s behaviour so drastically contrasts from when Juliet was obeying her father to when she spoke out. This coming to the underlying theme of the inequality through gender, through the plays as well as the entirety of the period and the lack of power women possessed over their husbands, father, brothers etc. In a nut shell, this was perceived to be a silent threat that was hidden underneath every happy Elizabethan family. As of both of these Shakespearian plays, the beginning factors of power and gender roles were indeed established through the sexuality of women and men. All were compliant and knew there place until one thing broke down the barriers and let loose.
Both Juliet and Ophelia comply with the rules they need to keep to, as highlighted before, Ophelia in her submissive state replied ‘’I shall obey my lord’’ this ‘state’ of her never really changes but regresses deeply as her fathers death as well as loss of love and over-powering consequences, leads to her ultimate lunacy. Contrastingly, Juliet is known as a far more intelligent and manipulative young lady as she goes against the stereotype of men over women and attempts to be with her family’s enemy and the man she loves deeply. ’My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite’’ (Act II, Scene 2) In addition, Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris comes with ripple affects, causing her father to have a complete breakdown of his own. Lord Capulet, although a stern man and set in his ways, he attempts to understand that Juliet may indeed be far too young for marriage. On his first encounter with her, Lord Capulet asks why she is “evermore weeping” (), showing concern for his daughter.
Yet when he is notified about her refusal he becomes belligerent and insulting; ‘’Disobedient Wretch’’ (). Suggesting that even after he was only considering the marriage, Juliet has now broken her loyalties towards her father and must be punished for not abiding his rules, merely relaying back to us as an audience/readers that his compassion for her was superficial. Again, bringing us back to notice the relationship between them both through their gender roles. However, even when Juliet’s disobedience is foreshown, comes along humility as she bows down upon her knees ‘’Good father, I beseech you on my knees.
Hear me with patience but to speak a word’’ (Act 3, Scene 5, Page 182) Symbolising how dependent Juliet is truly to her father and how she is emotionally forbidden from self-pity. Especially through Act 3 Scene 5 Lord Capulet is insistent of letting his daughter know that she is basically a tramp. ‘’Tallow faced green sickness’’ implying that she is a plague bringing shame upon their household and family name. We have touched upon the obvious relations of gender, power and sexuality through women and men combined. Nevertheless, we are able to come across the same outspoken bravados when looking at just the men throughout the plays.
For instance Romeo and Juliet’s attitude on male – honour/ male sexual posturing come to be active sources of both the plays tragedy and humour. The constant rivalry between Verona’s two most significant families (the Montague’s and Capulet’s) is forever driven upon the testosterone-charged conflicts between the young men within each family circles. Romeo Montague, the play’s protagonist is regularly torn between the male bonds he shares with his closest friends, Mercutio especially. There roles as men are asserted through a scene, denouncing all of the men within their quarrels nothing less than tyrants.
When Tybalt (Juliet’s cousin) comes to his demise due to men having to ‘one up each other’ and remember, this isn’t between women and men anymore, this is between men only comes Juliet’s deciding factor, Family or love? With what seems to be one of the most pivotal scenes throughout the play, comes great trust and allows readers to have an inkling of understanding of how much Juliet does love Romeo after she forgives him of his crime. Although this duel leads to Tybalt’s death, is he not the one that wanted this to happen; TYBALT ‘’Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries That thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.
ROMEO I do protest, I never injured thee, But love thee better than thou canst devise, Till thou shalt know the reason of my love: And so, good Capulet,–which name I tender As dearly as my own,–be satisfied. ’’ With this, we become aware of the realities of men knowing ‘who’s in charge’ throughout this period. Yes, you may be a woman, so definitely know your status in society, but if you are a male enemy know your ranking or death would have indeed been an option. From this far more ‘tragedy’ example, Shakespeare also allows us to see a humorous version of what happens in the beginning of the play.
Even though Sampson is relaying the obvious gender/sexuality stereotype that women are feeble, he comes to tell the audience that the women he is actually speaking about are the rivals from the side of Capulet;, who are men. SAMPSON ‘’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. ’’ (Scene 1, Act 1, Page 6) 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. ’ (Scene 1, Act 1, Page 2) In the first example Sampson attempts to assert his masculinity through sexual and physical violence as well as the second closely following, as both boys pronounce that they wont be taking these hurdling insults and ultimately ‘bit their thumbs’. Lastly, we come to the final discussion centred around the representation of relationships between sex. Hamlet seems to have an anxiety with female sexuality, this seems to have a dictating factor through much of the play. The young Prince is finally at breaking point with his aging mothers sexual appetite with Hamlets Uncle!
With his mums raging sexual appetite it comes back to bite Hamlet as his attitude eventually infects his relationship with his own lover, Ophelia. Within Hamlet, the view of sexuality whether it be through the eyes of woman or man is often associated with sin, trickery and a seemingly fallen world. And according to Hamlet, female sexuality will/has made the entirety of the world seem like an ‘’Unweeded Garden’’ (Scene 1, Act 2, Page 6) – metaphorically speaking that the world is over lapping, over growing and breaking the boundaries just as his mother.
With Hamlet, it seems that Shakespeare has constructed a more indifferent way of relaying the themes of sexuality, gender and power; especially through the differentiating and non-stereotypical relationships. For example; between a father/brother/daughter rather than a father/mother daughter. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty, Romeo and Juliet exude these themes, especially the last theme (sexuality) in a more hands on approach, or at least one which seems far more obvious to the reader/audience.
The simplicity of a boy and a girl from enemy grounds meet and fall in love, their lust for one another are tested by family deaths as well as pushed by intense chemistry. Both of these young ‘adults’ live in Verona, a city seen through the play where dirty jokes are spread, violence is the norm and even the simplest of question (like having the time of day) has underlying sexual tones. ‘’The bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon,” It would seem nothing less that Romeo is merely a young boy looking for a bit of fun. Why would he need love? Or marriage? When he is able to have something physical handed to him on a platter?
However, these star-crossed lovers heighten the world of sexuality between to entities and probably shocked most of the period/era when written/played/produced. Considering their age, status, ranking and familial obedience. To conclude, both of these plays exude the underlying themes; sexuality, gender and power. All were shown with supporting quotations and in the views of different relationships such as father to daughter, lover to lover, friend to foe. All have their own ambiguous meanings but without Shakespeare’s personal touches to each of these plays, they would not have been so widely known and read today.
Each divulged me into a state of realism, allowing me to understand each character and through this essay analysing and scrutinizing what was being researched into deeper analysis. In addition to supporting that ‘’The course of true love never did run smooth’’. Word Count – 2472 Bibliography: Hamlet: Shakespeare, Play originally written: 1603 (Copy used): ‘New Swan Shakespeare, Advanced Series, Hamlet’ published: 1969 Romeo and Juliet: Shakespeare, Play originally written: 1597 (Copy used) ‘Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet’ ,modern English version side by side to original text, published: 1984