How are we supposed to view Shakespeare’s views?

The abundant use of paradoxes in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet provokes many questions about Shakespeare’s views. Particularly, the use of paradoxes to depict love made me question how Shakespeare views love and relationships. In Act II, scene II Friar Laurence’s long speech plays on paradoxes and ironic statements that are relatable to Romeo and Juliet in many ways. The paradoxes that resemble the contrast between things that are good and bad seem to reflect the relevance of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. There is a lot of hate between the Capulets and Montagues, yet Romeo and Juliet love each other. “Within the infant rind of this weak flower Poison hath residence, and medicine power.” (Shakespeare, pg 928, lines 23-24) In this line I see the reflection of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship because their love is pure and beautiful like a flower, yet so toxic because of the family feud. This speech also seems to foreshadow tragedy and death to come in the upcoming acts. “The earth, that’s nature’s mother, is her tomb. What is her burying grave, that is her womb.” (Shakespeare, pg 928, lines 9-10) I think the relationship of Mother Nature and death is very important here. I saw this as a resemblance of the birth of Romeo and Juliet’s relationship and how it reciprocates the notion of death (later in the text.) All of these paradoxes and references to good and bad within the idea of love has me questioning how Shakespeare really viewed relationships. I wonder if the paradoxes were a reflection of him thinking that you can’t have something good without the bad (love) and that love can never just be “happy.”

Another facet of Romeo and Juliet that made me question Shakespeare’s views is Romeo’s display of Juliet. In Act 2, scene 1 Romeo is professing his love for Juliet and displaying her as a biblical, angelic figure. This image of women is far different from previous Shakespeare works that we have read and studied. It provoke the thought of “how does Shakespeare really view women?” In The Taming of a Shrew, we saw women displayed as an object and made for man’s purpose. Romeo and Juliet are quite the contrast to that idea. Romeo says “As is a winged messenger of heaven Unto the white upturned wond’ring eyes” (Shakespeare, pg 924, lines 70-71) Romeo sees Juliet as an angel, an is completely fascinated by her. This display of Juliet makes me question the vision I previously had of William Shakespeare. Since there is so much uncertainty of how Shakespeare really viewed women, I found this act (act II) particularly important. After reading The Taming of the Shrew I was almost certain that Shakespeare viewed women as subservient to men, just as other people thought of his time. After reading through Act II of Romeo and Juliet I am not so certain of Shakespeare’s view of women. Now I am thinking that he wrote to display the societal problems of his day, rather than to agree with them.

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One thought on “How are we supposed to view Shakespeare’s views?

  1. gmedulla727

    To comment on your first point, yes I agree that in order for people to appreciate the good in life sometimes bad things have to happen. I also was thinking how Shakespeare viewed women after reading both Taming of the Shrew and Romeo and Juliet. Some people say that you cannot look at a someone’s life in comparison to his or her work—but it so hard not to. When writers create a story, they write for a purpose and that purpose is driven from experiences. I think that it is hard for writers to totally forget who they are once they pick up a pen and paper. Consciously or unconsciously people bring a piece of themselves to their writing. With this in mind, I’m still confused as to how Shakespeare felt towards women, and we probably will never know. The only thing we can do as readers is make comparisons to the text and theories related to his work and his life.

    Reply

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