Last Updated 08 Apr 2020

Equality of the Sexes: Elizabethan Era and Now

Category Era
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Equality of the Sexes: The Elizabethan Era and Now Equal rights have always been a major issue and dispute. Analysing the role of women in the Elizabethan Era, through Shakespeare’s representation in Romeo and Juliet, and comparing them to the role of women in the 21st century, will help to demonstrate that equality of the sexes has been achieved, and come a long way in the past 400 years. Three ways in which equality of the sexes has been achieved is the role of a married, and unmarried woman, and roles of women in society.

Married women’s roles have changed significantly since the late 1500s. A dowry has been abolished when women get married. Their sole purpose of being has changed and is no longer to just provide and raise children and complete household tasks. They can now get a job and have rights in marriage and families much the same as men. In marriage, women had to have a child every two years, as childbearing was considered an honour even though it was potentially life threatening.

Also in the late 1500s, women had to instantly obey their husbands and any other males in the family, and their punishment for not obeying was being beaten into submission. An example of this in Romeo and Juliet is when Juliet refuses to marry Paris, and Capulet calls her a “disobedient wretch” for not following (Act III, Sc. V, 160). In the 21st century, men can no longer legally chastise their wives and are not always considered the head of the marriage as they were in Shakespeare’s time.

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In Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare has represented the roles of married women in the Elizabethan Era. In Act 1, Scene 1, Montague and Lady Montague arrive in the square where the fight is breaking out, Lady Montague tries to stop him, but has no control after attempting to hold him back, as she has no authority over him, he also demands that she give his sword to him in a very abrupt manner, “Give me my long sword, ho! ” (Act I, Sc. I). Therefore, women’s roles in marriage have equalised over the past 400 years.

The roles of unmarried women have also changed over the past four centuries. Unmarried women are now allowed to work, whereas the only alternative for unmarried women in Elizabethan times was domestic service, such as being a maid. Arranged marriages for unmarried women were very common in the Elizabethan period, as fathers wanted their daughters to marry somebody of a higher class to improve the family’s social status. Fathers liked to arrange a marriage as soon as sensibly possible, because unmarried women were looked upon with suspicion.

In Romeo and Juliet, Lord Capulet arranges a deal with Paris about the marriage of Juliet when she was only 13. Capulet describes Juliet’s age, “…She hath not seen the change of fourteen years... ” (Act I, Sc. II, 9). Paris replies with, “Younger than she are happy mothers made,” (Act I, Sc. II, 12) which is representing the fact that women in the Elizabethan Era could be married and have children as young as 12. In a modern Western women’s world however, women no longer have arranged marriages and are allowed to choose their significant other.

They are not looked upon with suspicion if they are unmarried, as it is very common in the 21st century, and women often don’t marry until around the age of 25 or older. In summary, an unmarried woman’s roles and rights have changed considerably since the Elizabethan period, and Shakespeare has conveyed an unmarried woman’s tradition through Romeo and Juliet. The roles of women in society have changed a sizeable amount since the late 1500s. In the Elizabethan period women had minor roles in society.

They were raised to believe that they were inferior to men and that men were the leaders and women were the weaker sex. Shakespeare has represented women being the ‘weaker sex’ through a conversation between Gregory and Sampson, when Sampson states, “… and therefore women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall…” (Act I, Sc. I, 20). Women were not allowed to go to school, but the wealthy were allowed to have private tutors, so they were highly educated, but the poorer families couldn’t get any education easily.

They were not allowed to get jobs, and domestic service was their only choice. An example of this is the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. In the 21st century however, women have a very significant role in society, with many even being political leaders and in important professions, such as lawyers, doctors, teachers and scientists. They also have political and rights in society the same as men. Therefore, a woman’s role in society has changed and equalised over the past 400 years.

Since the Elizabethan Era, an unmarried woman's role, women's roles in society and their roles in marriage have changed significantly. Equality of the sexes has been achieved and come a long way over the past 400 years. It is clear that this is true, through analysing an Elizabethan woman’s role and their portrayal in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, and comparing them to a 21st century woman’s rights and roles in marriage, society and being single or unmarried. Women’s rights have gradually equalised over the years, and someday, possibly, women will take over the world.

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