Capulet shouts at Juliet for not marrying Paris.  What does this show about women in Shakespeare's time?

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zenlaundry eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Until well into the 19th century, women in the western world had no legal status at all - they belonged to their husbands or fathers in the same way the man would own a chair or a cow or a piece of land. As property, young upper-class women like Juliet were seen as part of their family's assets, to be disposed of in the most advantageous way. Marrying for love was a luxury few could afford in Shakespeare's time, and this play illustrates that. Juliet's father is unusually indulgent to her and protective of her earlier in the play, probably because he's lost his other children, and she is very dutiful and respectful towards him. The moment she steps outside of the duty and obedience expected by any father of the time from his young daughter, he turns on her, reminding her that he has total control over her, and that her opinion in the matter of her own life is of no importance, as she's too young and too female to have any kind of sense. Similar scenes of father-daughter duty/rebellion interactions can be found in Othello, where Desdemona's father condemns her undutifulness in wanting to marry an "unsuitable" man, and A Midsummer Night's Dream, in which Hermia's father also complains about his "spoiled" daughter wanting to decide on her own husband when he's got a perfectly good man picked out for her. That this is such a common theme suggests that it would have been completely familiar to Shakespeare's audience (and history show us that it was), and possibly act as a lesson to the women in the audience about the consequences of going against male authority. That no one protests against his treatment of Juliet, that he is backed up by her mother and that even the Nurse follows the party line eventually, telling Juliet that that's how it is, honey - too bad, but hey, he's rich and handsome, so you're lucky, it could be worse -  shows that Juliet is the one who's behaving unreasonably, not her father.  This provides an illustration of what was likely considered to be proper or improper behavior in a woman of the time.

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Romeo and Juliet

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