Is Juliet a Feminist Icon?

Juliet from the 1996 Baz Lurhmann Film

For a lot of people, Romeo and Juliet portrays the foolishness of youth, the absurdity of love, and the fatal combination of youthful love. And that’s understandable. On the surface Romeo and Juliet is simply a tale of two teenagers who basically fall in love before knowing their identity. Sounds like young dumb love at its finest. But once you break the surface the story is far more complex. While a story of love, it explores the complexity of love. Platonic love (Think Mercutio and Romeo), motherly love (Lady Montague died of this), fatherly love (Why did Lord Capulet force Juliet to marry Paris?), mentorly love (we’re looking at you Friar Lawrence), hateful love (TYBALT) and every love in between.

Like the story, Juliet seems like a shallow character on the surface, but deep down she represented far more.

Juliet experienced a huge transformation throughout Romeo and Juliet. At the beginning she represented a docile daughter who was willing to do anything to please others. When her mother asked her to love Paris she agreed without any argument. Now it’s really important to understand Juliet’s parents role at the beginning of the play. Her father, Lord Capulet tells Paris that he can only marry Juliet if Juliet agrees. This is extremely progressive for a time-period where arranged marriages where extremely common.

At the beginning of the play Juliet is innocent, amiable, and eager-to-please. However, after she meets Romeo her temperament begins to evolve. Of the two Juliet is the more mature and cautious. While Romeo is by her window serenading her she actually plans out their marriage. Even though she isn’t using her better judgement, she still remains the cautious one in the relationship. In addition, marriage wasn’t the most extreme choice. Juliet was literally asked to marry another man whom she had barely met the prior night.

The main turning point for Juliet is after Tybalt dies. At this point Juliet has matured from a naive girl to one who takes action. Juliet plans a course of action for Romeo to visit her in the night. This theme of Juliet taking action is apparent even in the plan that causes the lover’s ultimate doom. It is also important to point out that Juliet defiant to her parents. She knew what she wanted and intended to get it. Juliet most definitely was vocal over her beliefs and remained loyal to them till the end.

I personally define a feminist as someone who advocates for the equality of choices for those who aren’t privileged to have it. Its ultimately about fairness. Yes, the story of Romeo and Juliet was a love story. But Juliet isn’t a damsel in distress, she created her own plans, her own course of action. She didn’t sit passively as her parents arranged her marriage. She didn’t wait for Romeo to save her from her arranged marriage. She wasn’t a trophy for Romeo. She loved Romeo as much as he loved her. 

Love doesn’t make anyone less powerful. Just as much as Katherine in Taming of the Shrew represents a strong woman, Juliet too is independent and smart.  Juliet remained a badass throughout the play. She did what she wanted. She was adamant about her beliefs. Juliet, may not be the first image that comes to mind when we think of a feminist, but she definitely embodies the ideals. 

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