Toxic masculinity is a term used in media to describe the social conditioning of males who are raised and taught to meet the standards of society. Media has a tremendous influence in the way toxic masculinity is perceived and lead to an overwhelming pressure set upon men. In the play, Romeo & Juliet by Willam Shakespeare, the subject of toxic masculinity is portrayed negatively. This can be seen through the promotion of toxic masculinity by religious figures, the portrayal of toxic masculinity as ‘weak’ and the insensitivity towards toxic masculinity shown throughout the play.
To begin, religious figures negatively promote toxic masculinity. Friar Laurence, the prominent religious figure in the play, mocks Romeo for his “womanish tears” after he reacts to his banishment for killing Tybalt. He also describes Romeo as “unseemly woman in a seeming man”. Friar Laurence has a huge impact on society since his role was very well respected in both Elizabethan times and modern day. From watching or reading the play, many people are bound to internalize his stereotypical comments about men and adapt his stereotypical mindset, further spreading toxic masculinity.
In addition, the portrayal of toxic masculinity as ‘weak’ also has a negative impact. For example, Mercutio calls Romeo weak for refusing to fight Tybalt and fights alone, ultimately resulting in his death. Romeo then chastise himself, blaming Mercutio’s death on his lack of ‘manliness’ and for not originally accepting the duel. This shows that Verona’s social standards of how men should act has already been affected by toxic masculinity and is blaming those that show ‘effeminate’ behavior. This enforces the stereotype that men must act ‘manly’, creating unnecessary negative societal pressures.
Finally, the insensitivity towards toxic masculinity shown throughout the play contributes to its negative portrayal. This is seen when Mercutio is questioned by the Nurse about his manliness, which he replies to, but then he verbally attacks her by calling her derogatory names and further making a song about her;
“An old hare hoar,
And an old hare hoar,
Is very good meat in Lent.
But a hare that is hoar
Is too much for a score
When it hoars ere it be spent”.
This illustrates that Mercutio is trying to protect his self-esteem. He too, is affected by toxic masculinity and feels the need to protect his ‘manliness’ when it is attacked. Contrastingly, the Nurse did not even spare a second thought on how here simple question may have affected Mercutio. As a result, this normalizes toxic masculinity, which is bound to be reflected in society and creates a society that is insensitive to the highly sensitive issue of toxic masculinity.
In conclusion, the promotion of toxic masculinity by religious figures, the portrayal of toxic masculinity as ‘weak’ and the insensitivity towards toxic masculinity shown throughout the play Romeo & Juliet has many negative messages about toxic masculinity. With This leads one to wonder that if toxic masculinity was present in the time of Shakespeare, why is it only now that realizing it’s negative affect.