We all know where wherefore comes from. It’s one of those words that word geeks love to call people on. It’s like how, if you think about it, Neil Armstrong’s first words on landing on the mood make NO sense. He clearly meant to say ‘a man’ as ‘man’ and ‘mankind’ are the same thing (even without deconstructing the gender bias).
So wherefore art thou Romeo?
Why, why for pete’s sake why?
It doesn’t mean where. It means why. Where makes little sense. She isn’t looking for Romeo, she’s lamenting the fact that he is Romeo. Just about anyone else eligible in the whole of Verona would’ve been fine. But not Romeo.
It’s interesting that one of the ‘most powerful tragedies of all time’ (not a quote, I’ve sourced, but I bet someone vaguely important has said it) is essentially about how teenagers make stupid decisions. Romeo is flagged up in the first few scenes as a bit of a slut. And the worst kind of slut (like me) the romantic slut.
Every girl he meets he falls in love with. The expressions of love he finds for Rosalind at the beginning of the play (sorry for not looking up references, I’m lazy) are not far off the type of language he uses with Juliet later.
So wherefore? Wherefore would you fall for such a soppy douchebag? Especially one that’s nothing but trouble?
Piss off daddy? Natural flightiness? True love?
It’s an oddly ambiguous text, once you delve into it, which, as with most of Shakespeare, is where the power lies. But I suspect there’s also misogyny in Juliet’s naiveté. You only have to look at Ophelia and Lady Mac to see that Shakespeare doesn’t think that the XX folk hold up well under pressure (I could never come up with a good reason why Ophelia goes mad just because Hamlet pretends to be and dumps her, perhaps it’s just trying to decode his secret messages, his attempts to let her know the game he’s playing…not sure).
Having written that, I immediately started constructing a counter-argument. This is roughly the same as the ‘Lars Von Trier isn’t a misogynist’ argument (and Joss Whedon, in Dollhouse). Basically, is Shakespeare actually just showing patriarchy in action? Juliet attempts to escape the control of one patriarch, only to replace it with another structure of male control: love. (This paints my own ‘romantic’ leanings in a negative light).
So Ophelia is driven mad by the social pressure of the patriarchy. She has her path laid out, and when it is challenged by someone else’s complete rejection of the ‘natural’ order. Lady Macbeth directly attempts to disturb the patriarchy, changing the world order. But she does so through her husband, and ends up paying the price.
It’s a tenuous argument, and one that doesn’t actually reduce Shakespeare’s misogyny, just makes it more complicated.
No escaping the patriarchy except through madness? Nonsense. Reinforcing something as inescapable is just submitting to it’s dominance.
Starcross’d is bullshit.
Illustration by M (filling in for Lucy (thanks M)).