What does Romeo's speech tell us about the role of men/women in Elizabethan times? How does this compare with the language used in Act 2 scene 2?

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MaudlinStreet eNotes educator| Certified Educator

He suggests that the purpose of women's lives is to find a man and pass their beauty down to their children. His love for Rosaline is unrequited, and so he turns her actions against her, essentially saying that the way she is behaving in unnatural.

She will not stay the siege of loving terms,
Nor bide th’ encounter of assailing eyes,(215)
Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold.
O, she's rich in beauty; only poor
That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store.

So Rosaline will not let any man talk her into marriage, and Romeo remarks that it's a shame, because her beauty will die with her, rather than being passed onto future generations. It also suggests that she is vain and selfish, since she'll have no use for her beauty after death. Benvolio interprets this speech to mean that Rosaline has sworn to remain a virgin, and Romeo confirms this, saying

She hath, and in that sparing makes huge waste;(220)
For beauty, starv'd with her severity,
Cuts beauty off from all posterity.
She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair,
To merit bliss by making me despair.
She hath forsworn to love, and in that vow(225)
Do I live dead that live to tell it now.

Clearly, a woman's role is to bear children. Guarding one's chastity (at least past a certain age) is seen as a "waste": it's not doing anyone any good if no children are being brought forth. In the next act, Romeo has changed his tune. He sees Juliet as a purpose in herself. Loving her will bring all the meaning/purpose he needs in his life.

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Romeo and Juliet

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