An Adversary Called Tradition; A Jailbreak Called Love

January 31, 2018
By evaberezovsky SILVER, MINNETONKA, Minnesota
evaberezovsky SILVER, MINNETONKA, Minnesota
9 articles 0 photos 4 comments

William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet encapsulates the rapid evolution of a love affair between Romeo, a Montague, and Juliet, a Capulet. Juliet, only thirteen years old, and Romeo,  slightly older, become of paramount importance to each other in a few fleeting days, courtesy of love at first sight. The teenagers’ all-consuming love transpires in old Verona; Verona’s ambience is tension-flooded with the Montague-Capulet quarrel claiming centerstage for both families. Verona’s custom of marrying at unvarying status deepens the existential unease, and each strictly-heterosexual marriage concretely requires a husband who is patently superior to his wife. This genderization occurs with Capulet and Capulet’s wife, for example; the naming of each party alone deliniates the possessiveness of the marriage. With uncompromisingly traditional surroundings, the dynamic of Romeo and Juliet’s love appears as particularly atypical; Romeo and Juliet consistently defy the rife relationship-structure where a woman is a man’s object. For example, Shakespeare incorporates a mix of “my Romeo”s and “my Juliet”s in the dialogue, complexifying the structure of the couple’s relationship by balancing the possession. In addition, the play title itself arguably prioritizes Romeo, while the final line prioritizes Juliet. Essentially, Romeo and Juliet’s love in contrast with the world around them pushes the question of what constitutes true love. Further, because love in Verona is quite limited, escaping the love’s confines results in fleeing the peripheries of tradition. The play’s periodic moments of interchangeable and equivalent dependence crack love’s traditional boundaries and strip Romeo and Juliet of societal expectations, ultimately freeing what it means to live and to love. In Romeo and Juliet, the couple’s romance is unconventionally gendered in order to depict love as freedom to live and love apart from the hindrance of tradition.

The dauntlessness of Juliet’s metaphorical language establishes a voice and partial dominion in her relationship with Romeo from the love’s origination. After Romeo sees Juliet from afar mid-party and admittedly falls in love, he approaches her on the dance floor. He begins to speak in religious metaphors, primarily initiating a kiss. Juliet reciprocates emphatically, contributing to and internalizing the figurative exchange in desire of the kiss. Prior to actually kissing, Juliet says, “Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer” (1.5.101). After a second kiss, Juliet says, “You kiss by th’ book” (1.5.112). The religious aspect of this entrance into a first kiss contradicts the moment’s profanity; intense forms of religion generally clash with the concept of reckless love and kissing a stranger. Comparing prayer to a kiss pushes the existential sacrilege even further. Additionally, in her rejoinder, Juliet says “lips that they must use in prayer”, presenting a dictative tone and fierceness. When she says “You kiss by th’ book” to Romeo, perhaps she is critiquing Romeo’s kiss as rule-abiding. Apart from her appraisal itself, in voicing her impression at all, Juliet challenges the world that circumscribes her, splintering the prototypical boundaries of a woman. Through repelling tradition, Juliet somewhat foreshadows the recurring idea that tradition is the enemy and to be repelled. Essentially, this preliminary moment between Romeo and Juliet hints at the couple’s capacity to shatter the love’s perimeter and introduces an opposition to the traditional atmosphere surrounding them.

The particular phrasing Romeo and Juliet use to address each other epitomizes their unorthodox power structure, promoting the liberation of their relationship. As Romeo sets off for his exile, he and Juliet say their doleful goodbyes at Juliet’s window. The two discuss whether or not they think they will unite again, and Romeo even presents the idea of staying with Juliet despite the risk of death. Juliet says, “O, by this count I shall be much in years / Ere I again behold my Romeo” (3.5.46-47)! Romeo responds, “I will omit no opportunity / That may convey my greetings, love, to thee” (3.5.49-50). Both Juliet and Romeo refer to each other in an ardent manner, but their undertone dissimilarly implies their ownership of each other. Juliet mentions Romeo in a possessive way, as if he is her entity and consequently under her control. Conversely, Romeo addresses Juliet with “to thee”. Synonymous to “you”, Romeo accredits Juliet as an individual and a human, talking to her rather than about her. These two opposing modes of naming put Romeo and Juliet at power structures that contradict that of tradition; Juliet is superior and of authority, objectifying Romeo in turn. In this scene, Romeo lowers himself from Juliet’s window, symbolizing his inferiority as he relocates beneath Juliet. In addition, when Romeo submits the idea of disobeying his exile, Juliet declines the proposal, contributing to the showcased dependence of Romeo on Juliet and the lesser dependence of Juliet on Romeo. In summary, a subtle reversal of gender roles results in a freedom to love; if less pressure to conform to a gender performance exists, less pressure and more freedom exists in other decisions.  

The juxtaposition of the final line’s diction in coexistence with the title’s diction accentuates and summarizes the peculiarity of Romeo and Juliet’s love affair. After Romeo and Juliet both die as a repercussion of fighting for their love, Prince Escalus synthesizes Romeo and Juliet’s romance and lives amidst an exchange with several Watchmen, Friar Lawrence, Capulet, Capulet’s wife, Balthasar, and Montague. He terminates the play, saying, “For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” (5.3.309-10). Firstly, by describing Romeo and Juliet’s narrative as “a story of more woe”, or maximally painful, a contradiction rises. Love is rarely pronounced with pain as its center, yet Prince Escalus condenses their courtship into a painful occurrence rather than a tremendous one or something to capture the essence of its passion and euphoria. To designate the romance as painful above all else classifies it as otherly, supporting the otherly genderization of it. Continuing, by abridging the relationship between the couple with Romeo as Juliet’s object, the Prince establishes an automatic domination of Juliet and objectification of Romeo. However, the play’s title holds Romeo to a superior position by listing his name first; Juliet is simply the continuation of Romeo’s limelight. This contradictory detail results in a duality that mirrors the freedom of the relationship. Speaking generally, a title identifies the beginning of a story, and the final line concludes it. The title constitutes a superior Romeo while the ending comprises a superior Juliet; along with a duality in power, this represents Juliet arguably landing with the final position on the relationship-pedestal. Juliet’s post-death spotlight in the final line then advances the scheme that broken tradition equates to freedom, because death is an automatic escape from Verona’s customs and all of life. Because Romeo and Juliet’s love also defies tradition, love becomes a portal to freedom as well. In conclusion, the differentiation of the play’s title and closing line promotes the otherization of the couple’s love and equates it to death, exemplifying its gateway to freedom from tradition’s confines.


Despite the skepticality of Romeo and Juliet’s rushed love and arguable superficial, sight-based relationship, their story lingers as iconic. Modern songs, poems, and beyond allude to Romeo and Juliet, consistently in a way that idolizes their romance. Perhaps they remain an icon in part due to the freedom beneath their love. Regardless of their relationship’s depth or genuinity, they do what they desire and say what they please. Romeo is in no shape limited by the expectations of masculinity, expressing his emotions in full color and never prioritizing superiority over Juliet. Similarly, Juliet is never constrained based on societal expectations for women to submit. The two teenagers’ young love entails equal obsession, balanced devotion, and an occasional reversal of dominion. Essentially, Romeo and Juliet showcases a love that is timeless, potentially due to its ease in breaking love’s rules and resulting subversion.


Works Cited

Shakespeare, William, Holland, Peter, Romeo And Juliet. New York: Penguin Books, 2000. Print.

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