The Value of Sex in Romeo and Juliet and Measure for Measure Essay

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     Renaissance England often treats female sex and virginity as a commodity. Shakespeare recognizes this belief system in Measure for Measure and Romeo and Juliet.

In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet's virginity acts as a commodity. However, it is not her commodity; rather, it belongs to her father. Capulet uses it as a bartering tool. In act three, scene four, he makes a marriage agreement with Paris. He says, "Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender / Of my child's love. I think she will be ruled / In all respects by me. Nay, more, I doubt it not" (12-14). The first definition in the Oxford English Dictionary defines tender as "to offer or advance (a plea, issue, averment; evidence, etc.) in due and formal terms; spec. to offer (money, etc.) in discharge of debt or liability" (def. 1). The OED cites Littleton's Tenures in 1544 as an example of this definition: "The Lorde maye tender a conuenient mariage wythout deperagyng of such an heir female." Subsequent definitions also define tender as "to make (physically) tender, soft, or weak" (def. 2d). These definitions prove the ecconomic value of Juliet's body. Capulet weakens Juliet physically in 3.5 by ordering her to marry Paris or "beg, starve, die in the streets" (192). In many productions, Capulet strikes Juliet, emphasizing her "tender" state. He has full control over Juliet's life and consequently, her body. Her virginity is a bartering tool, something he can sell on a whim to the highest bidder. Within this system of arranged marriages, sex functions as a commodity.


Measure for Measure also speaks to the commodification of sex by highlighting female virginity, those who are and those who aren't. In this play, female virginity functions as a...

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...odity, desperately sought after by men. Their commodity places them in a double bind: "To be sexually active is to be suspect, to be a virgin is to be desirable and therefore potentially sexually active and potentially suspect. Either way women lose. Either way they are sexualised" (Macfarlane 78).



Works Cited:


Carlson, Susan. "'Fond Fathers' and Sweet Sisters: Alternative Sexualities in Measure for Measure." Essays in Literature 16:1 (1989): 13-31.


MacFarlane, Linda. "Heads You Win Tails I Lose." Critical Survey 5:1 (1993): 77-82.


Riefer, Marcia. "'Instruments of Some More Mightier Member': The Construction of Female Power in

Measure for Measure." Shakespeare Quarterly 35:2 (1984): 157-169.


Shakespeare, William. Measure for Measure. Greenblatt 2021-2090.

---. Romeo and Juliet. Greenblatt 865-941.

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