Atonement vs Romeo and Juliet Essay

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Romeo and Juliet and Atonement

Romeo and Juliet has always been one of William Shakespeare's most popular and successful plays, even though critics have sometimes dismissed it as an immature or sentimental work. In that respect, Atonement is not sentimental at all but rather grimly realistic, although the love of Ronnie and Cecelia also ends tragically. Both the play and novel have a great deal of seemingly irrational and senseless violence that destroys the lives of the main characters. In Atonement, the violence takes the form of a system that convicts Robbie unjustly of a crime he did not commit, and then gives him a choice of either serving in a war as cannon fodder or staying in jail. Cecilia and Briony also experience the violence of wartime London with regular bombing and endless numbers of badly mangled bodies that flood into the hospitals where they work. In Romeo and Juliet, the violence is the endless feud between the Monatgue's and Capulet's, in which Romeo kills Tybalt in retaliation for the death of his friend Mercutio. Great Britain in 1935 was not nearly as repressive and patriarchal as the Italy of the 17th Century which is the setting for Romeo and Juliet. Women had won the right to vote by that time, and were beginning to attend universities or work outside the home, as Cecelia and Briony Tallis did. Unlike Juliet, they were not being forced into arranged marriages contracted by their father, who actually seems indifferent to them.

CONTENTS

TITLE 1

ABSTRACT 2

CONTENTS 3

INTRODUCTION 4

MAIN BODY 5

CONCLUSION 10

RESEARCH JOURNAL 11

WORKS CITED 16

INTRODUCTION

Over 300 years of time separate the settings of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and Ian McEwan's Atonement, and naturally the role and status of women changed considerably during that time. Italy in the 17th Century stood much closer in time and culture to the ancient and medieval world where women were the property of their husbands and fathers, marriages were arranged at a young age and individual desires and free choice mattered little in a patriarchal and authoritarian society. Romeo and Juliet insisted on making their personal desires most important, going against the wishes of their families and the beliefs of their culture, although in the end they died because of it. Great Britain in 1935 was an urban, industrialized nation where women had the right to vote and were increasingly working outside the home and attending universities, and they became even more emancipated during the Second World War. Cecilia is a university graduate, for example, who ends up working as a nurse, and her lover Ronnie also graduated from Cambridge, although this was still uncommon for someone from a working class background. He too had aspirations to rise into the professional class and become a physician, and perhaps even to marry Cecilia. Law and society had changed sufficiently by 1935 to permit women and men to make such choices, although Cecilia's family would most certainly have disapproved. Yet women were still not equal to men in 1935, and still possessed less sexual freedom and social and economic power, particularly in a society that was still highly uncomfortable discussing such issues openly. Because of the malicious actions and misinterpretations of a young girl, Robbie is also falsely convicted of rape and sent to prison, and in the end this was the cause not only of his separation from Cecilia but also his death.

MAIN BODY

Romeo and Juliet has always been one of William Shakespeare's most popular and successful plays, even though critics have sometimes dismissed it as an immature or sentimental work. In that respect, Atonement is not sentimental at all but rather grimly realistic, although the love of Ronnie and Cecelia also ends tragically. Shakespeare's play is also an important work of "sexual politics" and the desire of individuals to make a free choice, even if it goes against the will of their family and society (Watts 10). Juliet's father Capulet has the power to turn her into a child bride so his family can merge with the aristocracy, but instead she falls in love with the son of his most hated enemy. No such family feud exists in Atonement, but social class is still important since Cecilia would be marrying beneath her level with Robbie, whose mother was a cleaning lady. Even today, since marriages across class and caste lines are not common, and they were much less so in the 1930s. Like Romeo and Juliet, the attachment between Cecilia and Ronnie was passionate and intense, and in both cases there is no way of knowing if it would have lasted, given the tragic fate that overtook both pairs of lovers.

Both the play and novel have a great deal of seemingly irrational and senseless violence that destroys the lives of the main characters. In Atonement, the violence takes the form of a system that convicts Robbie unjustly of a crime he did not commit, and then gives him a choice of either serving in a war as cannon fodder or staying in jail. Cecilia and Briony also experience the violence of wartime London with regular bombing and endless numbers of badly mangled bodies that flood into the hospitals where they work. In Romeo and Juliet, the violence is the endless feud between the Monatgue's and Capulet's, in which Romeo kills Tybalt in retaliation for the death of his friend Mercutio. Shakespeare's play deals with violence as a "masculine construct, and even the definition of masculinity is one of the coordinating topics," since the men are always dueling and brawling in public (Watts 12). In the early modern world of Romeo and Juliet, men still believe that "aggressiveness is a sign of real manliness," and that sexual and physical violence against women was a normal facet of life (Watts 13). Even the elderly Montague and Capulet are eager to join in the public brawls and duels between the families, although when Romeo falls in love with Juliet he tries to become a peacemaker between the families. Nevertheless, the honor code of that society demands that he avenge the death of Mercutio, even though it results in his own exile. In the end, only the deaths of Romeo and Juliet end the feud between Montague and Capulet, and the violent, patriarchal society itself was the real cause of the tragedy.

At age thirteen -- the same as Briony at the beginning of Atonement -- Juliet seems more mature and practical than the sixteen-year-old Romeo, who falls in and out of love quickly. Cecilia and Robbie are older, since they are both university graduates by the time the McEwan's novel opens, but Cecilia is still a virgin while Robbie did not even dare to approach her because her social class was much higher than his. Juliet, in contrast, lives a far more cloistered life than the Tallis sisters, since she is still literally under the control of her father and protected in her virginity by male relatives like Tybalt and the household servants. They would have been within their traditional and customary rights to have killed Romeo on the spot had they found him in her bedroom. In theory at least, as an adult woman in 1935, Cecilia has the right to choose her own husband, even though marriage with Ronnie might have meant a break with her social-climbing and hypocritical family. Free love and personal choice in marriage partners is "historically, a relatively recent phenomena, and more localized geographically than we may at first think," since many cultures had no real concept of it in the past (Watts 16). They believed in arranged marriages, dowries, bride prices and contracts, with women and children as the property of their fathers and husbands. In addition, the nuclear family with both parents employed and living in a middle class suburb is not the traditional family at all, even in the West, but a 20th Century development. In history, romantic love was thought to be based on sexual desires that did not last long, and that marriage was too important an institution to be left to individual choice.

Great Britain in 1935 was not nearly as repressive and patriarchal as the Italy of the 17th Century which is the setting for Romeo and Juliet. Women had won the right to vote by that time, and were beginning to attend universities or work outside the home, as Cecelia and Briony Tallis did. Unlike Juliet, they were not being forced into arranged marriages contracted by their father, who actually seems indifferent to them. Briony also imagines herself becoming a great writer like Shakespeare, Jane Austen or Virginia Woolf, which would not have been possible for Juliet even if she had survived and gone on the spend the rest of her life with Romeo. As an adult, Briony will become a famous novelist, if not one of the truly brilliant and inspiring writers of history. Women and men were not fully equal in 1935,…[continue]

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"Atonement Vs Romeo And Juliet" (2012, January 16) Retrieved December 7, 2016, from http://www.paperdue.com/essay/atonement-vs-romeo-and-juliet-115132

"Atonement Vs Romeo And Juliet" 16 January 2012. Web.7 December. 2016. <http://www.paperdue.com/essay/atonement-vs-romeo-and-juliet-115132>

"Atonement Vs Romeo And Juliet", 16 January 2012, Accessed.7 December. 2016, http://www.paperdue.com/essay/atonement-vs-romeo-and-juliet-115132


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