What quotes can be used for interpreting Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet through feminist literary criticism?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Feminist literary criticism examines ways in which literature portrays the oppression of women, particularly the "economic, political, social, and psychological oppression of women" ("Feminist Criticism 1960s-present"). Therefore, if we are looking for things in Romeo and Juliet that can be interpreted through feminist criticism, we would be looking for ways in which women are shown to be oppressed. There are certainly several examples in which Juliet is oppressed.

We see Juliet, as well as most noble class women in this time period, being oppressed in the very first scene. Most, although not all, upper class marriages in this time period were arranged marriages. Scholars point out that the peasant class did not have arranged marriages ("Oh Grow up!: About Arranged Marriages"). The purposes of arranged marriages were for political and economic gain. For example, if Juliet had married Count Paris, because he is a count and of higher social standing than her father who is only a Lord, Juliet's family would have gained in both wealth and social standing. In Act 1, Scene 3 in which we first meet Juliet, we see that her mother feels very strongly about seeing Juliet married to Count Paris. Her mother is even more enthusiastic than her father who had just told Paris in the previous scene to wait two more years. Regardless of what her father told Paris, being eager for the match, Lady Capulet comes to Juliet and tries to persuade her to think of marrying Paris. One could view Lady Capulet's attempt to persuade Juliet as an example of oppression because Juliet clearly states that she does not feel ready for marriage, as we see in her line, "It is an honour that I dream not of" (I.iii.70). Therefore, since Juliet is being persuaded against her will, this line can be interpreted as portraying an example of oppression and interpreting it in that way would be an example of feminist criticism.

A second clearer example of how we can apply feminist criticism to Juliet can be seen later on when her father decides so adamantly that marrying Paris now is the best thing for her. This is a perfect example of oppression because suddenly Juliet's marriage is no longer just an arranged marriage, but a forced arranged marriage, and scholars point out that arranged marriages could not be forced because "force and fear" was a legal reason for a divorce ("Oh Grow Up!"). We especially hear the oppression in Juliet's voice when she begs her father to listen to her reasons against the marriage, as we see in her lines, "Good father, I beseech you on my knees, / Hear me with patience but to speak a word" (III.v.162-63). Hence, these lines, as well as her parents' treatment of Juliet, can be interpreted as examples of oppression through feminist criticism.

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Romeo and Juliet

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