Wednesday, 6 May 2015

#LitLove [3]: Feminist Juliet and Paris Appreciation

The #LitLove series is a bimonthly collaborative blog event with Topaz, AnQi, Christina, Taylor, (nicknamed ATTAC by Christina) wherein we each express our literary love for different books under the same overarching theme/topic/author. For a more detailed backstory, take a look at the first #LitLove post. This time, we're doing the obligatory Shakespeare post.
#LitLove Shakespeare Alyssa Carlier
Romeo and Juliet is one of Shakespeare's best known plays, frequently appearing in literature syllabi. Depending on who you ask, it may be a racy love story, a hook-up between two teens that lasted for three days and killed five people, or the play where people are looking for feels in all the wrong place.

I'm in the last category. My favourite characters are Juliet and, shockingly enough, Paris. But first, Juliet:

Headcanon: Juliet is a feminist and fighting for her own liberation.


In her first appearance, Juliet seems the orthodox girl, not at all denying her marriage. But in the next scene, a guy is actually interested in her and not her fortune and she takes that chance. In the balcony scene, she proposes marriage to him.

Marriage is really the only way for Juliet to escape her father's authority in the situation, and Romeo's head over heels for her. It's an amazing chance and the realist in me applauds her for taking it. It's also really clear that Juliet takes the initiative in their relationship. 

And she defends their relationship. She defends it to Paris, whom I personally like, and snarks at him in such a gloriously brazen manner. She defends it to her parents, she defends it literally to death-sleep.

Oh, and let's talk about that potion. Her father literally threatens to disinherit her, her mother and her nurse abandon her, and what does Juliet do? Take matters into her own hands. Instead of whining and moping and killing people like Romeo. She fights for her liberation, for her only hope at freedom and love. Juliet isn't a lovestruck teenager, she's a woman taking back control of her own life. (Tweet this!)

Headcanon: Paris would have been Juliet's happy ending. (tweet this)


Let's make it clear: Paris is not a very nice person. Not. He lays claim to Juliet's face and love the very first time they meet. He makes it pretty clear he's marrying him because she's rich and pretty.

Paris is no Romeo, to throw himself 120% in love and forget everything except the girl. Paris is no Juliet, to go up against the patriarchy and make a stand. But here's why Paris doesn't understand privilege: he has it.

Picture a young man, kin to the ruling prince. Of course he feels entitled. But after he chooses Juliet, he commits himself to loving her. He doesn't send a servant to Friar Laurence, he goes himself. He—if clumsily—flirts with Juliet when they meet.

Paris dies in Romeo and Juliet
And when he thinks Juliet is dead, he keeps vigil for her. He could broker a new contract with any lady in Verona, but he remains the only person to mourn at Juliet's grave. When Romeo comes, apparently to desecrate the tomb, he defends her grave with his life. His dying words are for the girl he loved—not passion, like Romeo, but courtly, dutiful love.

Imagine if they'd married. Fiery, brazen Juliet commanding her meeker husband. Juliet is pragmatic and intelligent, she would've educated Paris. And if he would die for her, then in another life, he might give her sovereignty in their household. They may not be lovers, may not be husband and wife, but they would be king and queen, joint monarchs.

A marriage between Juliet and Paris would have been parent-approved, and Juliet would still be her own person. Yes, the family feud would go on, but five fewer people are dead, and my darling Juliet has her happy ending.

(I've actually got a Tumblr post on why Paris ranks on my top ten fav characters.)

BUT. But I don't ship them together. I ship Juliet with eternal happiness, because that's what she deserves. Paris isn't the one she chose and I'm up with that — Paris is only a what-might-have-been.

Is Juliet a feminist? Would Paris be a good match for her? Share in the comments!


And don't forget to drop by the other #LitLove posts!

Taylor: A Midsummer Night's Dream
AnQi: Macbeth
Christina: Othello

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19 comments:

  1. Wow, you actually made me like Paris. I haven't read Romeo and Juliet since Freshman year, but still—I don't think I remembered liking him. Or maybe I just thought he was weird in Gnomeo and Juliet (and my English teacher hated Gnomeo and Juliet but THEY WERE FUNNY so IT WAS FINE BY ME [*bitterness*]).

    Anyway, I think you made a lot of really good points about Paris, and Juliet as well—the way you described her actually made me think of Isabella from Wuthering Heights (which I just read for my Lit class). Sometimes literary critics consider her the feminist heroine, because she took control of her own romance and married who she wanted, and when it turned out her husband was a bastard who threw knives at her head, she went and moved to London, where she raised her son all by herself.

    In the same way, Juliet kind of took the initiative in her own romance and did what she thought would work, except for her enemies were her parents, not her husband/husband's household.

    I think you made me like Romeo and Juliet a lot more just now. Way to go.

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    1. Yeah, I didn't think I'd like him, but then I reread for this term and realised I actually did like him. (Being adorkable doesn't make me biased. NO.) *stares* That is a terrible pun. BUT, it sounds entertaining, so I shall Google it.

      I have not read Wuthering Heights, but I believe that taking control of your romantic life is equally important in a feminist mindset, and being a strong woman doesn't mean you stand alone, it means you choose where to stand, never mind what society says. So yes. You make a lot of valid points.

      Way to go! That's the point of #LitLove!

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  2. Twelfth Night is my personal favorite Shakespeare play, but Romeo and Juliet ain't bad either :) I've always liked Juliet but felt pretty lukewarm about Romeo--he's a nice guy, sure, but he seems more in love with the idea of being in love than with Juliet herself. And from a certain point of view Paris is a very good match for Juliet, even though I don't ship them, either.

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    1. I do quite like Twelfth Night! That was on our list to discuss, but we ended up choosing other plays instead. I do still think Romeo is a bit of an idiot -- in class we called Romeo the sentimental idiot, Paris the patriarchal idiot, and the Friar the idiotic idiot XD

      From a certain point of view indeed! But isn't literature about finding your own point of view, and what makes #litlove so important?

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  3. Okay, so this post came at the perfect time because I'm actually reading Romeo and Juliet in English class right now. This is one of the Shakespeare plays I haven't yet read (shocker, right?), but so far on this first read I'm enjoying it. Some of his jokes are a bit...questionable, but his use of the English language is absolutely fabulous. I'll be interested to see how Juliet and Paris develop as I read through the book.

    On other note, after we read Act 1 we're going to watch Romeo + Juliet, which is apparently Romeo and Juliet in the 90s. This should be interesting.....

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    1. NO NO BECAUSE I LOVE THAT MOVIE IT WAS SUPER GOOD

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    2. Seriously? I mean, it sounds like it would be horrible, but it also sounds really unique. And my friend in another class is watching it right now and loves it.

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    3. Have I mentioned how much I love it when my readers chat with each other? CHAT. CHAT AWAY.

      I'm also studying RnJ! Have you read the Litcharts? They're great for revisions. RnJ is one of the simpler ones, so school does it a lot of the time, and it's quite funny. Questionable jokes indeed, but hey, if you're a commoner who's been toiling for 12 hours and paid to stand for another, you want a little obscenity ... I guess. Besides, it has some literary significance you can wrangle it!

      Have fun with the movie!

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    4. THEN I SHALL CHAT. :D

      I haven't read the Litcharts, but I looked them up, and they look pretty neat. Yea, it isn't that bad. I've read modern books that are worse. Besides, it's kind of funny hearing my teacher awkwardly try to explain it. :P

      Thanks!

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    5. CHATTING IT IS THEN. One of the main reasons I dislike Blogger commenting, other than the hobbits which eat my comments, is the lack of reply notifications :S

      My teacher actually told me about LitCharts -- he's a great deal different from teachers who just blindly repeat "Interpret it by yourself!" I mean, basing it off other interpretations is equally valid :D

      Awkward explanations are always good! It was so funny watching my teachers explain the innuendos in RnJ XD

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  4. Hmmmmmm.... I last read Romeo and Juliet about 3 years ago. I didn't like it, because I thought it was dumb. Romeo in particular was a bit pathetic (oh, I can't do anything 'cause I'm so sad about being rejected. Oh look, here's a 14 year old who I would die for. Now I'll marry her!) and I can't really remember much of the plot, so this is a refresher. I feel like Shakespeare's fine, but I think English teachers love him WAY too much (like at my school we do a shakespeare every. single. year). And then it gets overanalysed (why did he use the word rose? Oh well maybe this is full of symbolic significance. it means so much more than flower=pretty, you=pretty. And the word 'the'. Oh , this shows that the character wants to use proper grammar so to show off to the girl. Maybe this is hyperbole, but I feel very strongly about this.) I've also read a Midsummer Night's dream and the Merchant of Venice, but I don't know if I would ever read shakespeare for fun.

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    1. Romeo is rather strangely unappealing to me too, so you're not alone there. But the point of RnJ isn't the romance, it's the social critique! I think that's a major problem in many school Shakespeare analysis, they go for the superficial and don't study the social connotations, which are more fun.

      I do quite like analysing language in class, but I get what you feel -- have you read my post on literature teachers and the blue curtains before? (http://randommorbidinsanity.blogspot.hk/2015/02/in-defence-of-blue-curtains-literature.html) The issue is when teachers try to focus too much on one word that a student doesn't think is the crux of the scene, but if you let us explore, we might be able to find our own, equally valid interpretations.

      Don't let school turn you off from Shakespeare! It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but try it for leisure because it's much more fun that way, and that's the point of #Litlove!

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  5. I remember not liking Paris at the start of Rom and Jule. Like you said, it seemed pretty clear to me that he married for her pretty face, and the advantage their marriage would provide. By the end of the play, I felt quite sorry for him. He redeemed himself in my head, and showed he did love Juliet, just in a different way from Romeo. I don't ship them either, but things might have not been so bad if they'd ended up together.

    With Juliet being a feminist? Oh wow, I never thought of her that way! But it's true she wasn't your

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    1. (Oops, I accidently published! How odd) typical marry who your parents want you to marry girl, as is so often told. I think it's great that she was a little bit rebellious and chose to follow her heart. So yeah, I agree she was a feminist, she broke free from her gender role to be with her one and only. Awesome post, Alyssa! :)

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    2. GREAT NICKNAMES. I'll still stick with RnJ, though XD True, true, he doesn't have the more virtuous motives of Romeo and Juliet themselves, but he is admirable in his own way, isn't he? I could definitely imagine a happy ending if Juliet never met Romeo at the masked ball.

      Exactly! Being a feminist isn't about alienating all men, it's about finding your place that isn't dictated by patriarchal society. Follow your heart indeed :D Thank you!

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  6. Okay, I love the acronym you guys have there! ATTAC - very nice ;)

    Anyway, to be honest, when I read Romeo & Juliet at school last year, I downright detested it so I don't have much of an emotional connection with Juliet, but I like the way you have put it! Yes, she is her own woman and I love how you put it. You already have made me come to appreciate Juliet a little more.

    Excellent post, Alyssa <33

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    1. I love it too, although I can't take credit for it :)

      That does happen for a lot of school-assigned texts, I've noticed, and is particularly bad for plays because there's less in-your-head narration. I'm glad I managed to persuade you to like Juliet more, because that's what #LitLove is for!

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  7. You're right that the social critique is much more interesting than the love story (though I guess the love story IS the social critique in a way, so it comes down to the same thing if you look at it from that POV). Romeo & Juliet was never my favorite play, but it is interesting in its own right. It's been a while since I read it, but I don't think I ever hated Paris. Juliet had like zero feelings for him, so I wasn't exactly rooting for them to get together, but Romeo & Juliet weren't a couple I rooted for either. Interesting post!

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    1. That is true -- Shakespeare had a lot to say about different aspects of society. RnJ isn't necessarily my favourite, that's probably Hamlet, but I was studying this in class and thought I might mention my personal headcanons :D

      That's great about your feelings for Paris! A lot of my classmates demonise him, which makes me sad, because he really is an interesting side character, although like you say it's hard to ship them :)

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