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If the tragic crisis is indeed to be described in terms of the sacrificial crisis, its
relationship to sacrifice should be apparent in all aspects of tragedy--either conveyed directly
through explicit reference or perceived indirectly, in broad outline, underlying the texture of the
Ren Giard, Violence and The Sacred

William Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet begins with an overview of the plays events,
immediately pointing to violence: From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,/ Where civil
blood makes civil hands unclean (Prologue, 3-4), to fate: From forth the fatal loins of these
two foes,/ A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life (Prologue, 5-6), and to the tragic role of
sacrifice in ending a blood feud: Whose misadventured piteous overthrows/ Doth with their
death bury their parents strife (Prologue, 7-8). These themes of violence, fate, sacrifice, and
tragic misadventure work together to demonstrate the systems at work in Verona, a society
which resembles both Elizabethan English society and our own. In this thesis, I will show that
the text of this play instructs the reader (or audience member) to question the causes of culturally
infused violence, questioning constant references to fate as a cue to ponder its role (or lack
thereof). The violence in the community clearly stems not from chance but from the eruption of
passionate human desire, often exacerbated by indoctrination and cultural obligation. This plays
misadventures result from adherence to socially constructed ritual and tradition, as well as the
characters failure to get important messages, which, I argue, is most significant.
To be civilized is to exercise control over animal desires. Societies (such as the
Elizabethans and our own today) enact rituals to attempt to create and maintain a sense of
civility, including counter-rituals to regulate festive release and keep our base desires in check.
Societal conventions govern most aspects of Elizabethan life, including gender roles, family
loyalty, courtship, the marriage rite, duel protocol, and even a festive masque. Defying
convention still carries consequences today, though perhaps not as severe as banishment from the
safety of the community.
Ren Girards Violence and the Sacred illustrates an anthropological theory of ritual
violence, one that works well to describe this prominent system at work in Verona, whether in
terms of maintaining peace by threatening violence or enacting vengeance in the name of justice,
but especially in terms of sacrificing a scapegoat. While Girards approach may be described as
universalist, I do not intend to demonstrate how Shakespeares work somehow reveals a
universal human nature or reflects an awareness of one. Verona reflects many Elizabethan
aspects of society, and not surprisingly, this play remains relevant to American audiences
because our culture shares a common history, and many of the same features, namely a primarily
patriarchal structure, a capitalist economic and class system, and a taste for violence.
New historicists such as Michael Bristol explain how festive rituals serve the function of
creating and maintaining order, and Girard explains how human societies rituals of sacrifice
serve the same function, however tragically. Girard may or may not be accurate in predicting
that, based on human history, we will forever continue to establish and perform sacrificial rituals
and, perhaps unknowingly, create systems of reciprocal violence. But the Montagues and
Capulets and their loyal servants and kin do take part in such a system, seemingly unknowingly,
and Elizabethans and Americans continue to push certain members of society to the margins,
often scapegoating entire groups.
Keeping in mind that we share a common history with the Elizabethans, including a
patriarchal society tied closely to capitalism, Baz Luhrmanns recent film adaptation, William
Shakespeares Romeo & Juliet demonstrates a continued relevance of the text of this play. Even
with a late 20
century setting (the time is not specific, but Pariss astronaut costume at the
masque and elements such as a 35 mm gun for a sword suggest it is at least the 20
the cautionary tale warning against subversion comes through. With the help of a soundtrack
that enhances themes of youthful impetuousness (haste) and shortsightedness (failure to read
carefully), as well as the desire for freedom from oppressive systems (which taps into the meta-
cautionary tale warning I will examine), this film works well to demonstrate how Girards
sacrificial crisis does seem to be at work in the Elizabethan society reflected in the text of the
play as well as in 20
-century American society. Even with significant cuts and updates to
costume and properties, the Luhrmann film preserves the language and major plot elements of
the play, and with these timely updates, the text does not seem foreign to American audiences.
The films setting is hard to place in time, allowing the setting itself to function as a
paradox, from medieval throwbacks (Romeos knight costume at the masque) to a modern and
almost futuristic mood, with a television anchorwoman reporting the Prologue and Romeo
dropping ecstacy, as well as both an old history and a future time beyond ours suggested by
Veronas ruins in the backdrop. In this film, the play is an old story, a remnant of Elizabethan
society with its rituals and gender distinctions, but it is also a new story, fresh and alive as it
represents American societys rituals and problems, many of which are similar because of our
shared history.
One element in the film that works particularly well to demonstrate this dual function (of
representing the plays historical context, as well as placing it in context of our cultural
conscious) is the depiction of the feud as a gang war. Ritualized violencewarmay be a
necessary evil, but to a pacifist, it seems absurd and extreme, even inhumane, and certainly
uncivil. One may question why it is necessary if it is an evil. The tragic losses resulting from a
blood feud, or in the film, a gang war, demonstrates such a system and raises this question.
In simplest terms, Romeo and Juliet bring about their own destruction through a refusal
to enact the necessary public ritual, marriage, to legitimate their familial alliances; their
transgression against their families, or more specifically, their communities system of order,
warrants punishment. However, as this tragic play demonstrates, the punishment seems unjust
and cruel, and the characters become symbolic sacrifices just like the scapegoats literally
selected for sacrifice by human societies across cultures for centuries. Romeo and Juliet,
especially Juliet, become victims like those described by Ren Girard:
The sacrifice serves to protect the entire community from its own violence; it
prompts the entire community to choose victims outside itself. The elements of
dissention scattered throughout the community are drawn to the person of the
sacrificial victim and eliminated, at least temporarily, by its sacrifice. (8)
Society marginalizes members of society, who become sacrificial victims in the same societys
attempts to instill order by punishing one (or a group) as a scapegoat. This ritual serves to purge
the community of its own disobedience (and therefore, disorder), restoring the security of order.
Cautionary tales function well within such a system, and Romeo and Juliet cautions against the
transgression of elopement, a serious threat to order in that it denies the community participation
in, and therefore, approval and careful handling of a major change within it. Marriage changes
identity, shifting gender roles into more solid categories and redefining families and alliances.
However, this is only the conventional, obvious cautionary tale that rests on the surface.
This play is more complex. It raises questions about the injustice of vengeance and the
inhumanity of sacrifice. Why is it, if fate is the cause of tragedy, that the continuance of their
parents rage,/ Which, but their childrens end, naught could remove (Prologue 9-10)? This line
precedes Is now the two hours traffic of our stage (Prologue 11), leading into the play with an
emphasis on how Capulet and Montague need to lose their children in order to reconcile and end
the feud. Therefore, a more significant cautionary tale is this: our enactment of rituals such as
the scapegoat sacrifice in order to end a cycle of what Girard calls mimetic violence may prove
tragic rather than cleansing.
As a result of the sacrifice, the scapegoat serves to take the punishment for, and therefore
end what Ren Girard calls mimetic violence, but in this play, we see that the entire society
is actually punished. Violence leads to tragic personal loss for entire families when we see
beloved family members and friends die at the hands of contagious reciprocal violence, but more
significantly, the entire community must face the tragic loss of members proven innocent after
the sacrifice. The underlying system of violence is exposed, and the scapegoats who were meant
to absorb and absolve the dissensions, rivalries, jealousies, and quarrels within the community
(8) become doubly tragic victimsvictims of the societys repressive system while living and
victims of sacrifice as they lie dead, but innocent.
However much this play demonstrates the dangers of bucking the patriarchal system, a
regime that is reinforced through institutions such as the government, the church, and, the
family; it is not simply a cautionary tale illustrating punishment for breaking important societal
convention. Disobedience results in punishment to show that one should not be disobedient, but
it also (and much more powerfully) shows the tragic injustice of the rules and the severe and
unfair punishment in store for subversion, thus cautioning against a strict adherence to rules and
roles and a rigid enforcement of the system.
Juliet must choose between marrying Paris or, potentially, dying in the streets. Noble
Elizabethan women did not have much freedom to choose, especially when it came to marriage.
Their fathers chose for them, and if a woman defied her father, she defied the entire system.
Heavy punishment for this defiance conveys the severity of such a subversive act, but the utter
injustice of Juliets victimization by such a system evokes sympathy, thereby potentially
undermining playgoers unquestioning trust of the system. Ultimately, this play might
encourage deviance; it certainly encourages sentimentality and sympathy and a questioning of
the systems members of society normally follow without much thought. It certainly points to the
ways in which our societal rules are constructed, at least hinting at the possibility of de- or re-
constructing them.
Marriage is the pinnacle of institutional power at work: it gives the community a ritual
role in accepting or denouncing an alliance, and, specifically, it ties together family, money,
religion, and loyalties; but most importantly, ownership rights pass from father to husband.
When individuals attempt to turn marriage into something private, they change the purpose of
the ceremony from a communal rite into one based entirely on the individuals choices. Just as
Capulet tells Paris that marriage is really Juliets choice but reacts violently when Juliets
obstinacy becomes a true threat to his networking strength, the society will turn on the lovers for
their disobedience of the unspoken but clearly understood rule that one must marry in a public
ceremony. Self-serving preservation of wealth-alliance, ancient grudges, misogyny, and
prejudice against an other based on familial loyalty all play into a construction of the
patriarchy and its reinforcement and a vengeance system of violent retribution. Meanwhile, the
sacrifice of already mistreated and mistrusted members (from the margins) of society drives
home the point that the system is cruel and even potentially counterproductive.
Juliet dies after Romeo as a result of what Girard has called a doubling, or mimetic,
effect. Both lovers experience the profound guilt of knowing (or hastily assuming) that s/he
caused his/her lovers death, and both destroy themselves as a reaction to losing each other,
possibly as a self-dealt punishment, once again drawing attention to the tragic injustice of such
punishment. Romeo is a most suitable sacrifice, but because he has enacted mimetic violence in
the community (by killing Tybalt and Paris), he cannot end the violence in Verona as an
innocent sacrificial scapegoat. Following Girards theory, Juliet must be the final victim
whose death purges the community of its cycle of violence. Girard explains that in order to
avoid becoming contaminated by a violent persons violence, arranging for the culprit
himself (in this play, Romeo) to commit suicide (27). Juliets suicide is an example of what
Girard describes as a radically new type of violence, truly decisive and self-contained, a form of
violence that will put an end once and for all to violence itself (27).
More importantly, the danger of binary thinkingthe all-or-nothing mentalityis a
metatheme in this play, embodying the dangers of restrictive hierarchy and subservience.
Revenge and destruction are shown to be the inevitable results of such a system. Romeos
musings often include oxymoronic descriptions such as heavy lightness, serious vanity,/
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,/ Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick
health, . . . (1.1.184-6), which draw attention to events seeming out of sorts. He comments on
the street fight, Heres much to do with hate, but more with love./ Why then, o brawling love, a
loving hate (1.1.181-2). This comment suggests that the servants and kin of each household are
fighting against each other out of loyalty to their family (or employer), which is based on love.
This hate in the name of love strongly points to the potential for flipping hierarchies and
switching the rules, and to suggest that societys rules have the potential to create or destroy.
Even when designed to maintain order and peace, the rules of society may actually lead to
destruction. When characters fail to consider observation and explore communication, disaster
ensues. Similarly, the irrational long-standing feud between the Montagues and Capulets leaves
no room for reconciliation and will lead to the most tragic of losses for both families.
By examining the mimetic violence within the community, a cycle which has been
created through distrust and fear, we see the sacrificial crisis at work. An important note in
Girards study of the sacrificial crisis is his exploration of the role of the Christ sacrifice in
Christianity: the Christ sacrifice was supposed to be eternal, the end of human scapegoating and
sacrifice. Finally the cycle could be broken with a powerful and perfect scapegoat to end the
need for perpetual scapegoating. Religious imagery saturates the Baz Luhrmann film adaptation,
pointing to the irony that permeates the play: rather than serving to end cycles of violence,
Christian institutions serve to reinforce and uphold patriarchal claims to possession, securing
financial stability and unifying a community in a system of political alliances. The plays
representation of Veronas citizens religious hypocrisy and misunderstanding of Christs
sacrifice help to further the point that the church serves not as a spiritual, but as a secular and
political institution. Luhrmanns production specifically highlights this theme by placing a
statue of Christ between the towering monuments of the Capulet and Montague empires, as if to
include it among them as simply another symbol of massive corporate power.
Rather than serving as an institution based on upholding Christs teachings (such as love
thy neighbor or give your possessions to the poor), the church ironically works within the
community to reinforce a fundamentally cruel and destructive hierarchy and system of alliance,
in which women are desired, betrayed, mistrusted, and denied agency. Some might argue that
The Church already lends itself to misogyny, but even so, the role of this institution is strikingly
more conducive to reinforcing social balance based on tradition. The patriarchy is in place, and
marriage, which is mostly a political and financial rite, is only possible through the church. By
marrying Romeo and Juliet in secret, Friar Laurence risks repercussions from the community,
too; even though he is well-intentioned, hoping that the marriage will function as a healing
gesture, ensuring an end to the feud, his actions actually lead to tragedy). In very much the
same way that well-intentioned societal rules, upheld by institutions like the church and the state,
are designed to keep the peace but ultimately can lead to individuals destruction (whether
through too-severe punishment for deviation or through violence erupting from repression), the
presence of a repressive system itself invites disobedience when human passions (which the
audience recognizes and for which it has sympathy) come into play, and ultimately result in the
destruction of the alliances these repressive actions are meant to control.
In the Luhrmann film, much of the imagery echoes socio-political themes of violence and
the role of punishment in justice that still resonate through our pop culture. One particularly
poignant image is the Christian-icon-saturated altar for Juliets death scene, an interesting twist
for added emphasis of the point that she is scapegoated and sacrificed for the sins of the
community. Romeo and Juliet demonstrates the inherent injustice of not only the existence of a
patriarchal, oppressive system (which oppresses both sexes), but the impossibility of living
within such a system without an eruption of contagious violence.
Not only should the audience sympathize the lovers piteous overthrows (Prologue 7),
feeling outraged at the injustice of the system and sad for the losses in its destructive wake, but if
they do with patient ears attend (Prologue 13), they may learn a hard lesson about hastiness
and rigid thinking in the midst of violence. Even though the gang violence depicted in
Luhrmanns film is internal to the community, in order to quell such violence (whether for the
sake of helping criminals stop hurting themselves and each other, for humanely protecting
innocents in the ghettos, or, at least, for preventing the effects of violence and crime on the larger
community), the society must ask itself why this social problem exists and how to address it.
Automatic thinking, including relying upon the existing justice system with all its corruption and
fallibility, and seeking swift and heavy retribution by reflex, does not seem to be working to end
the violence, often motivated by competition and status.
Juliets parents seem devastated by her death, but we see no evidence of a change in their
thinking or behavior, just a sadness and even a thread of continued competitiveness in their
promises to build monuments to honor each others dead child (perhaps as masculine bravado, a
demonstration of status and power, or even an attempt to win the feud through non-violent
means): But I can give thee more,/ for I will raise her statue in pure gold, . . . As rich shall
Romeos by his ladys lie . . . (5.3.298-9, 303). This hint at the potential for another petty
beginning of another feud indicates that the cautionary tale showing severe consequences for
bucking the system may actually warn more strongly that we should strive to be aware of our
dangerous, unknowing participation in the oppressive and destructive systems of our own
creation, including aggressive capitalist competition, vengeance, and even patriarchy.
As a society, we may be a long way from revising our violent systems, but maybe we
must learn to think and prevent as much violence as we can. Essentially, we enact societal rules
and enforce them to protect ourselves as individuals within communities, so if we recognize that
we are in danger even within a system designed to keep us safe, that the system itself is flawed in
that it lends itself to violence, we might seek creative methods for conflict resolution (rather than
relying on tradition, reflex, or a blind performance of roles), thereby protecting those involved
directly and those who might find themselves innocent victims of violence.
The most important tragic element in Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet is not the lovers
suicides, but what causes them and how fate is not entirely to blame, but the structure of the
society may be. The over-emphasis on fate pushes us to question its significance. Juliets vision
of Romeos death indicates a foreknowledge of its inevitability rather than a psychic connection
with the fates: O God, I have an ill-divining soul./ Methinks I see now thee art so low,/ As one
dead in the bottom of a tomb (3.5.54-6). Every time Romeo and Juliet are together on stage,
there is talk of the threat of death, whether by Juliet or her familys guards and kinsmen, whether
for Romeos intrusion as an enemy, for breaking his banishment, or for revenge for slaying
Tybalt. The plays emphasis on fate, including the description of Romeo and Juliet as star-
crossed lovers (Prologue, 6), seems to be less an explanation of the cause of events and more a
signal to identify the ways in which fate is not to blame. Characters have agency; they are
individuals working with or against the systems governing their society. In fact, blaming fate
may help show how the characters refuse to take responsibility in order to soften the blow for
audiences of seeing how the very fabric of civilizationlaw and order, convention and
securityare inadequate at best, and tragically destructive at worst.
And in Romeo and Juliet, many references to the dangers of hastinessespecially when
it is based on limited or false informationillustrate that automatic thinking, especially without
all of the pertinent information and without careful consideration, is particularly dangerous.
Painful tragedy draws sympathy for the sacrificial victim(s) of a brutal society, and by pointing
to aspects of the multiple layers of power at work within this society, the dramatic work not only
achieves an emotional response, but it urges the audience to prevent such tragedyto learn the
lesson of hastinessin thinking and in following passion into violent behavior.



Traditional community standards are enforced, and the rickety, haphazard pattern of social life is
affirmed even as its anarchy is disclosed.
Michael Bristol, Carnival and Theater

Michael Bristol, in Carnival and Theater: Plebian Culture and the Structure of Renaissance
England, argues against an ahistorical reading of Shakespeares plays, but through citing Tillyard
and others, he also makes a case for including historical context in our readings while keeping in
mind that a plurality of forces were at work in Elizabethan England (in other words, saying
Elizabethans believed . . . is far too reductionist). He reminds us that: Even when a text
depicts social disintegration, the idea of hierarchical order is the implicit prior standard that
rationalizes the image of disorder (10). I want to argue that Romeo and Juliet is relevance to
todays American society. Discussing this play in relation to our contemporary issues does not
do violence to the original meaningrather, it brings some of it to light. While we may not be
aware of the specific significance of rituals like charivari in our current society, we certainly
identify with violence and scapegoating, gender roles, and the complicated dance between social
and familial codes and individual desire. These themes are still significant to our culture, and
they may help explain the enduring popularity of this tragic love story.
Bristol describes Tillyards and Rabkins critical viewpoints as reconciliatory in terms
of historicizing Shakespeares plays; while these critics see either a social unity made possible
by the uncontested cultural and political hegemony of an intellectually unified elite or an
egalitarian outlook in which social harmony flows from the authority of a common
understanding, Bristol argues that historical reconstruction of the old works must place
struggle, social difference and cultural antagonism at the center of critical analysis, rather than
consensus, harmony and accommodation (12-13).
Bristol urges us to read literature with a focus on discontinuity, struggle and the realities
of power (13). I intend to do just that. Shakespeare may have entertained the groundlings and
the royalty alike, but he did not write his characters as though they lived in perfect social and
economic harmony. While his characters often are of the noble class, their struggles reflect the
very real powers at work between and among classes, genders, and even nationalities or
ethnicities, issues still very present in our own society.
Because reductionist historicism . . . diminishes literature to [what Bakhtin calls] the
status of a simple servant and transmitter of ideologies, Bristol asserts that Bakhtins
acknowledgement of the several mutally contradictory truths, [and] not one but several
diverging ideological paths . . . does not simply provide the occasion for an interesting diversity
of critical opinions of a purely contemplative kind, but is instead the site of active and partisan
ideological contestation (20). Not only does Romeo and Juliet represent and reflect several
layers of social and political struggle, but the rules and roles of each layer are more complicated
than a reductionist reading will reveal.
However, some of the layers are more significant to the thrust of the play, and some specific
struggles do come to light. But more importantly, it is the complicated nature of the subtleties as
well as the overt social divisions and rules that help to make a text not only entertaining and
accepted, but also subversive and possibly disruptive to the very rules it seems to endorse. The
tricky dancebetween reflecting and criticizing and between glorifying (or at least reinforcing)
and demonstrating for the purposes of subvertingis only possible if the audience recognizes
the trends, roles, or rules in play between the characters. The role of festivity in relation to
subversion is particularly important.
In Carnival and Death in Romeo and Juliet Ronald Knowles discusses the role of
festivity as something deeply political since it always gives expression to a populist culture that
contests the official ideology of Church and aristocracy (69). Knowles points to images of the
material body lower stratum, of ambivalent obscenities, and of popular banquet scenesand in
Romeo and Juliet the party is the catalyst for desire, for natural attraction between Romeo and
Juliet. However, because this is not a completely public carnival (it is invitation based, limited
to the Capulets and their friends), the community does not experience communitatas, and the
barrier between Romeo and Juliet continues to exist. Although party-crashing is itself festive,
when Capulets servant enlists Romeos assistance in deciphering the party invitations, he is
clear when he invites Romeo and his friends; there is one stipulation: and if you be not of the
house of Montagues, I pray come and crush a cup of wine (1.2.84-5). This event is basically
open to all except the Montagues rather than being an intimate party. The Montagues are part of
Veronas community, but members of the Capulet clan continue to fuel the feud and keep the
Montagues on the outside.
Knowles helps to historicize some other key aspects of the contemporary climate when
he describes the collectivity of joyous carnival on the one hand, . . . and the capitalist culture of
individualism which developed out of the Middle Ages (70). The joyous carnival was an
enactment of collectivity, a reinforcement of the cultural ideology, the means for pacifying even
the marginalized members of society in a feeling of communitatas. Similarly, festivity works to
allow a feeling of freedom, but it does not actually allow true freedom. Within the capitalist
culture of consumerist individualism, our current cultural climate, women are still commodified,
and their attempts to assert themselves as individuals provide an entirely new layer to the
complexity. Even the role of the festive is subject to subversion. Juliet falls in love during a
festive gathering meant to act as the catalyst for community bonding, and the festive release of
the party backfires by providing her the taste of release from her familys restrictive bonds that
drives her to reject their intentions for her life and choose her own husband.
Knowles notes that Bakhtins focus on the organic functions of the body is celebratory
and life-affirming in the face of the official ideology of the ascetic and life-denying church (70).
One might argue that in Romeo and Juliet, even death is celebratory of life because it is based on
passion and an anti-church (anti-institutional) life affirmation (passionate love). Knowles states:
Shakespeares mixture of comedy and tragedy may be seen as an insistent festive laughter
resisting the prescriptions of neoclassicism, though to some extent compromising with genre by
giving a certain kind of comedy to the lower orders (72). Is this resistant festive laughter
mocking the status quo o social order and ideology? I say yes.
Is this status quo still with us today? Again, I say yes. Wealthy families in the United
States continue a tradition of seeking noble-bred matches for their children, especially their
daughters, and marriage as a public rite is still very much a significant vehicle of social power
and endorsement (or warning). Charivari-like festive rituals still pepper wedding receptions,
from bridal party members trashing the couples car with shaving cream to parents still
threatening to disown or disinherit their children because of disobedience, especially when their
children seek to marry someone of whom they do not approve, the other (i.e., from the wrong
class or race or ethnic origin). We have moved through Civil Rights and the Womens
Movement, but we do live in a patriarchal society that continues to privilege upper-class, white
men, and fathers still symbolically give away their daughters in the still public marriage ritual.
While todays marriage ceremonies deviate from tradition, sometimes wildly, the overwhelming
majority of couples still include many marriage rite traditions, from white gowns to tiered cakes,
often as a result of pressure from their families. The text of Romeo and Juliet, especially as seen
in the film adaptation, is still very relevant to American audiences who recognize similar rituals
and family pressure.
More importantly, though, in this play, the subtleties of sexism, and classism, continue to
work through scapegoating and reciprocal violence (Luhrmanns opening scene echoes images
of riots in our news) to oppress and victimize people in the margins. We get the idea that it
pays to have protection (one reason so many young kids join gangs in the first place is for the
supposed protection it offers against violence from other gangs). The significance of the social
pressure against elopement or the importance of quelling civil unrest is not lost on a twentieth
or even a twenty-first century audience.
And while most Americans today may not be aware of the historical significance of the
topsy-turvy reversals or the importance of an indulgent feast before the fast, we do see images of
Carnival and participate in revelry and festivityMardi Gras is still very much alive as the
biggest party of the yeara free-for-all festival where we cast off inhibitions and repressed
desires in public, only to be rewarded with trinkets, a sign that the surrounding culture endorses
and celebrates such debauchery at this designated time. The festival in Luhrmanns film depicts
just such enthusiastic revelry, where even a bitter enemy can mingle among guestswhen all
rules seem to slip away temporarily.
Festive release (from holidays to vacations) does seem to serve as a safety valve in our
society (when someone is too stressed out at work, the boss recommends taking some time off
and getting away)and so the function of the party in Romeo and Juliet should remind us of the
social value of such events (and we can therefore understand why Capulet would rather let
Romeo linger than disrupt the festivity by allowing Tybalt to act upon his boiling rage at seeing
Romeo at the party), but they also point to the dangers of letting go. As drunkenness and the
festival atmosphere lead to the eruption of passions (those usually kept carefully guarded in
polite society), desire and love are able to flourish between Romeo and Juliet, and their ensuing
unendorsed union arguably leads to Juliets death.
As we experience the tragic play, in which love has a fleeting moment of freedom just as
restrictive social conditions work to punish subversion, thereby destroying such freedom, we see
the cautionary tale in Romeo and Juliet as being too harsh, and we see the punishment for the
subversiveness of the lovers elopement as tragically unfair. R.S. White notes that we
comprehend, with rejective anger, the brutality and malevolence in societies which create the
conditions for injustice. . . . [and] we notice in the attitudes to life expressed by each of the
victims a quality of great beauty, a desire for harmony, justice and truthfulness in human
dealings (3). In fact, it is this perception for potential peace, harmony and justice which is
displayed in our shared recognition of injustice itself (3).
White reminds us that a lover who seeks for peace and harmony within a relationship is
likely to become a victim of the forces of hatred and conflict in the surrounding society (17).
Unfortunately, Romeo shifts from a lovesick teen to a revenge and rage-filled murderer, killing
Tybalt in retribution and then Paris, his competition, (or, one could argue, the symbol of the
social pressures that murdered his wife). These mens associations with and roles in violence
(family feud affiliation, or in Baz Luhrmanns film, abusive corporate power or gang affiliation)
are a contrast to what should be a honeymoon period. Love itself is tainted and destroyed by the
surrounding violence in the community. But the community does not attack the lovers. Rather,
Romeo performs a violent role, allowing himself to participate in the culture of violence. I argue
that it is this very culture of violence that influences Romeos hastiness, especially in murdering
So let us look at the surrounding society and its forces. In Making a Match: Courtship in
Shakespeare and His Society, Ann Jennalie Cook points out that in Elizabethan England,
Almost without exception, marriage offered the only venue for morally condoned sexual
intercourse or for legitimate heirs (Cook 5). And even though Paris would argue that Juliet
isnt too young for marriage because Younger than she are happy mothers made (1.2.12),
Capulet, of course, pushes for time to find the most appealing husband to pair with his daughter.
Cook helps to explain the contemporary normalcy with which the Capulets expect their
daughter, Juliet, to conform by marrying Paris. Juliets liking Paris is not as important as their
liking his status: As for the relative importance of affection and advancement, the factors of
wealth, position, and influence could take precedence over liking, love, or lust, especially among
the privileged (5). Cook points out that In so important an undertaking as matrimony, unstable
emotional inclinations often became subservient to the more sober concerns of kinfolk and
allies(5). In fact, she notes that social status took precedence over all other factors (5). In this
culture of class expectation, it is no surprise that Capulet exhibits an anxiety about pairing Juliet
with the most appropriate match.
However, Cook also mentions that the couple did need to assent to the proposed
alliance (5) which explains why Capulet hopes that Juliet will agree to marry Parisor, even
better, that she will like him and prevent any conflict in what is hoped to be a smooth transaction.
This assent, though, could be the result of coercion. Capulet threatens to disown Juliet, a very
dangerous prospect. It is clear that much of his frustration with her disobedience lies in his
inability to convince her to behave according to her status; she is not simply disobeying her
father, but shaking the existing structure by refusing to fit neatly into it. Her defiance makes her
a problematic object in the marriage trading game; she threatens Capulets status by risking, or at
the very least, destabilizing her own. Capulet does not simply hope to approve of Juliets choice
in marriage; he literally arranges for her choice through negotiation with Paris. And Juliet truly
risks her life by disobeying her fathers wishes and thwarting this pre-arranged business deal.
Why was his daughters marriage to Paris so important to Capulet? Her marriage is
significant to preserving his status, both as a prominent figure in the community and, as the
patriarch, the head of the household. In much the same way that violent talk and brawls in this
play are shows of manhood, Capulets rant against his daughter demonstrates his need to save
face as the patriarch (not letting a mere girl supersede or even question his authority); he must
put Juliet firmly in her place.
Perhaps Capulet is also frustrated about having to make such a decision for his daughter
in the first place, truly wishing for her happiness and resenting her youthful stubbornness, but it
is more likely that he is frustrated with the work of finding the proper husband for her. He notes
that he has worked tirelessly to find her a good match: Day, night, hour; tide, time; work, play;
/ Alone, in company; still my care hath been / To have her matched; and having now provided /
A gentleman of princely parentage, / Of fair demesnes, youthful and nobly trained, . . .
(3.5.178-82). However, he is under obvious pressure from the noble gentleman,/ The County
Paris (3.5.114-15), who exercises his own wealth and status (and thus, power within the
community). Capulet may feel that Juliets resistance to Paris as a choice for husband represents
her lack of compassion for his own precarious position, which, ironically, mirrors her own.
Luhrmanns film shows Capulet as a captain of industry, and Paris is on the cover of Time
magazine as Bachelor of the Year. Capulet may be powerful, but denying another, perhaps
more powerful, man access to Juliet may prove dangerous to his status in the business world.
This tension between Capulet and Juliet seems amplified beyond simple frustration at
disobedience. Lady Capulet even seems shocked by Capulets excessive rage, asking
incredulously, Fie, fie, what, are you mad? (3.5. 158) and later admonishing him: You are
too hot (3.5.177).
Beyond Capulets reaction, it is also important to consider why Juliets marriage to Paris
would be significant to the community. The marriage rite is chock full of symbolism and
meaning not only for the individuals involved, but for the surrounding community. Cook notes
that the final choice involved far more than mutual acceptance by the partners and their
families, for the stability of the entire community depended upon financially secure, well-
governed households (5). Cook also mentions that the consequences of defying marital regime
commonly included disgrace, disinheritance, and harsh legal penalties (5). Capulets response
may be an overreaction, but Juliets disobedience represents an obstacle to a smooth transition
from her fathers hand to her husbands. Capulet warns Juliet that she must obey his wishes
(ultimately Pariss wishes negotiated through Capulet) or be disowned in two particular lines that
also explain this property transaction: An you be mine, Ill give you to my friend; / An you be
not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, / For by my soul, Ill neer acknowledge thee, / Nor what
is mine shall never do thee good (3.5. 193-6). Inclusion in the community is vital to identity,
and for women, it is vital for survival. When Capulet threatens his daughter, his explicit
references to her fate (over which he claims control) should she choose to defy his marital plans
for her, remind us that exile from her family may literally be her death.
Cook points out that in Elizabethan England, Women of privilege had little freedom, but
children sent into apprenticeships probably enjoyed more freedom, as well as separation from the
family and more interaction with others. A humble couples mutual affection could take
preference if they had enough money to set up a household (6). Juliet has little freedom, and
though she attempts to enjoy same kind of the freedom as a lower-class girl sent into
apprenticeship, as a gentlewoman, she does not have the option. Neither she nor Romeo has the
means or skills to set up household. Both are dependent upon their upper-class families. Romeo
and Juliet have not received training in a craft to make income, so without their parents support,
including permission to marry each other and subsequent financial backing, their defiant secret
marriage is doomed for more reasons than simply being against their parents wishes. Romeo
and Juliet are not only subversive in their gender roles but they begin to subvert their class, as
This might be another layer of subtext to examine. Not only do these characters break
convention, but they long for the freedom to marry for love, passion, and personal desire. In the
Luhrmann film, as Juliet begins alone and then joins with Romeo to walk together down the aisle
(as opposed to being escorted by her father), the choir sings a song consisting mostly of the
repeated chorus, Evrybodys free to feel good . . . (Everybodys Free (To Feel Good)). The
emphasis on seeking freedom to seek happiness and pleasure during the marriage highlights the
significance of breaking free from the rigid hierarchy. Romeo and Juliet literally break from the
status-bound conventions of familial loyalty, and therefore, community loyalty. This is their
fatally flawed decision, but the tragedy that ensues may be pointing not only to the lovers
violations of the social order, but to the injustice of such a systems unfair limitations. What
seems to be a cautionary tale warning against bucking the communitys structure may really be a
warning against the very structure.
As Martin Goldstein points out in The Tragedy of Old Capulet: A Patriarchal Reading of
Romeo and Juliet, Capulets hesitation to allow Juliet to marry Paris because she is too young,
paired with Lady Capulets view is that Juliet is not too young presents a conflict between the
parents (228-230). Capulet sees Juliet as his property, an investment to use wisely in matters of
marriage; his hesitance reflects a smart businessmans careful handling of capital. When he
steers Paris toward other women, he seems to be buying himself some time to keep searching for
a husband of his own choice for his daughter: hear all, all see,/ And like her most whose merit
most shall be: which on more view of many, mine being one/ May stand in number, though in
reckoning none (1.2.31-3). Note that Juliet is not truly involved in this process. Meanwhile,
Lady Capulet not only identifies with her daughters age, perhaps having the perennial feeling
that what was good enough for her is good enough for her daughter, but she may also need to
reassure herself that she wasnt unjustly robbed of her own youth and freedom to pursue
In Men and Women: Gender, Family, and Society, Russ McDonald points out that in
Elizabethan England, the ideology of the family was inescapable, and further, that the idea of
the individual or the personal was not yet established (100). Of course this is an
oversimplification that Bristol reminds us to avoid making when speaking of Elizabethans, but
it is also important to note, especially when thinking through the relevance of the communitys
reactions to what was an outrageous and subversive act, elopement. It would be a mistake to
ignore the implications of Romeo and Juliets elopement.
McDonald also adds an interesting interpretive twist when he discusses primogeniture
and the complex economic transaction of marriage, pointing out that It was better to have sons .
. .(263). It is not hard to imagine that Capulet resents having an only female child, wishing to
be able to choose to give property to a son, to live on through his patrilineage. Instead of doing
so, he must negotiate for a marital transaction involving his property, Juliet, which further
complicates the role of a public marriage and the issue of autonomy. With women as property,
the issue of marrying off a precious daughter is a paradoxical bind for fathers: they must select
men who will be appropriate sons; if a daughter denies her father this role, he is publicly
humiliated in terms of the business transaction, familial ties are weakened, and the fathers are
stuck with sons not of their choosing.
This table-turning act of agency on the part of Juliet encourages the audience to feel
sympathy for her father, at least to the degree that there is a level of deceit and underhandedness
involved in eloping, but it also calls into question the fairness of a father-and-son-in-law
negotiation for an arranged marriage. The nurse tells Juliet that Romeo is the son of your great
enemy (1.5.139), but Romeo is no enemy to Juliet. He is, in fact, her lover. By seeing Juliet
marry for love, it is difficult to consider that she should not be allowed to enjoy her self-chosen
marriage, that her parents would never tolerate letting this union.
When one reflects on the repercussions of this selfish act, though, one recognizes that
the rigid societal structures and familial roles in place elicit cruelty and disorder instead of
harmony and order as intended. This play not only demonstrates cautionary tales already
implicit within such codes, but it calls them into question through the characters subversion of
them, and the low comedy and high tragedy combine to leave the audience wishing fate had not
been so harsh (and, if this is a thinking audience, also that it really wasnt fate driving the
tragic consequences but the society itself).
It is important to note the significance of Juliets age (fourteen was considerably young
for marriage, even compared to Elizabethan nobility). Cook notes that Among the elite, both
men and women, especially heirs, married earlier than those with lesser property attached to their
unions (6). But, By 1604, canon law forbade a priest to marry anyone under the age of twenty-
one without the assurance of parental consent (Cook 18-19). So the Friar is a meddler, and so is
the Nurse; this is of course significant because they assist in the subversion of the public rite of
marriage, specifically subverting both families and even the communitys roles. They are
supposed to be obedient servants, but they ultimately serve the children rather than the parents,
both with the best of intentions but the worst of results.
Romeo and Juliet are children becoming adults; they are beginning to experience adult
passions, erotic and violent, and they are perhaps unable to fully understand them, let alone
control them. After all, this is Romeos first experience with requited love, and Juliet has only
days earlier stated that she is uninterested in marriage. They are unable to recognize the social
limits in place for such passions because they have not yet had time for the adults to socialize
them completely, which is partly why they are in the position to act as they do, without following
the conventions and restrictions they would likely come to adopt as adults. The process is
carefully structured to introduce them into adult society through the transaction of marriage,
guided directly by adults with experience in these matters. In the perfectly ordered household, a
young woman of wealth would not have a chance to explore her passions and be led by them; her
parents would help to orchestrate her marriage before emotion became a problematic, and, as we
see in this play, possibly violent threat to this very order (including the reputation of the family,
of course).
In fact, it is true that, as Cook notes, Marriage was often deferred, sometimes for ten
years or more beyond puberty (Cook 17). So when . . . the lovers incur harsh censure for rash,
disobedient behavior(29) it is no surprise. But this punishment is too harsh, and Cook would
argue that the lovers youthful age helps to
mitigate the blame that would fall on adults acting in the same way. . . . because
of their extreme youth, the blame for such behavior is largely displaced on the
others--the kinsmen who perpetuate the feud, the Nurse who lacks discretion,
Friar Laurence who connives at a clandestine wedding and its cover-up. Juliet,
after all, is scarcely more than a child, her weaning and infancy still vivid
memories. (29)
Capulet and Paris discuss Juliet as a potential wife for Paris, with Paris pushing for
acquisition: But now my lord what say you to my suit? and Capulet pushing for more time:
But saying oer what I have said before./ 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 (1.2.5-8). Pariss retort, Younger than she are happy mothers
made (1.2.12) makes it clear that he is not only eager to have Juliet, but the production of
children (her body commodified to produce heirs for Paris) is central to her function and value.
Capulet caves in, but with the caveat that Paris must woo Juliet, perhaps as one last
stalling tactic: But woo her gentle Paris, get her heart,/ My will to her consent is but a part./ An
she agree, within the scope of choice/ Lies my consent and fair according voice (1.2.17-20). It
seems that Capulet would like to give his daughter the freedom and satisfaction of choosing her
husband for herself, and this line suggests that Juliet will try to please her father, but it is
ultimately up to her. We see, however that Capulet dictates the marriage choice in the end, and
this conversation with Paris is just the pretense upon which familial pressure rests in order to
keep the peacethe pretense makes it seem like Juliet not only has freedom, so she should
behave less willfully and rebelliously, preventing the need for Capulet to assert his dominance
and reveal how little freedom his daughter and wife really have. Capulet asks Paris to woo Juliet,
but only after stating that Juliet is all he has left in the world, his only living heir: Earth hath
swallowed all my hopes but she (1.2.13); having no son, she will have to do.
It is better if Juliet feels as though Paris is her chosen mate rather than simply her fathers
business colleague with whom he is engaging in a property deal (one that Capulet is clearly wary
of or at least hesitant to embark upon, most likely because Juliet is literally his only avenue for
any type of lineage, patrilineage or otherwise). If Juliet feels like she chooses her husband
because he woos her effectively, Capulet is spared the show of dominance, the potential defiance
on Juliets part, and the violence on his, and the illusion of equity and familial love and
cooperation is maintained. Loyalty could seem sincere, rather than fear-based, and all would
benefit from the sanctioned union of prosperous County Paris and Juliet.
When we see the private conversations within the home, we understand that Capulet can
and will force Juliet to comply. Had she given Paris a chance, and had Paris been successful at
wooing her, Capulet would have been spared this ugly display of power. But in this display, the
reality of Juliets (and her mothers) position as subservient, dutiful, powerless objects comes to
light. Wives and daughters are marginalized in the contemporary society this play reflects.
Capulet is in control of the wealth. Without her fathers support, Juliet is likely to starve
in the streets as he suggests. Capulet does nothing short of threaten Juliets life for her
disobedience. And it is all because of wealthhis power derived from his own wealth, his
frustration at Pariss persistence and insistence without Juliets cooperation, and the necessity of
joining Juliet with a successful partner to ensure the continued success of the family. Noble,
wealthy parents seek partners like Paris for their childrenthose whom they delegate as worthy
because they will add prosperity rather than drain it from the familys property and status.
However, Pariss persistence and Capulets attempts to delay Pariss marriage
negotiations point to another layer to the play. Martin Goldstein makes a compelling argument
for a specific interpretation of the driving conflict in Romeo and Juliet, dispelling the usual
emphasis on the feud and claiming that it is rather an internal conflict in the house of Capulet:
Capulet and Lady Capulet disagree about Juliets being too young to marry Paris, and Capulet
actually seems interested in steering Paris away from Juliet, with Lady Capulet pushing for the
union (228).
In fact, Goldstein convincingly argues that Capulets assumption that the Montague
present at the masque was Romeo, and his insistence that the maskers remain at the masque
show that Capulet actually anticipated the possibility of and even hoped for Romeo to marry
Juliet (thus ending the feud that he has clearly grown tired of and lacks interest in pursuing).
Capulet not only admonishes Tybalt in disgust for wanting to throw Romeo out of the party, but
he mentions that Verona brags of him / To be a virtuous and well governed youth going on to
say I would not for the wealth of all this town / Here in my house do him disparagement
(1.4.69-72). And while we get hints that Capulet wouldnt mind so much if Romeo were Juliets
suitor (and hes not entirely enthusiastic about forcing Juliet to marry Paris, at least at first), we
see Romeo faking love and drawing attention to learned roles early in the play when he loves
Rosaline and then demonstrating a true love for Juliet, one which woos the young girl and
audiences alike. To say people are in love with the love story is an understatement; the gripping
power of an unknown element in this play moves many audiences to claim this is the greatest
love story of all time, or at least one of them. What makes this love so moving?
I would argue that the comparison of the social construct and the natural demonstrates the
value of the real, the natural, or what many call the low. Desire erupting to the surface as pure
passion, eclipsing barriers imposed by families and cultures, shows a powerful passion that many
are eager to experience (see pop radio for the last several decades, or poetry for the last several
centuries). We see emotional excess and melodrama when Romeo describes his love for
Rosaline: What, shall I groan and tell thee? . . . In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman. . . . She
hath forsworn to love, and in that vow/ Do I live dead that live to tell it now (1.1.206, 210).
Likewise, we see over-dramatic grief when Juliet dies the first time, a strange and ironic
juxtaposition when moments before, the Capulets had little regard for their child, her father
claiming she could die in the street for all he cared. And in fact, Juliets mother even echoes
Nurses wailings, as though she is incapable of expressing any emotion of her own; Nurse calls
out: Shes dead, deceased, shes dead, alack the day! and Lady Capulet echoes: Alack the
day, shes dead, shes dead, shes dead! (4.5.23-4).
These emotional expressions help to set up the true love scene and the true grief
scene later. The several references to cultural indoctrinationFriar Laurence saying Romeo
loved Rosaline by rote (2.5.88) and Juliet saying Romeo kisses by the book (1.4.113), for
examplehelp to illustrate that we are to read this play as a comparison (2.5.88 and 1.4.113).
When Friar Laurence questions Romeos change of heart (from loving Rosaline to Juliet),
Romeo says, Thou chidst me oft for loving Rosaline (2.5.81), to which Friar Laurence
responds, For doting, not for loving, pupil mine (2.5.82); finally, Romeo gets serious: I pray
thee, chide me not, her I love now/ Doth grace for grace, and love for love allow./ The other did
not so (2.5.85-7). We can see why Romeos love is now genuine; Juliet reciprocates Romeos
love. His pining away for unrequited love for Rosaline pales in comparison to his risking death
just to be with Juliet at her balcony, who swears then that he is the god of her idolatry within
an hour of their meeting (2.2.113). There is nothing like being loved to fan the flames of
passionate desire, especially for someone in love with the idea of love. For the audience, seeing
the utter destruction of this romantic love, in its budding potentiality, is tragic, just as seeing
young lives nipped too soon is. When true emotions, raw passions, actual desires come into
playwhen the semblance of order and rule is revealed as a construction and repressed desire
reaches for freedomRen Girards anthropological dynamic becomes evident. Even the hatred
between families is a result of rehearsal, of adopting roles handed to one by the book.
The Capulet party is an attempt to release energy that might boil up into violence.
Festive release is in play. However, Romeos intrusion is not the moment that disrupts this
release. It is Tybalts blood thirst for vengeance and punishment for Romeos insulting intrusion
into the Capulets household. Capulet tries to calm the rage and allow the release to function as
it should, speaking of violence to attain peace (as he threatens Tybalt with his own retribution
should Tybalt wreak havoc and ruin the party), echoing Tybalts response to Benvolios attempt
to keep the peace (1.1.75) during the opening scenes street brawl. Tybalt says, What, drawn
and talk of peace? I hate the word . . . (1.1.77-8). At the very least, festivity and the aristocratic
hospitality code take temporary precedent over the revenge/honor code. Therefore, Romeos
presence is not intolerable or even problematic. This outsider or other is not welcome, but
his inclusion is not insufferable. However, Tybalt is determined, and his enduring rage
perpetuates that cycle of mimetic violence.
So festivity works to demonstrate subversion, not simply in a temporary topsy-turvy
motion, but in such a way that the very festivity itself calls attention to the flaws in both the
system turned upside down and the diminished, regulated, controlled, and therefore ineffective
role of the festive. In The Tragedy of Old Capulet: A Patriarchal Reading of Romeo and
Juliet Francoise Laroque explains how festivity is at work in this play: Festivity is not limited
to orchestrating the coming of age in Verona or the various rites of passage for young men and
women, but it also serves to turn the world upside down, to subvert its rigid hierarchies (19).
In particular, festivity can be gendered; this is particularly evident in the male characters
banter and word play. After some rich bawdy word play with his peers, Mercutio teases the
Nurse with a lewd innuendo: for the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon
(2.4.118-9). Citing the verbal sparrings of Sampson and Gregory in 1.1.1-30, Laroque points
out that the linguistic thrust and parry on a quick succession of quibbles combined with rapid
movements, intense agitation, and a great expenditure of youthful male energy with plenty of
obscene body language for specific gestures throughout their display of outrage, provocation,
insult, or mockery in exhibit of macho pride all express, among other cultural aspects,
marital rites that find expression in street brawls as well as in carnival games (20). He
explains that The play thus opens on a combination of popular culture, joyful anarchy, and
sexual bravado, an index to festive license or mass rebellion . . . (20). Specifically, Laroque
demonstrates the significance of the wordplay involving Juliets maidenheadexplaining that:
The act of suicide is a perversion of the act of love since the phallic dagger (Gregorys tool) is
allowed to penetrate Juliets sheath, a word that is used instead of the more technical term
scabbard, which is also the exact English translation of the Latin vagina (21).
The word play reveals a theme of festive subversion, or at least of an examination of the
hierarchies in place. Laroque explains the significance of the oxymoron in Romeo and Juliet as a
fusion, but he notes that: In creating a multiplicity of perspectives, Shakespeare is able to view
the central love story from conflicting and parallel lines and thus to deflate some of its potential
pathos and sentimentality (23). The voices of tradition and subversion . . . oblige the spectator
and the reader to resort to constant realignments of perspective. We find a similar dynamic at the
level of social, sexual, and gender roles, as well as of ideological positions in general (Laroque
Laroque argues that the plays main polarities . . . explore the frictions between high and
low spheres, public and private lives, sacred and secular love, [and] generate powerful whirls of
energy that partly account for its enduring fascination for world audiences (18). Romeos
obsession with loving hate and other oxymoronic constructs seems melodramatic
(appropriatelyto show his budding adolescent emotionality) but it also helps to emphasize that
binaries are significant in this playthat a Derridian deconstruction is in demand, or at least, that
subversion of hierarchies may be at the heart of the play. Laroque notes that the world of the
play is upside down, that not only is gender subverted, but the syntactical, social, or sexual
rules are temporarily lifted or brushed aside, and that because the structure of the play fits at
first a comedy and then a tragedy, the very genre of the playa love tragedyis itself a
subversion of tragedy (18).
In fact, Laroque argues, The law is subverted by a love that brings about a
destabilization of domestic order, thus leading to a world where contraries are reconciled in a
series of sublime or grotesque conjunctions (high and low, hate and love, the sacred and the
profane, life and death) so as to create a series of discordant fusions (Laroque 19). Specifically
in terms of gender, we see a reversal with Romeo: Shakespeare plays at presenting an active,
almost masculine Juliet against a weak, effeminate Romeo (Laroque 18).
Laroque actually points to several examples of gender role subversion, including the
placement of Juliet as the masculine figure on the balcony (whom Romeo worships as a saint and
to whom he is spatially dominated as an inferior), as well as in Mercutios language,
especially in his description of Romeo as a dried herring and through other terms of
emasculation (30). Furthermore, Laroque reminds us of popular criticism that notes that Juliet
is allowed to speak the prothalamic soliloquy in 3.2 (Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds),
thus reversing the traditional sexual roles, since the prothalamion was traditionally sung by the
bridegroom on the eve of the marriage night (30).
Also, even if Shakespeare is simply reversing the order of the heroes for the sake of a
proper rhyme, as Laroque mentions, the structure of For never was a story of more woe / Than
this of Juliet and her Romeo makes Romeo the one who belongs to Juliet rather than the other
way around, thus confirming the traditional sexual relations and the taking over of initiative
and authority by Juliet in the field of love and sex (31). And while some maintain that the
characters are young for the sake of shielding the lovers from blame, Laroque argues that not
only are they victims of misguided youthfulness and the rigid constraints of their society, but the
authority figures in place to guide them act as subversive forces.
We can easily see why the Friar and the Nurse should shoulder much of the blame for
the young lovers deaths, but the enticing love story, or at least their good intentions, lead to a
rather confusing moral. These meddling and irresponsible adults suffer personal loss and shame,
but they otherwise go unpunished for their disobedience. So we must ask if the lovers were
rightfully punished for being too hasty? Were they punished for others subversive acts? Friar
Laurences hope that the marriage will bury the feud is short-sighted, of course. With all the fear
generated by Romeos exile and Juliets sentence of forced marriage, both of which are results of
attempts to restore order to the community, neither Romeo nor Juliet can truly move in freedom.
Desire and violence dance together in dangerous ways, mostly due to the repressive and
restrictive rules governing female courtship.
And the Nurse is aware of these rules, so I would argue that her ficklenessone moment
trying to convince Juliet to marry Paris, the next acting as a go-between to facilitate Juliets
marriage with Romeoreflects her need to comply with shifting allegiances to ensure her own
safety. The Nurse enjoys her meddling only until she realizes the consequences she will face
(her own exile from the safety of employment with the family), and then she switches her tune
and gives a firm lecture in the key of household accord, focusing not on the excitement and
vicarious joy she experiences when celebrating and secretly assisting with Juliets marriage for
love, but on the need for Juliet to marry Paris. The fantasy of escape from firm familial roles
was fun, but now it is time for Juliet to resume her responsibility as a child and marry the son
Capulet has chosen.
Knowles explains how almost throughout Romeo and Juliet bawdy is used not only for
structural and thematic contrast, but for something larger and more positivethe carnivalesque
embrace of existence (75). Bawdy helps to emphasize the natural, the flesh-celebrating
carnivalesque, the non-institutional. As Knowles puts it: Bawdy reflects the collective levelling
culture of carnival. Sex is part of life and bawdy imagery reflects not sonnet sequences but the
market place, the tavern, the kitchen, the farm yard, and so onnature and society as one (76).
In Romeo and Juliet, the tragic tone is deeply contrasted by the bawdy elements of
comedy. Rather than simply providing the basis for some cheap laughs, the sexual innuendo
helps to reinforce the significance of the carnivalesque. And rather than demonstrating how a
temporary festive release functions in order to maintain order the rest of the time, this play gives
a subversive picture of how an elimination of the rigid social structure in favor of more
bawdiness, more natural desires and freedomthough still clearly dangerous and tragic at this
point in timepotentially could be more desirable than maintaining the stifling status quo.
Knowles notes: Whereas Romeo has a fated assignation at the revels, the servants are
arranging their high-jinks below stairs. . . . The servants and their girlfriends will enjoy food and
sex with their own banqueting and revels while the longer liver take all(1.5.15) (77). Romeo
and Juliet each try to grasp some living, to be citizens, to feel a sense of community, but their
fate as children of isolated and hated others is sealed. They cannot enjoy the freedom the
lower-class servants enjoy, such as the freedom to seek a marriage for love. Knowles states that
the play dramatizes a diaologism between high and low culturesbetween the Renaissance
philosophy of love and proverbial folk wisdom, between emergent subjunctive individualism and
communal conscientiousness (78). So not only is this story about marginalization and sacrifice,
but this sacrifice takes place to instill a sense of orderliterally a man-made system.
Desire, then, and violence as well, are real, or low; fighting in the streets is uncivil
and female desire is relegated to the commoners. They are products of our natural impulses,
which must be controlled and contained through culturally constructed rules. Knowles adds that
In Act 5, in Capulets tomb the festive is finally superseded by the counter-carnival triumph of
death, and carnival day and festive light are extinguished by tragic darkness (78). This is
significant because the tomb literally houses the family, contained and sealed, isolated and bound
together for eternity. Generations of her ancestors bones surround her, and Juliet describes them
in her anticipating terror of being sealed into the crypt: As in a vault, an ancient receptacle, /
Where for this many hundred years the bones / Of all my buried ancestors are packed . . .
(4.3.39-41). By climbing into the tomb, by faking her death, Juliet is pretending to sacrifice
herself, but it is her grief over losing Romeo that leads her truly to do so. The community
(family) reacts to Juliets initial death in a way that demonstrates their falsity, their pretentious
and phony emotional connection to their daughter. They perform the roles of grievers. The
important conclusion we are to divine from this representation of our cultural patterns is that we
should not play the roles we are handed. Playing in love or in hate based on what the system
has taught us may have heavy consequences.
Even in their true grief, the parents still miss the lesson that we as an audience are
supposed to get. Laroque further notes that while the statues the parents erect to pay tribute and
serve as a monumental reminder to future generations of the dangers of civil strife and of the
triumph of tradition over individual desire with its subversive potential, and as the play itself
plainly shows, this Pyrrhic victory is just another name for disaster since it is achieved at
considerable expense, that of the sacrifice of the young and of the forces of life and renewal
Festivity permeates Romeo and Juliet, and while it works to draw attention to the ways in
which characters can stretch temporarily out of their gender and class roles, it also serves to
reinforce the status quo against which it plays. Word play and bawdy serve to demonstrate the
type of freedom the characters enjoy exercising, especially the males, and when Juliet exercises
the same freedom, she is in great danger. Her role as a girl becoming a woman in a patriarchal
upper-class household is decided for her, so when she subverts the system by seeking pleasure
and love rather than tying her fate to the husband of her fathers choice, she threatens her
security. In a culture that celebrates masculine bravado, Romeo refuses to fight until he is
pushed beyond all self-control, and Juliet emerges as a brave young woman, risking death for
love. This community will not allow such disruption. Violence will surely ensue.



Like all martyrs, they die that we may live morally, since we see imaginatively not only the
injustice but also its alternative.
R.S. White, Innocent Victims

In Ren Girards anthropological study of tragedy, Violence and the Sacred, the author
emphasizes the significance of a surrogate victim who both lives in the margins of a community
and takes on the sins of the community as a scapegoat (236). Girard further explains that (as a
pattern among sacrificial religious rites), the common denominator is internal violence . . . The
purpose of the sacrifice is to restore harmony to the community, to reinforce the social fabric
Let us consider Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet in light of Girards conception of the
role of marriage. Girard notes: In many primitive societies children who have not yet
undergone the rites of initiation have no proper place in the community; their rights and duties
are almost nonexistent (12). When Juliets mother asks, How stands your disposition to be
married? (1.3.65), Juliet answers that it is not an honour of which she dreams (1.3.66). The
Nurse responds to Juliet, saying, An honour? Were not I thine only nurse,/ I would say thou
hadst sucked wisdom from my teat (1.3.67-9). Lady Capulet then becomes more emphatic:
Well think of marriage now . . . (1.3.69). The Nurse wavers, but ultimately, she knows her
place and ends up toeing the family line. The Nurse may be saying that Juliet is wise not to think
of marriage as an honor, but Lady Capulet is commanding that Juliet get married, citing her own
experience as a justification, basically saying that it is what women must do; it is Juliets role, so
she must not question it. This might touch on the difference between lower class women having
a choice versus the standard upper class prescribed marriage, but nonetheless, it speaks to the
presence of a marital system.
And the rite of marriage is, according to Girard (and demonstrated by Levi-Strauss): an
arbitrary system of representations, not the spontaneous development of a real situation (224).
While Juliet has certain duties (to obey her father: to marry Paris), her rights are basically
nonexistent. As a woman and a dependent minor, she is in the margins of a patriarchal society.
Girard goes on to explain that the circumstances that necessitated the marriage can be
attributed to social convention rather than to any real need. The fact that a type of marriage
permitted or even required in one society is formally forbidden in another makes this point clear
(224). While echoing aspects of Cooks historical description of Elizabethan marriage, Girard
also makes a significant point: Juliets marriage to Paris is not necessary except as social
Therefore, adhering to convention is of primary significance: it is the defiance of such
convention that moves the tragedy. Girard asks, Are we therefore to conclude that kinship
systems in general are essentially unnatural? (224). The answer is yes. When this play (and
Luhrmanns film) draw attention to the similar systems that both 17
century English and 21

century American societies have constructed for marriage, we see that marriage itself is an
influencing and influenced system of control and hierarchy.
Our elaborate social systems share a patriarchal structure, one which acts as a double-
edged sword. Likewise, Girard develops an interesting theory about the role of a judicial system,
explaining that it essentially takes the place of a primitive sacrificial system, and he notes: In
the final analysis, then, the judicial system and the institution of sacrifice share the same
function, but the judicial system is infinitely more effective (23). He adds that such a system
can only exist in conjunction with a firmly established political power. And like all modern
technological advances, it is a two-edged sword, which can be used to oppress as well as to
liberate (23). We see a similar double-edged sword in an elaborate social system based on
patriarchy. Girard makes an important point: No matter how sturdy it may seem, the apparatus
that serves to hide the true nature of legal and illegal violence from view eventually wears thin.
The underlying truth breaks through, and we find ourselves face to face with the specter of
reciprocal reprisal (23).
Now, as Girard notes, Only violence can put an end to violence, and that is why
violence is self-propagating. Everyone wants to strike the last blow, and reprisal can thus follow
reprisal without any true conclusion ever being reached (26). Therefore, To do violence to a
violent person is to be contaminated by his violence (27). In fact, Girard explains that many
rituals of sacrifice involve abandonment or being forced to jump off a cliffs edge specifically
so that nobody, except perhaps the culprit himself, is directly responsible for his death (27).
Juliets suicide (and Romeos) fits this description.
In his chapter about The Sacrificial Crisis, Girard explains that the proper functioning
of the sacrificial process requires not only the complete separation of the sacrificed victim from
those beings for whom the victim is a substitute but also a similarity between both parties (39).
However, he also notes that if there is too much continuity the violence will overflow its
channels. Impure violence will mingle with the sacred violence of the rites, turning the latter
into a scandalous accomplice in the process of pollution, even a kind of catalyst in the
propagation of further impurity (39). Hence, Juliet, who is too closely connected with the
conflict, being the daughter of the feuding initiator of the plague of violence in the community,
makes, as her father puts it, a poor sacrifice of his enmity (5.3.304). As Girard puts it, The
elimination of violence is no longer effected; on the contrary, conflicts within the community
multiply, and the menace of chain reactions loom ever larger (39).
Romeo commits suicide presumably from grief, perhaps from some level of guilt, and
maybe in an effort to join Juliet in a spiritual realm, but he also commits suicide as part of the
tragic chain reaction to Juliets supposed death (her inadequate self sacrifice). We see an intense
emphasis on the chain reaction when moments later, Juliet awakens to commit suicide again
herself, using Romeos weapon as if to signify that this marks its final act in causing deathit
finally becomes a peacemaker.
Naomi Conn Liebler, in Shakespeares Festive Tragedy, notes that what is being
represented is:
Not primarily the degradations and deaths of protagonists, but the interrogation,
the anatomy, of the values from which they are constructed and for which they are
selected not out of a reserve of slaves but precisely because they embody or
impersonate the societal constructs under examination. (126)
And in his description of the role of the festival, Girard states:
The function of the festival is no different from the function of other sacrificial
rites. As Emile Durkheim perceived, the festival revitalizes the cultural order by
reenacting its conception, reproducing an experience that is viewed as the source
of health and abundance; reenacting, in fact, the moment when the fear of falling
into interminable violence is most intense and the community is therefore most
closely drawn together. (120)
Liebler further explains the role of festive ritual as she cites Laroques Shakespeares
Festive World: Elizabethan Seasonal Entertainment: Because rituals are ontologically and
functionally subversive, they are thus open to the uses of the subversive (11). She also points to
two serious abrogations of community ritualthe lovers secret marriage and the fake
funeral for one not dead. By denying Verona the right to witness and affirm these crucial
passages from boy and girl to man and woman, and later from life to death, they violate the ritual
processes themselves (150). She emphasizes the significance of a marital ritual, noting Natalie
Z. Davis and others observation that
from the posting of the banns to the charivari on the wedding night, marriage is a
communal affair. It marks, among other things, the change in status from child to
adult, from dependency to social enfranchisement, and perhaps most important
from the communal point of view, the establishment within the group of a new
socioeconomic unit whose accumulated property will eventually be dispersed
among legally recognized, that is, legitimate heirs. (150)
But, as Liebler explains, tragedy works upon its audience in very much the same way that it
works upon its characters: by producing an inevitable misrecognition of the real social relations
between protagonist and community, with the protagonist demonized as other and the
audience/community ratified as us (149). She further notes that plays like Romeo and Juliet,
whose protagonists lead their audiences to a nostalgically or sentimentally selected response,
problematize the matter of sacrifice by permitting us to ignore or erase the sense in which these
sweet adolescents are themselves responsible for their own destruction (149).
So Romeo and Juliet serve as sacrificial victims to end the violence in their community,
but as Liebler puts it, they are literally their communitys poor sacrifices (V.iii.304); they are
also, together, the site of its pollution, the subjects who are both the agents and the objects of
ritual violations (151). Liebler points to how these victims are not capable of demonization, of
misrecognition so they are not [what Girard calls] pharmakoi, and that the alternate view of
the protagonist or pharmakos as a microcosm of the community is very disturbing . . . (151).
Romeo and Juliet do not simply suffer the consequences of being members of their community,
however marginal; they are not targeted for sacrifice by the community. Rather, they represent
the inherent problems within their community. But the same community that determines which
social roles men and women must play does determine the consequences for disobedience. The
real tragedy is that Romeo and Juliet are innocent, at least by the audiences sentimental
standards (evoked by the play itself), and the lovers parents wrath and bloodlust, the mimetic
violence they have created, will be the cause of their destruction, a loss the entire community
will suffer.
The lovers attempts at freedom from an inherently rigid and unfair system are foiled,
which is not much of a surprise, but the sadness the community (and the audience) feels suggests
a certain awareness, however brief, of the injustice and arbitrariness of enforcing such systems.
Liebler summarizes this well: Romeo and Juliet confronts its audience with an uncomfortable
violators of structural requirements, of properly observed rites, are carriers of
pollution. The fact that in this play they are the most appealing, most attractive,
most sympathetic and seemingly innocent representations does not reprieve them
from heir sacrificial functions for the sake of their plague-ridden community
(153-4). And most importantly, perhaps for the purpose of emphasizing the
significance of the communitys actual loss, most of Shakespeares protagonists,
as Liebler notes, embody at some time or other
. . . the traits the community most values (154).
Liebler summarizes Girards theory about reciprocal violence by explaining that in an
inevitable eruption of violent energies, the hero as a pharmakos localizes the very real (though
often hidden) hostilities that all the members of the community feel for one another (17). But
she notes an important limitation; she points out that Girards emphasis on the endless cycle
diminishes the role of interested and partisan human agency; his emphasis on randomness
obscures the important and meaningful specificity of the pharmakoss selection (17). In Romeo
and Juliet, violence seems to be brewing and erupting, but in specific ways, most significantly as
Liebler builds on Michael Bristols ideas about festive comedy by applying them to
tragedy, noting that festivity is:
the celebration of a communitys survival, although that application entails an
alternatively focused view of both celebration and survival. . . . In both comedy
and tragedy, the constructed cultural values of the fictive community are
invariably reaffirmed and reconsecrated, but in tragedy the management,
alteration or manipulation of those values is put to question. (8)
Citing Mary Douglas, Liebler explains that a transitional role is dangerous, and that ritual is
specifically designed to mediate the fear and potential chaos involved: Transitional states are
structurally dangerous, she argues, because transition itself is undefinable; the person in transit
from one status to another loses the defining identity attached to either status and thus is both in
danger and dangerous to others (10). We see Romeo moving from boy/son to man/husband,
and Juliet moving from girl/daughter to woman/wife, but because the ritual of a public marriage
ceremony and festive celebration are absent, the inversion of ritual is not only a violation of
necessary social function, but it is also a false continuation of the state of danger. Is Juliet a
woman yet? Will marrying make her become one (well, yes, by definitionbut is she old
enough to make this transition)? Issues of readinessJuliets and Capuletscome into play,
making this is a dangerous time for Juliet. She is at least on the cusp of a transitional age, itself
significant of the impending danger.
Shakespeare has made the protagonists even younger than his literary predecessors had,
which adds an additional layer. We easily see that adolescence is recognizable as a state of
transition to Elizabethan audiences; these are children who will soon marry and become adults
by doing so. This is especially significant to a twenty-first century American audience whose
culture also emphasizes this period as a transitional one, and it is partly why Luhrmanns film
production works so well to identify with its teen audience. Not only are the lovers in trouble
for violating custom and tradition, for defying their parents, and for denying the community its
role in overseeing and validating their successful transition into new roles, but they are hasty
about claiming authority over their roles. Whether they rush into marriage with each other on a
wave of emotional intensity and youthful impulsiveness or they urge on the formal completion of
their transitions into new socially accepted roles, they are literally prolonging the completion of
transition by keeping the marriage ritual private.
Building upon Girards theory of the sacrificial crisis, Liebler explains that while we may
not enact violent sacrifices, we do organize ourselves hierarchically, and therefore, politically
(18). She states that the conflict between (or within) the protagonist and the polis releases
alternative forces that cannot be suppressed at the same time and shows how the bivalence of
this Aristotlian dilemna explains why Shakespeares tragedies resist closure (18). While an
attempt is made, upon a closer look we see beyond those formulaic rhetorical closures to
anxious, willful, or wishful assertions of resolution against the structural implications of
renewed estrangements (18). And who could be more estranged than Juliet and her parents?
Juliet and Nurse? Juliet and her community as a whole? The Capulets and the Montagues?
Siding with Artauds reading of tragedy, Liebler notes that a tragic hero is not necessarily a
failure (someone with a tragic flaw, hamartia) but that protagonists are put in extreme and
unrealistic (fictive) situations, in which they make poor choices for the circumstances. The
audience recognizes that they themselves would make a better decision in that position, but only
because of its access to information the protagonist does not have (19).
Romeo and Juliet seem to fit this mold: they are not necessarily making flawed choices,
just poor ones in relation to their circumstances (of which they are often unaware). In many
productions, and very poignantly in the Luhrmann film, the culminating example occurs during
the lovers death scene when the director chooses to show Juliet stirring and awakening
unbeknownst to Romeo just before he commits suicide. This heightened moment of audience
awareness and protagonists unawareness demonstrates what several scenes throughout the play
point to: these characters, while subversive, or at least transgressive, are not to be blamed
entirely for their tragic circumstances. As Liebler puts it, If we remember that the protagonist is
selected and shaped to represent specific aspects of the communal situation, we can avoid the
interpretive trap of blaming the victim and allow for the intense identification of hero and
community that is central to the workings of tragedy (20-1).
Girard explains, If the tragic crisis is indeed to be described in terms of the sacrificial
crisis, its relationship to sacrifice should be apparent in all aspects of tragedyeither conveyed
directly through explicit reference or perceived indirectly, in broad outline, underlying the
texture of the drama (44). Images in the Luhrmann film create an underlying structure denoting
corporate greed and urban decay, from towering self-glorifying symbols of power acting as
monuments to institutions to the commodification of religion itself. Even love is a product,
coyly displayed in a Coca-Cola font as Lamour on a random building. And even without
considering these winks to some of our current social problems, including the sins of corporate
greed and conspicuous consumption, we at least see references to turmoil and unrestthe
communitys violent leaningsas the sin in community. The Prologue itself sets the stage,
pointing to ancient grudge and new mutiny (3), and in the opening scene, as the officer calls
for clubs, bills, and partisans to strik, beat them down (1.1.80), the citizens of Verona cry out
in an endorsement of punishing violence: Down with the Capulets! Down with the
Montagues! (1.1.81). In the Luhrmann film, young men check their guns instead of coats in
the local pool hall; there is an impending threat of bloodshed, a state of readiness.
Girard notes that:
The mechanism of reciprocal violence can be described as a vicious circle. . . . As
long as a working capital of accumulated hatred and suspicion exists at the center
of the community, it will continue to increase . . . Each person prepares himself
for the probable aggression of his neighbors and interprets his neighbors
preparations as confirmation of the latters aggressiveness. In more general
terms, the mimetic character of violence is so intense that once violence is
installed in a community, it cannot burn itself out. (81)
We learn that only deathin the form of a scapegoat sacrificecan end the feud in Romeo and
Juliet, which is the driving source of conflict and tragic consequence in the play: We even get a
hint at how mimetic violence occurs in the play: From ancient grudge break to new mutiny
(Prologue 3). In other words, once a violent conflict emerges within a community, it will likely
continue to plague the community until peace is achieved through a sacrificeusually of a
scapegoat. Even though the ancient grudge seems to be baseless and trivial, bred of an airy
word (1.1.96), it is the source of big losses for each family, and even among other innocent
members of the community (Mercutio and Paris both die, as well).
Tybalts sinspride and wrathcontaminate Romeo. In the Baz Luhrmann film, sin
gleams across a metal band on Gregorys teeth. The references are overt. Romeo, contaminated
with Tybalts sin (wrath) kills Tybalt and Paris. The contamination grows exponentially. For
one quarrel between men, entire families breed the discontent and vengeance. Part of why the
Prince exiles Romeo is the fear of contagion. If we remove the contaminated, push him to the
margins of the community (quarantine those with the plague), we can protect ourselves from the
contamination of their sin and violence. However, the mimetic cycle of violence goes
unresolved, without a scapegoat sacrifice to end it, so the violence continues to erupt. Romeos
rage (over Mercutios wrongful death and his role in causing what he thinks is Juliets death)
takes Paris as a victim; Romeo also targets Paris for his role in Capulets plan to marry Juliet.
He has reflected, What said my man, when my betossed soul/ Did not attend him as we rode? I
think/ He told me Paris should have married Juliet (5.3.76-8). In a way, Romeo rises up against
the system by killing Paris.
As the Prince describes the events that have unfolded, he remarks upon his own loss,
which draws attention to how two families violence has affected an entire community, as Lady
Capulet explains: The people in the street cry Romeo,/ Some Juliet, and some Paris, and all
run/ With open outcry toward our monument (5.3.191-3). The Prince expresses his personal
loss, as well: And I for winking at your discords too/ Have lost a brace of kinsmen; all are
punished (5.3.294-5). But in the final lines of the play, the Prince pronounces that Some shall
be pardoned, and some punished (5.3.308). Luhrmanns film emphasizes the line about all
being punished, when the Prince screams it in a proclamation of suffering, though it may be read
as a sentencing, as well. Not only has mimetic violence made the community suffer (all have
been punished for a few mens actions), but now some will be pardoned and others punished, as
the justice system determines who is guilty and who is innocent, much like our court system
today. However, Luhrmanns Prince screams the plays point: we are all punished when we
allow mimetic violence to flourish. Gang violence does not simply destroy gangs; innocent
victims fall prey all the time. War means collateral damage.
Lady Capulet endorses bloodlust: For blood of ours, shed blood of Montague (3.1.154),
but she calls for vengeance in the name of justice: I beg for justice, which thou, Prince, must
give./ Romeo slew Tybalt, Romeo must not live (3.2.185-6). However, justice has been served
already in this eye-for-an-eye manner, if Tybalts murder is seen as just punishment for his
killing Mercutio. She does not seek justice, but vengeance, the moving force behind the
inevitable violence within and between communities. And this mentality, which provides the
structure for societys law and order is often what leads to the societys utter destruction. The
fair-minded and impartial Prince suffers personal loss of his own kin: I have an interest in your
hates proceeding/ My blood for your rude brawls doth lie a-bleeding, but this does not incite
him to violence. He is the keeper of the law, and his presence and steadfastness (even his
lenience, seen in exiling Romeo) indicate that the law is a working peacekeeper, or that it is what
the community must rely upon as its only means for peacekeeping. However, as Lady Capulets
and others bloodlust reveal, violence will stir despite the threat of penalties from the law.
The threat of state-sponsored violence in the name of justice and keeping the peace,
evident in the Princes warning early in the play to those involved in the street brawl: Once
more, on pain of death, all men depart (1.1.110) does not work, as we see in the ensuing
violence in the play, and as our overcrowded prisons and violent crime rates suggest. Citizens
continue to participate in vengeance until the sacrifice of a scapegoat purifies and brings peace.
Does this show that we are doomed, that a justice system based on the threat of violence (a death
penalty, specifically) is completely ineffective? No, but it does point to the inherent flaws in our
justice system, and it does suggest that we address them, that we be careful in how willingly we
endorse or how blindly we participate in it.



It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden. Juliet, 2.2.118
Methinks I see thee dead in the bottom of a tomb. Juliet, 3.5.56
And trust me, love, in my eye so do you. Dry sorrow drinks our blood. Romeo, 3.5.58-9

Romeo and Juliet demonstrates the consequences of haste. Furthermore, the lovers are guilty of
frivolity (marrying for love versus duty to an appropriate match), betrayal of parental wishes (at
the very least, the secrecy of elopement), and generally speaking, of breaking marital convention.
But the play also shows how unjust, how tragic, and how utterly preventable the consequences
are. Of course, the consequences are avoidable if you don't commit the transgression in the first
place. But then other consequences replace death: unhappy marriage, lost love between parent
and child, and a breaking of the will or spirit. Juliet would be likely to commit true suicide if
forced to marry Paris. But rather than showing the unavoidable punishments set up by an
inherently unjust and cruel system as the only potential outcome, the play demonstrates a
cautionary tale warning against hastiness not only in entertaining passionate impulses (from the
erotic to the violent) but in acting without having obtained all the available information. The
theme of literacy will become most significant.
In an anecdote that itself foreshadows the theme of hastiness and its consequences, the
Nurse tells how Juliet as a toddler, freshly weaned, fell down and bumped her head, to which the
Nurse recalls her husband saying, dost thou fall upon thy face/ Thou wilt fall backward when
thou hast more wit,/ Wilt thou not Jude? / And by my holidame,/ The pretty wretch left crying,
and said ay (1.3.40-4).
The haste with which characters enact violence is at the heart of this play. It opens with
language that evokes images of rape. Sampson says he will push Montagues men from the
wall, and thrust his maids to the wall (20-22). We see a blood-lust ripe with youthful energy,
sexual frustration and desire brewing. This comment not only shows the normalcy with which
women are considered property of men, especially as objects of pleasure, but it shows how
casual the Capulet servants deem the act of rape, especially when it is in context of wreaking
vengeance on an enemy, demonstrating a certain bravado among men: they hurt the women in
order to really hurt the men. Meanwhile, the affect this has on the women is incidental, as
though, since they are essentially property, especially in terms of what happens to them sexually;
their suffering is incidental. Such an act is not victimizing the women but the men. And setting
the tone of the play with this type of exchange may help to show us how to read it; youthful
impulses based on desire and a reflex-based system of vengeance govern behavior more than
critical thinking about specific circumstances. These men are rehearsing their roles, learned by
Even in his poetic expression of love (or at least desire) for Juliet, Romeo echoes the
learned theme of woman as sexual objectas commodity: I am no pilot, yet wert thou as far/
As that vast shore washd with the farthest sea, I should adventure for such merchandise
(2.2.82-4). Even Juliet refers to herself as property: and though I am sold, Not yet enjoyed
(3.2.27-8). These comments reflect a rote understanding of roles handed to them.
While Mercutio also reinforces the learned gender roles of soldier as violent conqueror
and maiden as sex object, Mercutio makes light of love in a typically masculine manner, teasing
Romeo for being a lover filled with desire. For Mercutio, love is lust, at best. When he greets
Romeo after he has been with Juliet (or with Rosaline, Mercutio assumes), he has just
commented on Romeos being unfit to fight Tybalt because of how love is emasculating him:
Alas poor Romeo, he is already dead, stabbed with a white wenchs black eye, run through the
ear with a love-song, the very pin of his heart cleft with a blind bow-boys butt-shaft (2.4.13-
16) before greeting Romeo thusly: Signior Romeo, bon jour. / Theres a French salutation to
your French slop (2.4.46-6). Mercutio describes Queen Mab, a mythical fairy, as the influence
in dreams, even though each dreamer seems to dream of what he actually desires (a lawyer
dreams of fees, maids dream of kisses, etc.), and for Romeo, she gallops night by night/
Through lovers brains, and then they dream of love (1.4.70-1). Mercutio treats the idea of love
as a whimsical notion of fantasy: True, I talk of dreams;/ Which are the children of an idle
brain,/ Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;/ Which is as thin of substance as the air, / And more
inconstant than the wind . . . (1.4.96-9).
Romeo may be infatuated with Rosaline, merely in love with being in love, until he falls
for Juliet and demonstrates true love. He may simply be infatuated again, but this time the girl
requites his love. Isnt the concept of love based on attraction, on what we now call
chemistry? Romeo and Juliet are in love as much as two young teenagers can be, and this
love, or at least this innocent youthful spirit of passionate desire, reflects and inspires a certain
irresistible sentimentality. This love seeks expression, and the compounded circumstances of
mis-communication and social constraints work to lay the circumstances for tragedy, not only
through the tragic deaths of the lovers, but the thwarting of love itself as it is nipped in the bud.
It can be argued that Romeo acts hastily and in violent response to his misconceptions of
what his wife has done to betray him, based on a learned expectation of cuckoldry: Romeo has
been cuckolded by Death, and his suicide becomes an act of shame and despair, if we see Death
as Juliets new lover, which much of the language of the play supports. Upon meeting Romeo,
Juliet says: if he be married,/ My grave is like to be my wedding bed (1.5.136-7). When
learning of Romeos banishment, she says, Ill to my wedding-bed, and death, not Romeo, take
my maidenhead (3.2.136-7). And when Juliet seems dead, Capulet responds, O son, the night
before thy wedding-day/ Hath Death lain with they wife; there she lies,/ Flower as she was,
deflowered by him. Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir,/ My daughter he hath wedded
Some may see Romeos suicide as simply another hasty act of impulsive, passion-driven
vengeance, this time turned inward. Perhaps he is punishing himself for causing Juliets grief
and her own supposed resulting suicide: Doth not she [Juliet] think me an old murderer,/ Now I
have stained the childhood of our joy/ With blood removed but little from her own? (3.3.94-5).
In Elizabethan England, and even now among audiences in the U. S., where most are Judeo-
Christian, suicide equals damnation, so some may see Romeos suicide as the ultimate act of self
sacrifice, sacrificing his very soul for Juliet to be with her even in death. As he drinks poison, he
toasts, Heres to my love! (4.3.119). While Romeos suicide certainly is an impulsive
response to loss and grief, possibly a symptom of youth, we see the theme of hastiness again, this
time with truly tragic consequences.
We are violent creatures (well, at least in this play, the men are). The Montague servants
are in the mood to fight, so they instigate with an insult against the Capulets. Violence is ever-
brewing beneath the surface. Another insulting gesture or airy word is all it takes to get the
violence going, just as it was all it took to start the feud in the first place. Men are supposed to
challenge each other when their honor is on the line; they must not bear an insult and suffer a
diminished status. They are young and restless, and this is their learned role for handling their
violent impulses. They clearly do not question their roles, and they do not attempt to keep their
passionate impulses in check. They simply act upon them in haste.
Even loves passion is dangerous when acted upon in haste. Montague describes
Romeos lovesicknesshis humouras black and portentous (1.1.147-8), and begrudges
his secrecy, suggesting that he would like to help him (that Romeo is an unskilled counselor to
himself): Could we but learn from whence his sorrows grow,/ We would as willingly give cure
as know (1.1.160-1). We might infer that lovesicknessor passion itself is as destructive as
an envious worm that devours the bud (1.1.157), especially since Romeos infatuation for
Rosaline makes him moody, and his love for Juliet makes him kill (Paris) and die (suicide).
Certainly Friar Laurences wedding sermon favors a more temperate, less hasty kind of love:
These violent delights have violent ends,/ And in their triumph die . . . Therefore love
moderately (2.6.9-10, 14).
It is as though the characters adhere to the societal view that passionate love is
destructive. Society must enforce order to prevent destruction, which is why elopement is so
transgressive. But judging from the enduring popularity of this play, and common references to
it as the greatest love story of all time, we can also assume that Friar Laurences sermon serves
to highlight how audiences are torn between an un-receptiveness to passionate love and a
longing for it to flourish. At the very least, this type of passionate love is familiar enough to the
Elizabethan audience that the love story is actually tragic. American audiences certainly identify
with passionate love, as we are immersed in a culture of individualism. Tradition still governs
many of our rituals and institutions, but we definitely recognize desire and celebrate the personal
freedom to pursue it as an entitlement, not a privilege.
But in this play, seeking personal freedom has its consequences. Although moments of
comedy may peek through this tragedy, such as the witty and often bawdy banter between
Romeo and Mercutio at each of their meetings; Mercutio even jests at his fatal wound, saying,
Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man (100-1), the comic elements seem, by
contrast, to deepen the impact of the tragic elements. It isnt actually passionate love that
destroys, but the eruption of passionate violence. The attempt to impose order through
institutions and convention may actually cause violence when passionate love is repressed. Left
to love and to choose for themselves, the couple may not have died, and their families may have
reconciled without having to do so in the face of loss.
Capulet also displays a rather sudden haste in his wedding plans for Juliet, asking Paris,
Will you be ready?/ Do you like this haste? (3.4.22). It may have be better to think matters
through rather to react emotionally, or in Capulets case, out of fear of mortality, as Copplia
Kahn notes in her discussion of Juliets function as an heiress: Better to insure the safe passage
of his property to an heir now, while he lives, than in an uncertain future. . . . For him, the
wedding constitutes the promise that his line will continue, though his own time end soon (181).
Capulet mentions his mortality several times; it is clearly a concern. There is nothing like a
death in the family to remind us of our own impending mortality; after learning of Tybalts
death, Capulet says, Well, we were born to die (3.5.19), and he promises Paris that Juliet will
marry him on the Thursday of that same week, recognizing that Wednesday is too soon (3.5.4).
Later, when Juliet seems to have died, Capulet describes Death as his son-in-law and heir,
saying, I will die,/ And leave him all; life, living, all is Deaths (4.5.38-40). Of course, if
Capulet had not rushed Juliets marriage to Paris, she would have needed to fake her death to
escape the forced nuptials, so the unintended consequence of Capulets bullying and hastiness is
the actual death of his daughter.
Hastiness will lead to loss, either of a loved one or oneself. A symbolic downfall is
illustrated beautifully in the Luhrmann film when Romeo trips and falls as he hastily runs out of
Friar Laurences cell. Romeo and Juliet as a cautionary tale urges a resistance to hasty judgment,
hasty action based on impulses, or mis-information. The play shows the consequences of
performing roles based on a strict social order, of repressive systems of hierarchy. It shows how
the prescriptive rules of society, or, really, of all socialization may be counterproductive. While
marriage is not necessarily a required rite of passage into adulthood today, fathers still give
away their daughters as we follow marriage traditions, and elopement is deeply frowned upon
in most families. Basically, all rule-bound conventions, traditions, and systems lead to violence
and tragedy when strictlyor over-strictlyenforced. In this sense, the play is an argument for
freedom from convention. But the characters in this play rely on convention relentlessly, even in
response to death. The Montagues have the opportunity to react to Juliets fake death, and we
see them blatantly missing the lesson that we know they should be learning (i.e., they have the
chance to prevent her actual death).
Juliet is obedient, exhibiting a clear knowledge of what is expected of her, until passion
leads her to follow her own desires instead of her parents. In response to her mothers wish that
she choose Paris, Juliet says, Ill look to like, if looking liking move./But no more deep will I
endart mine eye/Than your consent gives strength to make it fly (1.3.98-9). Not only is she
obedient, but she touches on the theme of passion; shell not only obey her parents wishes to
look to like Paris, but if they were to disapprove, she would reel in any deep feelings she
might develop. We see later that once in love, Juliet is completely disobedient, marrying another
in secret and even faking death to escape her parents control.
This exchange in 1.3 between Juliet and her mother, in which Lady Capulet uses subtle
pressure, in the form of a leading question loaded with implications: What say you, can you
love the gentleman? (1.3.79) is less an inquiry than a request, and less a request than a thinly
veiled command, or at least a strong suggestion that Juliet should love the gentleman. But it is
also a reversal of the power play involved in the subtle interplay between Capulet and Paris when
they discuss the prospect of marriage for Juliet. Capulet tries to emphasize the role of Juliets
choice, all the while holding the power to decide for her, and ultimately doing so. Juliet claims
obedience but ultimately chooses for herself, defying her father and mother. Issues of consent,
will, and choice mingle together in double talk, where characters say the opposite of what is
actually true, but more importantly, they reveal what lies beneath the thin veil of diplomacy and
suggest that such insincerity is almost inevitable within a system of strict social or familial roles.
We see what trying to voice personal choice gets Juliet: her fathers wrath, quickly
supported by her mothers example of how to behave as a woman in a patriarchal society (Lady
Capulet risks little in her dealings with Juliet, behaving obediently toward Capulet). Juliets
mother leaves with her own implicit threat of disowning Juliet for disobedience: Talk not to
me, for Ill not speak a word./ Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee (3.4.204-205). Capulet
commands Juliet: But fettle your fine joints gainst Thursday next,/ To go with Paris to Saint
Peters Church;/ Or I will drag thee on a hurdle thither (3.4.155-6).
Although the Nurse has moments of protective intercession on Juliets behalf, she refers
to marriage in terms of its societal role, noting that through marriage, women grow by men
(1.4.95). Her wordplay possibly refers to maturity (growing up), but it works to emphasize both
pregnancy and financial stability, the two primary responsibilities of womanhood in society:
marry well and carry on the lineage. Women are sexual (reproductive) vessels, dependent on
fathers and then husbands, married off to preserve or increase the familys wealth and status. In
Juliets case, though, sexual and emotional desire for the man she loves draws her away from
traditional roles. Copplia Kahn touches on this point: The Nurses . . . anecdote . . .
epitomizes the way in which, in the patriarchal setting, womans subjugation to her role as wife
and mother is made to seem integral with nature itself (128). And this provides a remarkable
contrast with Juliets independence: Against this conception of femininity, in which women are
married too young to understand their sexuality as anything but passive participation through
childbearing in a vast biological cycle, Shakespeare places Juliets unconventional, fully
conscious and willed giving of herself to Romeo (Kahn 183).
The Nurse also reveals sympathies for Juliets independence, at least as long as shes able
to do so without putting her own livelihood at serious risk. In fact, she hints at hoping that
Juliets choice (to marry Paris) will bring fulfillment, or at least sexual pleasure: Go girl, seek
happy nights to happy days (1.3.106). While she does eventually tout the Capulets wishes as
what will be best for Juliet, this is no reason to despise her as a traitor to Juliet. In fact, it is this
very submissiveness that helps to provide a contrast with Juliets behavior, setting it in the
foreground as risky, reminding us of the severity of her actions, and also illustrating that she is
being subversive of her given role as a woman within her society. And even if the Nurses about
face is based on the realization that Juliet really is in grave danger if she does not marry Parisa
rude wakening from dreamy visions of her happiness outside the prescribed systemit still
demonstrates a genuine compassion for Juliet, which is very clear throughout the Nurses speech
recounting stories of Juliets childhood with pleasure and fond intimacy, as well as in her sneaky
and somewhat risky efforts in assisting in Juliets marriage to Romeo. Scenes of intimacy
between the Nurse and Juliet, including secret conversations and nostalgic memories of Juliets
childhood invite the audience to feel sympathy for the Nurse, despite her eventual retreat to the
safety of her prescribed role in the Capulet household.
Juliet says, If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed (1.5.136-7), so
she may be a little melodramatic (like Romeo), but this line also foreshadows events to come and
hints at her suicidal tendencies when her desire is squelched or controlled by others or other
circumstances. It may seem also to suggest that, tragically, the only real choice that a woman in
her society, or at least from her position in society, can make is suicide. Juliet herself says, when
faced with her fathers ultimatum: O bid me leap, rather than marry Paris/ From off the
battlements of any tower (4.1.78-9). Some might argue that the immaturity, haste, and
impulsivity of youth are responsible for such dramatic actions as suicide, and while this may be
so, suicide as an extreme reaction certainly reinforces and intensifies the tragic tone of the play.
In fact, we may feel deeper sympathy precisely because these young lovers are prone to the
potentially destructive passions of youth.
Friar Laurences warnings seem to suggest such an awareness and concern: Wisely and
slow, they stumble that run fast(2.4.94). Juliets comment foreshadowing suicide also points
strongly to the injustice of hierarchical and misogynist societal boundaries to passion and choice.
We not only feel the youthful intensity of Juliets desire for Romeo in her comment hinting at
suicideor at least that the news itself of Romeos unavailability would surely kill herbut we
see how unjust the patriarchal socialization of children really is. Juliets society, a system built
on rigid control, has taught her what her role must be (and shes still learning, which is why her
youthful rebellion resonates with ironic exuberance and passion during a time when her father is
in negotiations for her marriage and her mother (and Nurse) is working hard to force her to
conform to their standards.
And we can assume from the opening of Act 2, when the chorus describes the difficulties
of Romeo and Juliets attempts to meet, that this play is overt in its celebration of passionate
love: But passion lends them power, time means to meet./ Tempring extremities with extreme
sweet (2.1.13-14). At the very least, if this play is not an endorsement for passionate love, it is
a dramatic enactment of the dangers and the utter inevitability of being drawn to act on our
passions (from love to murderous rage). Like the flower that may hold both medicine and
poison, we see that passion may both heal (love heals Romeos lovesickness and melancholy)
and destroy (vengeance, whether fresh or from generations of contempt for enemies, leads to
much murder). The systems in place to control and contain our passions are inadequate and
maybe inappropriate.
And the predominant system in control, the patriarchy, is reinforced through the Church.
Religion plays its role: the church sanctifies the institution of marriage, but when marriage is
primarily an economic contract (and arguably, a patriarchal ritual of the transfer of ownership), it
is not surprising that in Romeo and Juliet, religious language works as sexual metaphor: Romeo
says to Juliet, If I profane with my unworthiest hand/ this holy shrine, the gentle sin is this, / My
lips two blushing pilgrims ready stand/ To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss (1.5.95-
8). In Baz Luhrmanns film production, Juliet gives Romeo a cross necklace as a love token.
Perhaps this simple private gesture is meant to imply that the lovers exhibit Christian love rather
than being corrupted by vengeance and violence from their families or the community.
Baz Luhrmanns film alludes to both sex and religion (the water seems to evoke baptism
themes, especially as Romeo escapes destruction through submersion in the safety of the pool).
Luhrmanns production is rife with religious imagery, from neon crosses to Mercutio as a Christ
figure experiencing what looks like stigmata in his death scene (his hands are pierced and
bleeding and he has a wound in his side, and he is dressed in white) to images of Mary on a gun
(is it decoration to show that religious imagery saturates the culture? Or is the Church the
weapon?), but it is also deeply symbolic beyond suggesting that Catholicism or Christianity is
the dominant religious system in place. Of course, the Biblical allusions to the Christ story
evoke a conflation of severe violence and benevolence, a sacrifice meant to ensure peace.
Christs sacrifice serves as the ultimate metaphor for love: sacrifice is love. When she fakes her
death, Juliet sacrifices herself symbolically for Romeo.
At the same time, the saturation of religious iconography throughout the film also
suggests that that there is a conflation of corporate power, government, and ideological power (in
this case, religious). Direction notes in the screenplay demonstrate how intentional this imagery
is: CUT TO: Laurences P.O.V. through the broken roof pane, of the Madonna backlit in the
morning sun and TIGHT ON: Romeo as the monumental Jesus is reflected on the windscreen
rushing toward him (74 and 108). It is also interesting to note that the dominant (and, for
Elizabethan audiences, the state) religious institution influences and/or is influenced by the
governments authority to restrict, control, permit, and punish: in the Lurhmann film, we see In
God We Trust above the Prince in the opening scene, a conflation of state and religion, similar
to the ongoing issue of separation of church and state in the United States laws and institutions
(prayer at public school functions, the Pledge of Allegiance, our money, courtroom oaths on the
Bible, etc.).
In Luhrmanns film, Romeo and Juliet woo each other and confess their love in water, a
powerful religious image of cleansing and renewal. This symbolic baptism burial in each others
love may even be an implied reference to the cult of death-love, but it is at least a foreshadowing
of events to come while conveying how this love is itself almost religious: Juliet says to Romeo,
Do not swear at all./ Or if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,/ Which is the god of my
idolatry . . . (2.2.111-13) and all my fortunes at they feet I will lay,/ And follow thee my lord
throughout the world (2.2.147-8).
In Kiss Kiss Bang Bang Jos Arroyo notices that Verona is depicted as a massive
industrial sprawl and that At the center of the city, a gigantic icon of Christ, arms outstretched,
ineffectually looms over its inhabitants (6). But more importantly, he notes that the other
looming iconsthe symbols of Capulet and Montague wealth, the skyscrapersare so rickety,
dusty and old that they indicate a crumbling social structure (6). The statue of Christ actually
has scaffolding on it, suggesting it is in need of repairs. Perhaps this is a reflection of the events
to come, a defiance of the old ways, and an emergence of an independent youth.
In fact, Arroyo suggests that what other criticslike Fredric Jamesonmight see as the
dishistoricizing effects of post-modern culture might actually be a means of making past
conventions of storytelling understandable in a present context by seeing a quasi-mythic
world which makes us decipher what this constructed world stands for and how it comments on
our own (8). Luhrmanns film does this; it not only portrays a continued relevance of Romeo
and Juliet in relation to contemporary American society, but it uses our own issues of inner-city
violence and urban sprawl, class disparity, and other hierarchies to provide access to an
understanding of Elizabethan issues. In particular, as Arroyo notes, Luhrmann uses ethnicity as
a vehicle through which to help us understand the themes such as filial duty, religious devotion,
family honour and the institution of marriage (8).
But most interestingly, Arroyo points out that the ethnic casting helps to restore to
Shakespeares filmed work a polyphony that has been eroded through years of respect (8). And
John Leguizamos Latino Tybalts pride, temper and the importance he attaches to family
honour are far more understandable to present-day viewers as Hispanic stereotypes than as the
values of a Renaissance nobleman. Likewise, Juliets refusal of her fathers becomes more
transgressive when read through her ethnicity (8). Arroyo also makes the point that Juliets
ethnicity is a kind of drag impersonation imposed on her character by genealogy since Claire
Danes is not actually Hispanic, nor does she even fake an accent (9).
Denise Albanese, in Shakespeare, Film, and The Americanization of Culture, asserts
that such casting was more along the lines of affirmative action or a reification of existing racial
stereotypes by noting how unfortunate it is that a black Mercutio is the sole character
responsible for homoerotic overtones in his relationship to Romeo and that his Queen Mab
speech resembles the ranting of an incoherent junkiein contrast to the Anglo Romeos
legitimized poetry (216). And while theres no dismissing the presence of such racial
stereotypes, we also see in Mercutio a loyal, honorable friend and a welcome guest in both
feuding households, and the black Prince is in a position of power even above the corporate
giants in Montague and Capulet. And the black female anchorwoman also draws our attention to
a powerful position in the media: the purveyor of information. I would argue that the casting of
principal characters (and even the addition of an updated one in our anchor) not only
highlights the existing divisions of race and class, but it does so by turning a few of them on their
heads. The black Mercutio may demonstrate homoerotic behavior, thus calling our attention to a
complex other quality compounded by his race, but he also demonstrates an eagerness for
festivity and frivolityhardly the image of a hardened ganster from the ghetto that the ready
stereotype might bring to mind.
Known for his elaborate visual style, many of Luhrmanns visual choices also emphasize
the characters behaviors and personalities. For example, the masquerade costumes reveal each
characters primary personality trait at work in the play; they become caricatures through their
costumes, illustrating how they perform their roles by rote: Tybalt is a devil, but a stylish and
glamorous one, hinting at the seductiveness of evil (especially violence), Lady Capulet is dressed
as Cleopatra, a woman known for seductiveness, but also for trickery and deceit, as well as
power; Capulet is Caesar, a fitting match to go with his wifes costume, but also a direct visual
representation of powerfulness, as well as a suggestion of empire; and Romeo is a knight, which
suggests that he is both chivalrous and strong, but above all, he is a fighter (this might be ironic
since we see him writing love poetry and pining for Rosaline during the beginning of the play.)
Furthermore, he refuses to fight Tybalt, letting his reputation and masculinity seem shamed in
public, but he is deeply loyal to family, including Juliets, once married to her, evident in his
response to Tybalts verbal challenge: I do protest I never injured thee,/ But love thee better
than thou canst devise,/ Till thou shalt know the reason of my love./ And so good Capulet, which
name I tender/ As dearly as my own, be satisfied (3.1.71-4). Most significantly, though, he is a
rescuer of a damsel in distress: Juliet is trapped in her parents home, truly unable to choose
marriage for loveor any other reason she may have of her ownwithout dire consequence,
and her placement on a balcony helps to evoke the idea of a princess in a tower, cloistered and in
need of rescue. Luhrmann adds an additional powerful image by costuming Juliet as an angel:
she is pure and good, heavenly in Romeos eyes, and innocent in everyones.
And Mercutio is a fancy performing drag queen, a perfect symbol of gender performance.
Not only does his Queen Mab speech and his penchant for sexual punning reflect a machismo
and performance of masculinity, but his light teasing of Romeo and his utter disgust with Romeo
for failing to fight when provoked all work to show the significance of following convention in
terms of gender roles. But his costume also reflects the nature of such performance: it is exactly
that, a socially prescribed performance. Romeo is no less a man for loving women than Tybalt is
more of a man for being vindictive and quick to act in vengeance for the sake of honor. And the
topsy-turvy nature of a festival, where the source of fun is found in breaking convention provides
a permissible means for playing with prescribed roles. However, Mercutio would not be able to
perform his drag act outside the permitted arena of a costume party, where it is wholeheartedly
welcomed and encouraged. This helps to emphasize the importance of following set roles, but it
also hints at how much the community designates such roles (and that they are indeed arbitrary).
Copplia Kahn, in Coming of Age in Verona, explains that the younger generation has
inherited the parents feud, and while the lovers exhibit the hastiness of youth in their love, the
younger generation also do so in their violence, and it is the feud which fosters the rash,
choleric impulsiveness typical of youth by offering a permanent invitation to and outlet for
violence (172). The feud is the tragic force, in that it demonstrates an extreme and peculiar
expression of patriarchal society, which Shakespeare shows to be tragically self-destructive
(171). Rather than blaming the young lovers, for their character faults, Kahn points to the
parents, who are responsible for its [the feuds] continuance (172). Therefore, as a cautionary
tale against blind acceptance of inherently destructive patriarchal systems, the play functions
Masculinity as defined by familial loyalty (to the feud) may be the most significant
destructive aspect of the patriarchy. Romeo chooses to be a lover, not a fighter, and as Kahn
points out, Mercutios reaction suggests that this is despicable within such a system during a
Only one kind of rigid, simple language is understood in the feud, a language
based on the stark polarities Capulet-Montague, man-boy. No wonder Mercutio
terms Romeos response a calm, dishonorable, vile submission and draws on
Tybalt: Romeo has allowed a Capulet to insult his name, his paternal heritage, his
manhood, without fighting for them. (175).
Kahn also notes that because of the feud, they are constantly called upon to define themselves
in terms of their families and to defend their families, masculinity becomes defined through
phallic violence on behalf of their [the sons] fathers, and the cosy familiarity between master
and servant in the Capulet household reinforces the feeling that Nurse, as well as the other
servants, including Juliet, should not wish to betray the paterfamilias to be left in the violent
streets of Verona (Kahn 172-3).
The threat of destruction through betrayal of the family is not merely implied, as
Capulets harsh rant at Juliet reveals, but the young lovers do betray their families. They escape,
momentarily, from the irrational and socially destructive feud (which reinforces the unjust
patriarchal power structure). Other characters may wish to take the same risk, but may be too
afraid to leave the security of learned roles. Kahn notes that Mercutios defensiveness against
dreams shows his fear of giving in to the seething nighttime world of unconscious desires
associated with the feminine; he prefers the broad daylight world of men fighting and jesting.
(177). Furthermore, Kahn remarks that Mercutios repression is revealed through his wordplay:
the same defensiveness underlies his fancy as his bawdry (177).
In Rehabilitating Tybalt, Jerzy Limon emphasizes the importance of family honor in
the fight scene: Tybalt is not only personally insulted, but he makes it abundantly clear that it is
his familys honor . . . at stake (98). The pivotal scene of violence that sets the storys main
action into motion is based on the treatment of the outsider. Had Tybalt refrained, and resisted
violent reaction, all would be well. Society systematically hates or at least fears the other, but,
like Capulet, we claim we want no trouble at the party and enact laws to prohibit vengeance and
mindless violence. However, Capulet, Tybalt, Romeo, and the citizens of Verona, when prodded
or challenged by an enemy, react with violence. When this is the model, the next generation
adopts a similar fear and hatred, and it is no surprise that a new wave of violence occurs.
While the youth do draw their swords rather quickly throughout the play, Limon argues
that Tybalt did not intentionally kill Mercutio during his temporary inattentionwhich would
have been a dishonorable act, inconsistent with binding principles (103). Limon makes the
case for an unusual interpretation of Tybalts flight: Healmost oversensitive in matters of
honorhas committed a shameful act, unworthy of gentleman. Chance imprints a stain on his
honor and that of his family. This is what terrifies him; this is why he loses his head and reacts
in a manner that is natural at such timeshe runs away (104). Limon concludes, There is no
doubt that Tybalt fully realized that his sudden flight from the field of battle would be attributed
to cowardice (104).
Limon also claims that Mercutios death is pivotal, setting the inevitable tragic
consequences of all action in motion (97). Mercutios death may be seen as the result of chance,
but it happens because of the code of masculinity, the system of familial honor. We cant
assume that Mercutio was acutely aware of the combination of factors leading to his unnecessary
death, but his bitter dying words, A plague o youre your houses!/ They have made worms
meat of me. I have it,/ And soundly too. Your houses! (3.1.111-13), indicate at least an
acknowledgment of what we can clearly see: both houses, both families, are to blame for
Mercutios death (3.1.111-13, 100-01).
Both Romeo and Juliet have familial roles to fulfill. Copplia Kahn makes an important
point when she describes the significance of Romeos name: Shakespeare suggests that it is
impossible for Romeo to separate himself from his public identity as a Montague and that his
public identity is nonetheless extraneous and accidental, no part of what he really is (178). And
most importantly, his new identity as a man is to be based on his allegiance to his father (178).
Here lies the familiar element of tragedy between the lovers: the feud will not allow their new
identities as husband and wife to become publicly known, as is all too apparent when Romeos
veiled references to Tybalts name as one which he tenders as dearly as his own go
uncomprehended in Act III (179).
Kahn also argues that Romeo and Juliet become adults not through changing a name but
by action undertaken in a transformed sense of the self, requiring courage and independence
(179). Kahn notes that both the Nurse and the Friar urge Romeo to be a man in the sense that
he must now base his sense of himself as a man not on his socially sanctioned
identity as a son of Montague, but on his love for Juliet, in direct conflict with that
identitya situation which the friar sees as only temporary. But this conflict
between manhood as aggression on behalf of the father, and manhood as loving a
woman, is at the bottom of the tragedy, and not to be overcome. (179)
The feud perpetuates what Kahn calls automatic thinking in a brilliant description of Juliets
rant against Romeo, a speech she delivers just before being reminded by the Nurse that she
now owes her loyalty to Romeo rather than to the house of Capulet (184)
Automatic thinking is perhaps the most significant theme to explore in this tragedy,
especially in terms of communication, or more to the point, mis-communication. The text of the
play constantly reiterates the significance of missed messages and bad readings. In a seemingly
inconsequential moment, for example, a servant asks Romeo, I pray sir can you read? (1.2.59).
As Romeo reads the guest list to the Capulets party, Benvolio suggests they go so that Romeo
may compare Rosaline to the other beauties of Verona and to see that he is mistaken to be so
lovesick for her. This moment puts Romeo onto the path to meet Juliet. This alone is not tragic,
but the sustained moment of a servant struggling to read and emphasizing how we learn to read
seems significant: Perhaps you have learned it without book, says the servant, to which
Romeo replies, Ay, if I know the letters and the language (1.2.61, 63). Why the emphasis on
illiteracy versus literacy, instruction versus experiential learning?
The theme of reading runs through Romeo and Juliet: when Romeo kisses Juliet, she says
he kisses by the book (1.5.113). Friar Laurence comments that Romeo did read by rote
regarding love, and (2.4.87). Lady Capulet tells Juliet that Paris is a catch by comparing him to a
precious book of love whom Juliet should Read oer and find delight writ there with
beautys pen (1.3.86, 81-2). And Benvolio declares that they will enter the party without
apology nor proper announcement: Nor no without-book prologue, faintly spoke/ After the
prompter, for our entrance (1.4, 7-8).
These constant references to reading develop the theme of literacy and whether
knowledge is based on actual reading or simply on memorization. Do we know and understand
the text or do we recite it? Do we enact cultural rituals to satiate community standards and
familial traditions, or do we truly read meaning and value in them on a personal level (is
marriage a financial agreement made public through festivity or a personal commitment between
lovers?)? Do we read critically or superficially? Is this play an entertainment or a cautionary
tale? I argue that it is a cautionary tale steeped in the theme of careful reading, and the tragedy is
based on mis-readings and mis-applications of the standardsthe unwritten but memorized
cultural text of order.
Missed messages are pivotal in this play. Had Romeo known that Juliet was still alive,
the tragedy of the lovers deaths might have been prevented. Had Romeo received Tybalts
written challenge, he might have known to avoid any contact with him, or at least to come
prepared to fight. Miscommunication throughout the play is primarily due to third-hand
accounts. The mis-delivery of what would be a life-saving message to Romeo (and in turn, a life-
saving message for Juliet) demonstrates the tragedy of a failed text.
So the message, in simple terms, is to listen and read carefully and without haste, to avoid
blind performance of roles, and to avoid complicity in oppressive systems by doing so. Rashness
is Romeos downfall, and, perhaps, Juliets, as well, which we hear emphasized in Friar
Laurences warnings to Romeo: Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast (2.4.94) and even
during the wedding ceremony: Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow (2.6.15). If only Romeo
were paying close attention, even as he takes his life, the rashest of all his acts, he could get the
important message that Juliet is alive, from Juliet herself.



Centuries can pass before men realize that there is no difference between their principle of
justice and the concept of revenge.
Rene Girard, Violence and the Sacred

If the characters in this play were able to seek knowledge as type of social literacy, rather than
hastily performing their learned roles and upholding oppressive systems designed to deny them
freedom, and if they were able to resist hastily acting upon impulses, whether they be acts of
youthful violence or elderly oppression based on the fear of mortality, they might understand that
society is itself a poisonous plant, which, Friar Laurence reminds us, may hold both poison and
medicine: Within the infant rind of this weak flower/ Poison hath residence, and medicine
power. (2.3.23-4) Unfortunately, though, in a series of events that illustrate Ren Girards
sacrificial crisis, Where the worser is predominant,/ Full soon the canker eats up that plant
(2.3.29-30). In other words, the love between Romeo and Juliet may be wonderful for society (in
healing old grudges), while what we deem "medicine" (cultural identity and commonality, social
cohesion through tradition and obedience to codesfamilial and social) may ultimately work to
poison us. Today's critical thinker might assume most of this process as routine, but even today
the "foreigner" in a country filled with immigrants is feared, shunned, abused, and even attacked
on the basis of suspicion, as any post-9/11 Arabic-American detainee or World War II era
Japanese-American internment camp detainee can tell you.
Little does Mercutio know, but in his dying words, he is naming a plague that his death
does, in fact, spread. Malice exists already between the Capulets and Montagues, but until
Mercutios death we see no evidence of any deadly violencejust bickering and street brawling
and talk of dueling, the undercurrent of violence wanting to erupt. Mercutio is the first to die,
and the familial loyalty that formed the basis of threats and insults now becomes the basis of true
vengeance and bloodshed (only, ironically, Mercutio is not a Capulet). Perhaps it is his
distinctive role as neither insider nor outsider that spurns his venomous curse upon both families.
It may be more of an observation than a curse, anyway: both houses are afflicted by a plague of
And in terms of the sacrificial crisis, it seems very fitting that the cause of delayed or
mixed messages is a type of plague or poison: it is literally a plague that keeps Balthazar from
delivering the crucial message to Romeo that Juliet is alive. This is especially important in
relation to the sacrificial crisis and the function of this play as a cautionary tale: the message is
that we must read more carefully, avoiding haste in our readings and reactions, and in this way
the text is self-referential, as well as brilliantly instructional.
Violence is everywhere in this play. According to Copplia Kahn, the lovers come of
age through death as sexual consummation (187-9). She notes:
They have come of age by a means different from the rites of passagephallic
violence and adolescent motherhoodtypical for youth in Verona. Romeos
death in the tomb of the Capulets rather than in that of his own fathers reverses
the traditional passage of the female over to the male house in marriage and
betokens his refusal to follow the code of his fathers. And it is Juliet, not Romeo,
who boldly uses his dagger, against herself. (189-90)
Lady Capulets cries for justice lead to further violence. But the Princes attempt to bend the
eye for an eye rule by exiling Romeo rather than putting him to death seems to be a logical
compromise in an effort to put an end to the communitys mimetic violence. Of course, it does
not work. Exile allows Romeo to linger, enraged, and he is therefore able to kill Paris.
However, if Romeo were to be put to death for punishment, would his family not then cry out for
vengeance for his unjust death?
In Violence and the Sacred Ren Girard argues that the Christ sacrifice was supposed to
be the be all, end all religious sacrifice, but because society seems to use religion as a tool of
ideological manipulation rather than a spiritual guide (the characters in the play are hypocrites
or they are fallible, at least), they seek vengeance and continually plague their community with
mimetic/reciprocal violence. If they could recognize this destructive tendency and address it in
their laws, institutions, and societal conventions, and if they could stop ostracizing and
scapegoating the other in order to dismantle hierarchies that oppress and dis-empower
particular groups, they may find that they can achieve peace without having their swords drawn.
It is no accident that a priest is in the middle of the action and deception. Friar Laurence
is not simply a stock character of (the meddling friar familiar to Renaissance audiences), but he
actually represents The Church as the one who makes and breaks the rules: he has the power
to marry, reinforcing the patriarchal tradition, but he also demonstrates the power to subvert the
system by taking part in Romeo and Juliets elopement and Juliets fake suicide. He breaks
community trust to end the violence, but in doing so, he contributes to the contagion because
they cannot make peacethe only end to the cycle is a sacrifice. He justifies breaking the
societal rulesnamely, of public marital rites and parental permission and endorsementby
claiming that doing so just may do the trick in ending the parents feud, but his motive may be a
result of his understanding of the complex nature of our hierarchies and binary divisions to
attempt to keep order. His key speech about poison and medicine points to this. The Church
itself functions as poison and medicine; it is the source of hope, security, and comfort throughout
the lives of the oppressed. However, it can also be the model by which we see salvation and true
freedom emerge, depending upon its applications.
Freedom to enjoy personal pleasure, to seek personal desire, seems to be less accessible
to the noble characters in this play, whereas the lower-class members of Elizabethan society
might have enjoyed more access. The emphasis on the bawdy, which taps into our common
denominator, sexual desire, is in sharp contrast to arranged marital bonds for the sake of property
or the fear of mortality. In A Note from Baz Luhrmann, the introduction to the screenplay of
William Shakespeares Romeo & Juliet, Baz Luhrmann says, We have not shied away from
clashing low comedy with high tragedy, which is the style of the play, for its the low comedy
that allows you to embrace the very high emotions of the tragedy (i).
I assert that this style is meant to guide the audience to read the play as a conflation of high
tragedy and low comedy to show how that the categorization of our world into good and bad
binaries is not appropriate. Friar Laurence describes an important paradox: The earth thats
natures mother is her tomb;/ What is her burying grave, that is her womb (2.3.9-10). And he
goes on to say, Virtue itself turns vice being misapplied/ And vice sometimes by action
dignified (2.3.21-2).
Laroque succinctly describes how Shakespeare resorts to the power of language and
imagery to prepare the audience for the idea and the spectacle of the gradual fusion of eros and
thanatos, a significant dichotomy (28). Laroque comments on the hollow performance of
lamentations and on Romeo as Death: So when Paris expresses his grief . . . Romeo, who has
taken Juliet away from him and married her in secret, is now identified with the figure of Death
(29). Among the plays supreme ironies and successive reversals we discover that the two rivals
for Juliets love, both unknown to each other, are allowed to be cheated and defeated by a false
death (29). This is the result of Friar Laurences unfortunate attempt to simulate death in order
to preserve life.
In Elizabethan England, heads on pikes on the London Bridge served as warnings of
severe punishment for threatening the security of the town within the prescribed limits. What
kinds of warnings do we have today? The modern wedding ritual is not so far removed from the
days of charivari, where a trickster plays pranks that hint at the potential power for harm the
community wieldshow many brides havent hopped into a car to avoid being pelted with rice
or birdseed? We recognize subtle warnings in our own festive rituals.
Is this play the subject of adaptation and perpetual performance because audiences simply
relish the violence and passion? Do we enjoy some distance from the tale, seeing it as
performance only? Or is it that on some level we recognize that, like the characters in Romeo
and Juliet we are all punished, and we purge ourselves of guilt by cringing and crying when the
victims die? Do we connect with the characters and long for the freedom they attempt to enact
for themselves, and by experiencing the plays, remind ourselves, caution ourselves, to resist our
tendencies toward violence to each other?
If the characters could calm down and resolve one tragedy by preventing another, they
would all be better off, but instead, they are bloodthirsty and emotional, and they seem to think
that by sticking to dichotomies and punishment, they will enact justice. What we find instead,
though, is that we stir up and perpetuate cycles of violence (inner city youth in gangs and
generations of violent ideology, from redneck racists to neo-Nazi skinheads all come to mind in
our contemporary context). In the feud we see this in its most basic structure. It will continue
until both sides suffer a tragic loss that hits hard, and the blame cannot be placed on the other
side, which is why Juliet must be the sacrifice and why it must be by her hand. Essentially, Juliet
dies because of her familys cruelty.
Any time we embrace a social construct we demonstrate a degree of willful ignorance, a
willingness to pretend that the systems we have created are the cause, rather than the effect, of
our behavior. This may be the worst kind of willful ignorance, especially when whole
categories of human beings are systematically reserved for sacrificial purposes in order to protect
other categories (Girard 10). To avoid mimetic violence and the sacrificial crisis, the society
must allow for freedom (in order to prevent the ugly return of the repressed) and encourage its
citizens to read carefully and make informed choices, rather than reacting by impulse and fear
and relying upon learned roles.
And if it seeks to become literate, to read the signs and seek an understanding of the
information that is available, allowing time rather than simply acting by reflex, it may begin
deconstructing binaries to undo the hierarchical structure of its patriarchal culture. The Prince
encourages such contemplation and discussion at the end of the play: Go hence, to have more
talk of these sad things (307). Rather than seeing All . . . punished, our society might be able
to embrace the margins, make peace, and take responsibility for our societys ills. As we view
the crumbling skyline, the decaying towers of patriarchy in the Luhrmann film, we know that the
remnants of the old systems linger. But if we are truly brave, like Romeo and Juliet, who risk
death to choose freedom rather than accepting a type of self-annihilation through obedience and
submission, we find that the crumbling monuments lack the power to continue to oppress, and
human passions can prevail, for worse or better.



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Shakespeare. Eds. Jean E. Howard and Scott Cutler Shershow. Routledge:
London and New York, 2001.

Arroyo, Jos. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Sight and Sound 7.3 (1997): 6-9.

Bristol, Michael. Carnival and Theater: Plebian Culture and the Structure of Authority
in Renaissance England. New York: Methuen, 1985.

Cook, Ann Jennalie. Making a Match: Courtship in Shakespeare and His Society.
Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey, 1991.

Cox, Tim and Nigel Swanston. Everybodys Free (To Feel Good), William Shakespeares
Romeo and Juliet, Capitol Records, 1996.

Girard, Ren. Violence and the Sacred. The Johns Hopkins University Press:
Baltimore, 1977. Translated by Patrick Gregory.

Goldstein, Martin. The Tragedy of Old Capulet: A Patriarchal Reading of Romeo and
Juliet, English Studies: A Journal of English Language and Literature, 77:3, 227-239.

Kahn, Copplia. Coming of Age in Verona, The Womans Part: Feminist Criticism of
Shakespeare. Eds. Carolyn Ruth Swift Lenz, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas
Neely. University of Illinois: Urbana, 1980.

Knowles, Ronald. Carnival and Death in Romeo and Juliet: A Bakhtinian Reading,
Shakespeare Survey 49 (1996): 69-85.

Laroque, Francois. Tradition and Subversion in Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeares
Romeo and Juliet: Texts, Contexts, and Interpretation. Ed. Jay L. Halio. University of
Deleware Press: Newark, 1995.

Liebler, Naomi Conn. Shakespeares Festive Tragedy: The Ritual Foundations of Genre.
Routledge: London and New York, 1995.

Limon, Jerzy. Rehabilitating Tybalt: A New Interpretation of the Duel Scene in Romeo
and Juliet, Shakespeares Romeo and Juliet: Texts, Contexts, and Interpretation. Ed.
Jay L. Halio. University of Deleware Press: Newark, 1995.

Luhrmann, Baz. A Note from Baz Luhrmnann, William Shakespeares Romeo & Juliet:
The Contemporary Film, The Classic Play. Bantam Dell Books for Young
Readers: New York, 1996.

McDonald, Russ. Men and Women: Gender, Family, Society, The Bedford
Companion to Shakespeare: An Introduction with Documents. Boston:
Bedford/St. Martins, 1996.

Pearce, Craig, and Baz Luhrmann. William Shakespeares Romeo & Juliet. Twentieth
Century Fox, 1996. Directed by Baz Luhrmann.

White, R. S. Innocent Victims: Poetic Injustice in Shakespearean Tragedy. Tyneside
Free Press: Newcastle Upon Tyne, 1982.



Tonia Jean Hoffman

Born October 17, 1973 in Superior Wisconsin


M.A. in English (Literature), pending Spring 2004, Florida State University, Tallahassee,
Concentrations: British literature, drama
Thesis: Talk of Peace with Swords Drawn: Romeo and Juliet as a
Cautionary Tale of Sacrifice and Hierarchy
Major Professor: Dr. Daniel Vitkus

B.A. in English, Spring 1999, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL
Concentrations: British literature, drama, poetry
B.A. in Psychology, Spring 1999, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL
Concentrations: evolutionary psychology, child development

A.A. in Liberal Studies, 1995, St. Johns River Community College,
Orange Park, FL

Reading knowledge of French

Assistant to the Director, Spring 2002-present
Bryan Hall Learning Community
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

(Associate) Assistant to the Director, Fall 2001
Bryan Hall Learning Community
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Teaching Assistant, Spring 2003, and Fall, Spring, and Summer, 1999-2002
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL

Courses Taught:
Freshman Composition (ENC 1101)
Writing About Literature (ENC 1102)
Writing About Dr. Seuss: Social Fables and Political Issues (ENC 1145)

Peer Mentor (application-based assistantship), Fall 2000-Spring 2001
First Year Writing Program
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL


Bryan Hall Learning Community Steering Committee, Fall 2001-present

Graduate Union of English Students (GUESS), elected representative, 2001-2002 and
2002-2003 (academic years)

Associate Secretary, 2002-2003
Secretary, 2001-2002

First Year Writing Committee, Fall 2000-Spring 2001

Phi Theta Kappa National Honor Society Fall 1993- Spring 1995

Vice President, 1994-1995 academic year
Secretary, 1993-1994 academic year


Generation to Generation: Talking about Our Ethics, issue forum article for JCCI
Forward web site:, June 29,

Picture This: A Visual Approach, ENC 1101 Teaching Strand, First Year Writing
Teachers Guide, 2001-2002 and 2003-2004


Social and Political Dysfunctions session moderator, The 28
Annual Conference on
Literature and Film: The Local and the Global in Literature and Film, Spring 2003

Problem Students workshops, volunteer actor, Program for Instructional Excellence
(PIE), Fall 2001 and Fall 2003

Leadership break-out session co-facilitator, Presidents Retreat, Florida State
University, Fall 2003

Screening American Culture: Cohesion, Estrangement, Violence session moderator,
The 26
Annual Conference on Literature and Film: The Emotions in Literature and
Film, Spring 2002

FSUs Learning Communities--A Faculty Panel Discussion of Successful Program
Models, panel participant, 7
Annual Conference of Living-Learning Communities, St.
Louis, OH, Fall 2002

Academic Integrity discussion participant, Presidents Retreat, Florida State University

Invention Exercises panel member, First Year Writing program, Fall 2002

Revision Exercises panel member, First Year Writing program, Fall 2001


Outstanding Teaching Award nomination, Florida State University, 2001

Hall of Fame, St. Johns River Community College, 1999


Coordinating Bryan Hall Film Fest discussion series
Coordinating Bryan Hall Book Club discussion series
Writing (childrens literature, poetry, essays)
Acting/directing/creating props and costumes for theater productions