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“When civil blood make civil hands unclean never was a story of more woe than Juliet and her Romeo.”-Shakespeare
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written by William Shakespeare. It follows the tale of two lovers whose untimely deaths rectify the feud between their families. However, much of the characters actions were because of nurture. Nurture is generally taken as the influence of external factors after conception, e.g., the product of exposure, life experiences and learning on an individual.
The two main protagonists were primarily influenced by nature because of the social and gender norms of the 14th century, which led to Romeo and Juliet’s death.
Nurture was the main impactor of Romeo and Juliet. “Nurture assumes that correlations between environmental factors and psychological outcomes are caused environmentally.”(Mcleod) Society in Verona, Italy is clearly painted as well as the expectations for beliefs, values, and behaviors in both men and women. These precise expectations and standards led the characters in this play to do the actions they did, which eventually caused their deaths.
” …at birth the human mind is a tabula rasa (a blank slate) and that this is gradually “filled” as a result of experience.” (GoodTherapy) Evidence of this is Nurse and Juliet’s parents, as well as Paris. They were acclimated to Verona’s treatment of women and young girls, and even encouraged it. Paris automatically assumed Juliet was marrying him; Juliet’s parents tried to marry her off to Paris; Nurse encouraged Juliet to marry Paris, even going as far as to badmouth Romeo.
Another fact about the play was that the world of men in Verona is founded upon violence, sexual domination, and conquest. Sampson challenges, “Draw, if you be men”(Shakespeare) feeding upon societal standards and teasing his opponent with the idea that he is less than a man if he does not respond and fight. If the men in Verona weren’t so concerned with upholding their “tough” facade, Mercutio and Tybalt wouldn’t have been slain, and Romeo banished. Also, showing emotions are equivalent to showing weakness in this time. One of Romeo’s best friends, Mercutio, suggests,
“If love be rough with you, be rough with love;
Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down” (Shakespeare)
The thought reinforces the need for men to constantly be above what are considered to be lesser emotions of weakness. Detachment from these emotions is necessary so as not to allow one to be overpowered by something such as love. Men in Verona appear to not have empathy or restraint, and they are always fighting and insulting one other, seemingly for no reason. With such a hostile environment, it was only a matter of time until it affected the protagonists.
Pleasing her parents, marriage, then pleasing their husband, and bearing children are the standards of which a woman should achieve. Women in those times were expected to pass from their father to their husband, and always stay subservient to the male. This concept is still alive today, exemplified by the father walking the daughter down the aisle and giving her to the husband. In the script, it is also shown by the interaction by Lord Capulet and Paris;
” My child is yet a stranger in the world. She hath not seen the change of fourteen years, let two more summers wither in their pride, ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.”
“Younger than she are happy mothers made.”(Shakespeare)
Throughout that interaction, Juliet’s opinion on the marriage isn’t at all shown or even thought of. Marriages in those times were more for the benefit of the family, not the individual being married off. This shows how women are thought of as inferior, weaker, and more as objects to possess. Never would they be called equals with opinions that would be heard and understood. Juliet showed a sort of passive resistance throughout the play, in which she didn’t agree with her parents and outright disobeyed them by getting married to Romeo. However, those same rebellious actions led her to her eventual suicide.
Another thing to remember is that Romeo is anywhere between 15-21, with Juliet being only 13. This could be compared to a high school senior or older dating a freshman. “There is, therefore, in any senior-freshman hook-up an unavoidable imbalance, baked into the sexual interaction itself. The freshman’s decision to hook up is objectively and radically less informed than the senior’s is. The senior has more power than the first-year, and always will.”(DeButts) Something to consider is one of Juliet’s famous lines,
‘Deny thy father and refuse they name.
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.'(Shakespeare)
This is no small matter. Juliet just offered to renounce her heritage and run off with Romeo, and this is only after a couple hours! Going back to the freshman-senior analogy, the freshman is “amazed” by the senior; the idea of a serious relationship is foreign to her, and she doesn’t fully understand the sexual implications of it. When a pawn shop buys 24 karat gold from a man who doesn’t know it’s worth, is it guaranteed that they would pay full price? Granted, seniors aren’t pawn shops and sex is not gold. But the gist of it is the same. Romeo could just be taking advantage of Juliet for her looks and for sex, something common in Verona during those times.
Some may say it is nature that affected Romeo and Juliet. While there is a strong argument for that, nurture still swayed the story more overall. In the play, they were born into two families that despised each other, but when they met at the Capulet party, it was love at first sight. Romeo proclaimed,
“Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear,
45Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
50Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.”(Shakespeare)
However, this doesn’t accurately show “love at first sight”. All we see here is Romeo commenting on Juliet’s beauty. In fact, when Romeo approaches Juliet, she says,
“Good pilgrim, you don’t give your hand enough credit. By holding my hand, you show polite devotion. After all, pilgrims touch the hands of statues of saints. Holding one palm against another is like a kiss.”(Shakespeare)
She immediately complimented Romeo, perhaps because she was flattered by an older man taking an obvious interest in her. That would put it completely in the category of the senior-freshman analogy, which was explained in the paragraph before this. The freshman is entranced by the senior, leading to the senior taking advantage of her. Their whole “love” might just be Romeo wanting to get some action.
In brief, nurture is the primary influencer of the play Romeo and Juliet. The standards for behavior in both languages, belief, familial privileges, and love pushed the characters to do the acts they did. In death, they are reunited together forever within their unusual roles that defied their society.
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