How does Shakespeare use Lord Capulet and Paris to present the 16th century attitudes towards marriage?

Include references to:

  • Context 
  • Contrasting attitudes between the two characters 
  • 16th century social norms in marriage 
  • How women/men were supposed to act towards the opposite gender 

 

Expert Answers

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Although Romeo and Juliet was written by William Shakespeare in approximately 1594 or 1595, the story itself is set neither in England nor in the sixteenth century. The main source for the play was a long poem by Arthur Brooke, "The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet" published in 1562 that itself recapitulated later Italian versions of a story first published in Italian and set in fifteenth century Italy. 

The first and most obvious attitude that determines the plot is one that marriages should be arranged by families rather than by the preferences of the individuals being married. Lord Capulet is an extremely strong advocate of this viewpoint and feels that the head of the household deserves unquestioning obedience. He sees marriage arrangements for his daughter as an extension of his patriarchal power.

Paris is a polite, sensible, and conventional man who also sees marriage as a practical transaction, although he is decent and kind within the limits of his worldview. While he would agree with Capulet in principle, he is more flexible in his views.

Typically, women in this period were intended to be subordinate to men and obedient first to their fathers and then to their husbands. They were also expected to be chaste, and somewhat passive. Even Juliet recognizes that her decision to go against her father's will violates not only societal conventions but religious ones of her period when she says:

For I have need of many orisons

To move the heavens to smile upon my state,

Which, well thou know'st, is cross, and full of sin.

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