How is male aggression explored throughout the play Romeo and Juliet?

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Romeo and Julietis a play about the tempestuousness of emotions, reflected in its treatment of both love and hatred. Violence is a key recurring theme within this play, which follows two feuding families caught up in vendetta. It's worth noting that (following a brief prologue ) the play opens...

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Romeo and Juliet is a play about the tempestuousness of emotions, reflected in its treatment of both love and hatred. Violence is a key recurring theme within this play, which follows two feuding families caught up in vendetta. It's worth noting that (following a brief prologue) the play opens on a scene in which violence is very much on the forefront, with the stage directions for Act 1, Scene 1 reading: "Enter Sampson and Gregory, armed with swords and bucklers." Two servants of the Capulets emerge armed on stage, run into two servants of the Montagues, and the situation escalates with the arrival of Benvolio and the hyper-violent Tybalt, drawing in still more participants as the situation turns into open violence in the streets.

Violence is central to the world of Romeo and Juliet, but it's also a critical component to the personalities of many of the characters. Tybalt more than anyone else seems consumed by his hatred of the Montagues, and his aggression ultimately leads to his death. Meanwhile, there is also Mercutio, who (while not himself a part of the feud between the Capulets and Montagues) is also prone towards aggression, as can be clearly seen with his fight against Tybalt. Finally, there is Romeo himself, with his tendency to swing violently between extremes. When Tybalt first seeks to fight Romeo, Romeo refuses to engage in violence (due to his marriage with Juliet). However, after Tybalt has killed Mercutio, Romeo's mindset changes dramatically, with Romeo now seeking to kill Tybalt to avenge his fallen friend.

The violence of the setting also plays a critical role in the conclusion of Romeo and Juliet, as Romeo seeks to break into Juliet's crypt to commit suicide (not knowing that her death had been faked). This act, in and of itself, speaks to his great emotional turbulence, but even before we get to that point, Romeo runs into Paris. Here again, their encounter turns violent and ends with Romeo killing his opponent. As we see, these themes of masculine aggression resurface again and again throughout the play, with a devastating effect on the world its characters inhabit.

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Male aggression leads to a situation in which the Montagues and Capulets are endlessly at each other's throats. This aggression creates the context that results in Romeo and Juliet's love being forbidden.

The play begins with males openly hungering for a fight in the streets of Verona. In the very first lines, Sampson and Gregory, both Capulets, discuss how they will draw their swords if the Montagues do anything to make them angry. Sampson says:

I strike quickly, being moved [angered].

He also says the "dogs" of the house of Montague anger him. Not surprisingly, as soon as Sampson and Gregory see two Montague servants, they get out their swords, ready to fight. Soon after, Benvolio and Tybalt are sword fighting. Then Lord Capulet is ready to jump into the action. He doesn't have the excuse of youth; he simply wants to brawl. Significantly, Lady Capulet tries to stop him, saying:

Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe.

However, it takes the Prince to break up the melee.

Throughout the play, male aggression works against love. Romeo very much wants to avoid fighting the Capulets once he gets involved with Juliet, but he ends up all the same killing her beloved cousin Tybalt after Tybalt kills Mercutio. This leads to Romeo's exile and, consequently, the tragic end he and Juliet suffer.

The play explores male aggression and finds it a serious problem. The Prince says at the conclusion of the play that everyone suffers (is "punished") because of the violence between the two families. The Prince suffers as well, losing his own relatives for not having been more proactive in stopping the feuding.

Prince Escalus states:

Capulet! Montague!
See what a scourge is laid upon your hate . . .
And I, for winking at your discords, too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punished.
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In addition to Romeo and Juliet being a play about young romance, it is also a play that deals with angry young men and the destructive qualities of masculine aggression.

This fact is most evident in the duels in act 1, scene 1 and act 3, scene 1. In both scenes, we see masculine gender roles that are reliant on the aggressive rapier duel. Sampson, for instance, challenges Abraham and Balthasar with "draw if you be men" (1.1.57), thus linking masculinity to male aggression via sword combat.

Later, reflecting on Mercutio's death and his reluctance to fight Tybalt, Romeo laments "O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate / And in my temper soft'ned valour's steel" (3.1.113-15), which again links masculinity (the antithesis to Romeo's notion of effeminacy) to fighting in a rapier duel. Significantly, it is this duel, which results in Tybalt's death and Romeo's banishment, that we most fully see the devastating effects of masculine aggression: by linking masculinity to aggression and the violence of rapier duels, the angry young men of the play bring about its tragic end through the ripple effect of their actions.

Thus, in the end male aggression become a chaotic destabilizing force that threatens—through the deaths of many of Verona's most prominent young citizens—the very stability of civic order.

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