How are arranged marriages portrayed in Romeo and Juliet?

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This is an interesting question, and I've wondered if a Shakespearean audience might respond differently than a modern day audience to the possible message about arranged marriages in this play. From very early on in the play, readers are alerted to the fact that Lord Capulet is likely to arrange Juliet's marriage. Paris asks for Capulet's permission to marry Juliet, and Lord Capulet doesn't say "no." He asks Paris to wait and make an attempt to woo Juliet as well. Capulet might control her marriage, but he also wants Juliet to be happy. He wants her to be taken care of, but he wants a partner for her and not just a bread winner. As a parent, I can't fault Capulet's desire to control his daughter's future spouse, and I respect what he is looking for. Young teens might find it controlling, but that was normal back then.

I like playing the devil's advocate with my classes regarding this topic/question, but I'm also not defending something that the play doesn't seem to support. I think the play sends a very strong message about the importance of and appropriateness of arranged marriages. Paris is a well established, respected, cordial, and handsome man. He would be an excellent future husband for Juliet. She would likely learn to love him. That might sound coldhearted, but rushing to marry Romeo because of a belief in love at first sight ends in tragedy.

There is nothing beautiful about their deaths; it's a waste of human life. Had Juliet married Paris, she would likely have lived a long enough life to raise her own children with a husband that appears to be entirely devoted to her well being. I truly believe that Romeo would have "gotten over it" and fallen for some other girl the very next week. Look how quickly he gets over Rosaline. Capulet is making a marital decision based on logic. Juliet is making a marital decision based on emotion. When it comes to long term decisions, logic usually performs better.

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Arranged marriages were standard in both Shakespeare's era and the Italian setting of the play. There are a few different ways to look at arranged marriages within the context of the play. A twenty-first-century reader might say that the main cause of the tragedy is Juliet's arranged marriage to Paris, which would have separated her from Romeo and which sets in motion the double suicide.

Another perspective, though, is that if Juliet had simply agreed to marry Paris and not had an illicit relationship with Romeo, and Romeo had not tried to seduce a girl from the wrong family, there would have been a good possibility of Juliet having a long life and a relatively happy marriage with Paris, who is not really portrayed as a bad guy. He appears in certain ways to be more responsible and less fickle than Romeo.

Thus, one can read the play as showing that arranged marriages are opposed to true love. Alternately, one could read it as showing that impulsive romantic attachments end badly and that, while arranged marriages might not be very romantic, they might actually be a reasonable practice.

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An important theme is Romeo and Juliet is that of arranged marriages versus marriages motivated by love. In Juliet's time, it would have been quite natural for her to marry Paris. He looks like a perfect "catch." He is handsome, rich, and socially prominent. In Act I, Scene 3 when her mother tells her Paris is in love with her, Juliet replies:

I'll look to like, if looking liking move;

But she deviates from the norm by choosing Romeo because Romeo is the man she loves. Would she have been better off if she had married the man her parents chose for her? Would arranged marriages be better, worse, or just about the same for young people today?

Nowadays in America, young people want nothing to do with marriages arranged by their parents. They want to find the right person and "fall in love." The media encourage them to believe in "love." It seems as if every popular song is about love. There are so many millions of young women and so many millions of young men all looking for Mr. Right or Miss Right that it seems like an impossible task.

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