How is male aggression explored throughout the play?
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, tooHave lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punished.
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.