It would seem outrageous to fake your own death, just so you could marry a person, right? Well if your familiar with the story of Romeo and Juliet then you know what I am talking about, if not, read the first sentence. The psychology behind a person willing to do something would be, to say the least, intriguing, right?
“The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet” was a play written by the famous playwright William Shakespeare. The play is set in Verona, where two star-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet, fall in love. But their love is forbidden as there is a long feud between their families (the Montagues and Capulets) which causes tragic results for the main characters. The events of the story contrast hate and love, forcing the star-crossed lovers to die tragically in despair. The purpose of this essay is to attempt to understand how the culture, physical, or geographical surroundings shape the psychology and moral of characters in the story and determine whether the characters are ultimately affected by their surroundings or by fate and help to illustrate the meaning of the work as a whole. I have chosen the characters of Tybalt and Juliet to analyze.
To answer these questions we have to define a few words/phrases. Firstly, “culture”, the definition I will be using, as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary: the set of values, conventions, or social practices associated with a particular field, activity, or societal characteristic. Secondly, moral, again as defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary: of or relating to principles of right and wrong in behavior. Lastly, psychology, once again as defined by Merriam-Webster: the mental or behavioral characteristics of an individual or group. Armed with these definitions we can begin to analyze the first question. How does the culture, physical, or geographical surroundings shape the psychology and moral of characters in the story? In our case, Tybalt and Juliet.
We should first begin by establishing a thesis, since this is an essay. The psychological and moral development of Tybalt and Juliet are shaped by the culture of honor and expected sexism of the time.
I would like to start by discerning the surroundings themselves. First of culture, Tybalt is surrounded by an culture of honor. But what do I mean by that? By a culture of honor I mean that Tybalt is surrounded and has been taught that honor is a reputation that one is worthy of respect and admiration. In the play there is little support for how physical and geographical surroundings shape the psychology and moral of Tybalt. But there is major support for how the culture does so, both in Tybalt and characters and actions surrounding him.
In the first scene of the play we are greeted with two individuals from the Capulet family walking in armed with swords and small shields. In the first sentence one of the servants, Sampson, says “Gregory, I swear, we can’t let them humiliate us. We don’t take their garbage.” Already we are presented with a scenario where the culture of honor is present “We can’t let them humiliate us.” Now it may seem that I am exaggerating a bit, because even today you wouldn’t submit to be humiliate for no reason at all, but the context of the scene is what matters.
They want to take up a fight with the Montagues to prove they are better and they are worthy of respect and admiration, this idea presents itself many times throughout the story. But it’s important to stay focused, so how is Tybalt’s psychology and moral affected by the culture of honor? Well both his psychology and moral are deeply impacted by the culture surrounding him. Our first example is the same scene that included the Capulet servants trying to fight the Montagues servants. Tybalt takes Benvolio’s attempt to calm the temper of the scene down as an insult and tries to fight him, of course in the play he doesn’t explicitly say that this fight is for his honor, but his actions do.
The need to take up arms in what really wasn’t an insult but was taken like one, because Benvolio asking him to calm down, in his eyes, threatened his honor, and him not taking up arms makes him lose respect and admiration. This is a primary motivating factor in a lot of the decisions he makes throughout the story. Tybalt demonstrates said culture in another scene in the play, the scene where he recognizes Romeo’s voice at the Montague’s party, at the sound of his voice Tybalt wants to kill Romeo. That quickly, just at the sound of his voice and knowing that Romeo is a Capulet he wants to kill him. He sees it as morally okay to kill Romeo for his own honor and that of his family. It is easy to see how a culture of honor has affected Tybalt’s psychology and morality. But how does a culture of sexism affect him? With Tybalt it is hard to pinpoint where said culture affects him, I see strains of it tied into his masculinity and decision making and directly intertwined with his culture of honor. It is likely that some of his actions are taken in fear of looking effeminate which, at the time, was synonymous with weak. The culture of sexism is for more present in Juliet.
While a culture of sexism is obviously present in the story its effects on Juliet’s psychology and moral are surprising. To exemplify the culture I am referring to I would like to bring up the scene in which Juliet is disagreeing with her father when he tells her that she is to marry Paris. “Wife, we scare thought us blest. That God had lent us but this only child; But now I see this one is one too much, And that we have a curse in having her.
Out on her, hiding!” The purpose of this quote is too show how angry Capulet is, because his daughter is not being obedient. Another example of this culture of sexism is again in the first scene of the play, when the Capulet servants want to fight the Montague servants: Gregory – “That means you’re the weak one, because weaklings get pushed up against the wall.” Sampson – “You’re right. That’s why girls get pushed up against walls- they’re weak.” It could not be more obvious that there is a culture of sexism that floods the play.
The effects on Juliet’s psychology and moral might be contradictory to what one might expect, instead of conforming to societal norms and becoming the obedient and quiet woman she becomes a rebel. This psychology is evident in a number of scenes throughout the play, but there are two scenes which best exemplify this psychology. The first is the one previously discussed, when she rebels against her father who wants her to marry Paris. When he denies her objection she takes matter into her own hands and goes to Friar Lawrence for help, it is there where she develops her plan to save herself from marrying Paris and end up with Romeo.
This behavior was not only untraditional at the time, but outrageous, she was defying the rules of her father, the dominant male figure in her life and on top of that she was plotting against his demands. These actions were not only rebellious but also exemplary of a feminist psychology at the time. The more important part of the scene is a realization she comes to. “If all else fail, myself have power to die.” This quote comes from a long statement from Juliet when she describes the fear she has in the plan she has developed with Friar Lawrence. But the quote shows that she has realized that she has a certain control over her own life, that if she can’t control who she marries, she can decide whether her life continues or not. This is a very powerful realization and it was a realization purposely written into the play. But through the analysis of these quotes and examples we have uncovered how the culture of sexism has affected Juliet’s psychology.
Though we have understood how the surrounding of Tybalt and Juliet affect their psychology and moral there are still two questions unanswered: Are the characters ultimately affected by fate or by their surroundings? And how do these factors help illustrate the work as a whole? Tybalt, is more affected by his surroundings than his fate. While the interaction between Tybalt and Romeo is arguably up to fate the way Tybalt reaction is both an effect of his surroundings and another example of the a culture of honor in the play.
His dissatisfaction with Romeo’s reaction to his insults exemplify the mentality developed by being surrounded by a culture of honor. He wants Romeo to take up arms against him, the same way he would if Romeo insulted him, but Romeo continues to back down, so Mercutio takes up arms, in defense of Romeo (again exemplifying the culture of honor), and is killed by Tybalt. Filled with emotion, and labeled effeminate for doing so, Romeo kills Tybalt, all because Tybalt wanted to manipulate Romeo and kill him by challenging his honor and strengthening his own. Juliet on the other hand is more affected by fate.
Her death is caused by a miscommunication. As you may or may not know, the plan that Juliet and the Friar hatch is interrupted because the Friar sent to deliver the message to Romeo gets stopped on his journey there completely by chance. So as much as Juliet is affected by her surrounding culture, ultimately she met her end by chance.
The first question is a simpler than the second as no one really knows what Shakespeare means except Shakespeare. But the way I see it is that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet on two levels, one to warn of the antics of being a hopeless romantic, two, to write what he saw as a future of culture. Now for the purpose of this essay and the details supporting it I’m going to discuss the second one. The reason I chose Tybalt and Juliet is not only because they are exemplary but also because they contrast each other in one simple way, present and future. Tybalt being present and Juliet being future. Shakespeare uses Tybalt to exemplify what I believe he felt to be and outdated culture, the culture of honor, and show how toxic and detrimental it was a on personal level so it would be more relatable to people. Juliet was used to exemplify an important part of Shakespeare’s vision of culture in the future. She represented the concept of feminism, or at least a the struggle
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