Romeo and Juliet is known as a romance. It is a story fueled by passion, and tragically shattered by the death of start crossed lovers. However, when focuses in on the opening and closing scenes, it is clear that Shakespeare’s focus is not on true love, and the sacrifices that can be made for that love, but rather about family, and the devastation that they leave in their wake. Not unsimilarly, A Woman Killed with Kindness was written as a domestic tragedy that outlines both the alignment and misalignment of families through marriage, and the terrible side effects of family feuds.
The opening line of the play Romeo and Juliet is “two houses, both alike in dignity” this places the play’s focus not on the love of the young couple, but on the pride of two families, or households. With the following lines establishing that the families are in a long-standing feud, which can only be curbed by the love, and loss, of their children (Shakespeare 1.1.1). The fault here clearly lies with the “parents” and not with the children, though the children will ultimately pay the blood price for the feud, before it can be quelled. These themes of both family and equity are carried, throughout the play, in the dialogue of major characters.
Similarly, Juliet, when she is considering her love for Romeo says: “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo; Deny thy father and refuse thy name; Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love, And I'll no longer be a Capulet.” (Shakespeare 2.2.33-36). Here she considers the implications of knowing that the boy she has fallen in love with is from her family’s enemy, and that one of them will have to “deny” or disown their family in order to be together. The two identified Montague, and Capulet, are mutually exclusive, as a result of the feud, and Juliet knows that their love will still leave them ostracized from one family, or the other.
This is further reinforced in the following moments, when Juliet is speaking directly with Romeo. She says “How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore? The orchard walls are high and hard to climb, And the place death, considering who thou art, If any of my kinsmen find thee here” (Shakespeare 2.2.62-65). Juliet knows that her family would kill Romeo if they found him within the walls, purely because of his identity as a Montague. This highlights the family’s feud, and the idea of family as an identifying marker, and that the feud must ultimately bring death, but it does not bring back to light the idea of equity first established in the prologue.
However, Mercutio again highlights the family’s equity, or their equal responsibility to the feud, when is he dying. He cries out “a plague on both your houses” (Shakespeare, 3.1.104). He reminds the audience that both families are equally responsible for the feud and for his death. Also reminding the audience the price each family will pay, before the feud ends. As first bloodshed in the new eruption of the feud, he acts as the harbinger of death over the family, and the feud.
Earlier in the same scene, however, Romeo does something that is not scene anywhere else in the play. He works to join the households, to lay down the feud and to redefine their family identities. In this scene, between Romeo and Tyalt, Romeo repeatedly works to both stand down, and to profess his love for the Capulet family:
ROMEO Tybalt, the reason that I have to love theeDoth much excuse the appertaining rageTo such a greeting: villain am I none;Therefore farewell; I see thou know'st me not.TYBALT Boy, this shall not excuse the injuriesThat thou hast done me; therefore turn and draw.ROMEO 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 tenderAs dearly as my own,--be satisfied. ( Shakespeare 3.1.61-71)
This attempt at peace, or attempt at altering the family identities, as end the feud, is not scene again, until the price arrives at the play’s conclusion and declares a more formal end to the feud.
In the final scene, the Prince lays the feud on the heads, not of the children who fought and died, but instead on the parents, who refused to lay down the fued, and embrace their children’s love. He says: "See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, That heaven finds a means to kill your joys with loveAll are punished." (Shakespeare 4.3. 292-293, 295). Just as the two families were found to be alike in “dignity” in the play’s opening monologue, so are they now found alike in guilt, and in punishment. According to Brooke Webster “The feud was an embodiment of the immaturity of the parents. Five of their loved ones died before the realization occurred (1).
While the characters in A Woman Killed by Kindness are not driven to death, they are driven by their family ties, and a need to both maintain, and quell family feuds. Just as Romeo tried to allow his love for Juliet to end the feud by redefining the relationships between the families, so is marriage used in A Woman Killed with Kindness to end the feud of families.
The feud here is interesting because it is much more condensed, it begins, and ends, within the confines of the play’s few acts, rather than being generationally reborn, as it was in Shakespeare’s work. It is begun when Sir Francis and Sir Charles argue over a wager, and two of Sir Francis’s men, like Mercucio, are killed as a result of the anger, and the rising tension between households.
However, in stark contrast to Romeo and Juliet, Susan, on which it befalls the task of marrying into the enemy family, hates, rather than loves, Sir Charles, despite his love for her. Also contrasting, is the fact that her eventual union with Sir Charles, releases the family from the feud ending both the animosity and the bloodshed, rather than furthering it, as it did in Romeo and Juliet ( Heywood 4.1.120).
Both Romeo and Juliet and A Woman Killed with Kindness, are plays set in Italy that tell of a feud between two houses. However, their end focus is not the same. While in Romeo and Juliet, family identity could not be overcome, even by love, in A Woman Killed with Kindness the alignment and misalignment of families through marriage, and the terrible side effects of family feuds, can be set aside through a single happy marriage.
YOU WILL NEED TO CREATE A CITATION FOR THE COPY OF ROMEO AND JULIET and A WOMAN KILLED WITH KINDNESS that you used in class
Brooke Webster, Romeo and Juliet: A Feud Between Families (Towson University, 2014)