A Story Of Heterosexual Love Through Romeo and Juliet Story

Arguably the most popular an well-known of William Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet is seen most often as a story of heterosexual love. Many of its queer aspects however, have been noticed by scholars and directors. The story is often referred to as the epitome of romantic love and one of the greatest love stories in literature , despite the fact that it lasted 3 days and caused the death of no less than six people, the lovers included. However, just because queerness can be found within the play, does not mean that there is an inherent queer meaning to be uncovered.

That being said, Mercutio’s lasciviousness is part of the greatness of the character. He is said to be ‘the most notorious scene stealer in all of Shakespeare’ and had to be killed, in case he would ‘kill Shakespeare and hence the [entire] play’. He is responsible for a staggering amount of sexual innuendos that present themselves within the play and ‘at least 175 puns’.

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It’s true that Mercutio seems to be very confident and fluid with his sexuality, but to what extent should this be seen as queer? According to Eve Sedgwick,

“Homosocial desire”, to begin with, is a kind of oxymoron. “Homosocial” is a word occasionally used in history and social sciences, where it describes social bonds between persons of the same sex; it is a neologism, obviously formed by analogy with “homosexual”, and just obviously meant to be distinguished from “homosexual”’ In fact, it is applied to such activities as “male bonding”, which may, as in our society, be characterized by intense homophobia, fear and hatred of homosexuality.

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To draw the “homosocial” back into the orbit of “desire”, of the potentially erotic, then, is to hypothesize the potential unbrokenness of a continuum between homosocial and homosexual- a continuum whose visibility, for men, in our society, is radically disrupted.

According to Dr Renata Lucena Dalmaso in her essay titled Queering the Performance: Mercutio as an emblem of non-normativity in Romeo and Juliet, ‘The nuances and contradictions inherent in Sedgwick’s use of the term seem particularly fitting to a character as complex as Mercutio, as directors and actors often play with the erotic potential of the performance in relation to the other male characters’. There are many elements that lend their contribution to this particular reading of the character. The group with which Mercutio and Romeo belong to is rife with homosexual desire, along with the fact that Mercutio adamantly opposes the idea of heterosexual love, lends it hand to this theory. As well as that, Tybalt implies that Mercutio ‘consorts with Romeo’.

We know that Mercutio is often hostile towards women, but when we look at the motive behind this, Shakespeare obviously does not give us a straight answer. Some scholars suggest that it is because he is attracted to men, citing the specific sexual tension between him and Romeo. This would imply that Mercutio’s issue with Rosaline at the start of the play is not because he simply doesn’t like her, but more to do with his jealously that she caught Romeo’s eye and he did not. Paul Hammond, author of Love Between Men in English Literature, tries to make the case that Mercutio is exclusively homosexual:

When Romeo’s infatuation with Juliet removes him from the company of his male friends, led by Mercutio, they mock him in bawdy punning which seeks to re-establish a comfortable male subculture. Their puns show a particular interest in Romeo’s “prick” which will be “beat… down” and his “spirit” (that is, erect penis) which Mercutio tries to “raise up”. When Mercutio imagines Juliet as a medlar he chooses the fruit’s dialect name and says: “O that she were/ An open-arse and thou a poperin pear,” simultaneously evoking both vaginal intercourse and sodomy. His subsequent teasing of Romeo after what he imagines to have been Romeo’s night of sexual activity is full of punning references to Romeo’s penis, and he offers to give Romeo an affectionate nibble on the ear for a particularly good jest. Homosocial play includes homoerotic play.

Mercutio functions as a tool to discredit Romeo’s devotion to love. In fact, in several instances throughout the play, Mercutio accuses Romeo of being love’s slave, ‘Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead, stabb’d with a white wench’s black eye, run through the ear with a love-song, the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boys butt shaft’. In this scene specifically, we see Mercutio express his loathing towards Romeo’s attitude about love.

However Mercutio feels about love, and Romeo’s desire for it, the bond between the two of them and Benvolio indicates a strong homosocial desire. This can be seen from the incessant touching between Benvolio and Mercutio, then later between Mercutio and Romeo. However, Mercutio only starts to banter with Romeo once he joins in the games, indicating, in Mercutio’s mind, that he no longer cares for the ‘romantic infatuations that had ensnared him away from the pack’. Mercutio believes that since Romeo has at last had a sexual encounter, Romeo must now realise that sex is the only thing women are good for. In fact, the opposite is true. Before meeting Juliet, Romeo had been prone to fantasies about unobtainable women. However, after spending a night with a real and passionate woman, he has unlocked a newfound wonder within himself. It is at this point in the play that we see Mercutio’s woman hating view of the world begin to crumble, as we know the falseness behind his words.

As briefly mentioned above, Tybalt accuses Mercutio of consorting with Romeo, ‘Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo. The word consort, here, has a dual meaning in this sense. The fist definition is simply that Mercutio associates with Romeo, that they are friends. However, the second meaning would be that Mercutio has sex with Romeo. This insult from Tybalt then equates to the schoolyard bully taunt of calling someone the derogatory term, faggot, a word used unkindly today by homophobes as a way to describe a queer man. By reading into this double meaning of the word consort, it deepens Tybalt’s character and disgusts us as an audience- at least, today in 2019. However, just because a bully uses a derogatory term against you, does not mean that the person it is directed at is queer. Tybalt is, in essence, a bully towards all Montague’s and those that accompany them and therefore, anything he says against them should be taken lightly. However, this does not disprove the Mercutio is Queer theory.

Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, while epically cringe worthy, has been noted by scholars and teachers alike to be one of, if not the most accurate version of the famous play. It is set in a modern day Verona Beach, with the Capulet’s and Montague’s being rival crime families. This post-modernist set of the film ‘reflects the (then) new youth culture of the nineties, which is marked by

Mercutio’s Queen Mab speech and subsequent entrance to the Capulet’s party in Luhrmann’s production is spectacular to say the least. Harold Perrineau Jr’s performance is a tour de force, full of sexual innuendos, drag and diva. Instead of just reciting the Queen Mab speech, it almost seems as though Mercutio is Queen Mab. At the most extreme end of the spectrum, Luhrmann’s choice to have Mercutio dress in drag and act exuberantly is a very real point of evidence for Mercutio being queer. Although it was obviously played up and overly exuberant, Luhrmann was taking something seen in the original play and putting it on the screen for even the most close minded people to see. Looking at this particular interpretation of the character of Mercutio, it is easy to see that Mercutio is in fact queer. Whether he is exclusively attracted to men is yet to be seen. It could be that his feelings of attraction towards Romeo have poisoned his mind towards women, where he is so hateful towards women because Romeo is attracted to them. Luhrmann’s production does not ‘shy away from portraying a queer(ed) Mercutio’ according to Dalmaso. Dalmaso claims that that, a drag queen whose drugs could be cynically interpreted as being the real catalyst for “true” love, Luhrmann’s Mercutio is not just rebellious, he is the emblem of non-normativity itself. In that production, the character of Mercutio queers gender, queers expectations of masculinity and femininity, queers expectations of race, and, in a sense, queers love, or the ideal of romantic love.

Mercutio, in the original script and context, was always defiant of love, and Luhrmann’s direction shows this in Perrineau’s embodiment of this defiance.

Updated: Feb 23, 2024
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A Story Of Heterosexual Love Through Romeo and Juliet Story. (2024, Feb 23). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/a-story-of-heterosexual-love-through-romeo-and-juliet-story-essay

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