How are masculinity and femininity represented in Romeo and Juliet?

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teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would agree with the other answers. Shakespeare, in his typical way, both defies and upholds gender norms. He defies gender norms by giving Juliet a strong, self-willed character, almost as impulsive as Romeo and certainly not submissive to patriarchal authority. At the same time, Juliet's role in the play is more passive and a bit more cautious than that of Romeo and his friends. It is Romeo who scales the walls of her home, at great risk to himself, to call out to her on the balcony; in this instance, it is Juliet who urges caution. On their wedding night, it is again Juliet urging Romeo to leave before he is discovered. Juliet also does not run around provoking her enemies. 

Instead, it is the males like Mercutio, Tybalt, and Romeo who occupy the public spaces and get into sword fights. It would be difficult to imagine, say, Juliet and Lady Montague engaged in a sword fight on the streets of Verona.

Juliet may speak first of marriage, but she would know very well that the stakes of sexual passion are higher for her: she cannot afford to become a fallen woman. Romeo, we learn early on in the play, is not terribly concerned about the order of sex and marriage. He cannot understand why Rosaline does not share his desire to jump into bed. He and his friends tend to see woman primarily as sex objects: they are on the prowl for beautiful women, not intellectual companions. 

Men use sex talk to intimidate woman, as Mercutio tries to do with Juliet's nurse. He does not manage to intimidate her, but he does manage to offend her. 

favoritethings eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While it is true that gender roles were pretty rigidly defined during Shakespeare's era, Romeo and Juliet themselves actually seem to reject those roles. For example, it is Juliet that proposes marriage to Romeo, telling him that she will send a messenger to him to find out where and when they will have the ceremony. Romeo follows her lead.  

Later, after Romeo slays Tybalt, Juliet is the one doing the thinking while Romeo is at Friar Lawrence's cell, crying. In this situation, Juliet acts much more like the way Shakespeare's audience would expect Romeo to act and Romeo acts much more feminine according to their standards.

Finally, it is Juliet who has the courage to pretend to die, be grieved and interred by her family, and wake up in the Capulets' tomb, hopeful but uncertain that Romeo will be there. She doesn't know if the friar's potion will kill her, but she bravely drinks it. Romeo only kills himself because he thinks that she is already dead.

In other words, it is Juliet who is active, who moves the plot forward with her decisions. She behaves the way Shakespeare's audience might have expected a man to act; she is rational and a practical planner. She is also brave.  Romeo, on the other hand, weeps a lot and acts in a manner more in line with what the contemporary audience would have thought of as feminine. In this sense, then, Shakespeare represents masculinity and femininity as somewhat more flexible and fluid than his contemporaries.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Masculinity and femininity are portrayed quite differently in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, as gender roles were very distinct in his period. 

The first difference in gender roles is that physical violence, in the form of fighting, rioting, and dueling, is portrayed as the exclusive dominion of males in the play. The only physically violent act committed in the play by a woman is Juliet's suicide, and that is violence towards herself not towards others. 

Next, raising children is the task of women, whether mothers in the lower classes or hired nurses in the upper classes. Thus the Nurse functions as a mother figure in the play and Juliet's father is a distant authority figure.

Taking initiative in relationships is also a distinctively masculine role; while Juliet can accept or reject Romeo's advances, she couldn't just walk up to a man and ask him to dance at a ball.

Finally, the priesthood, and thus religious authority, in the play is exclusively masculine. Only a male priest could marry the young lovers.