May I offer you a post to debunk? OP was saying R&J's first encounter resembles the way men nowadays assault women at pubs because he "made some disturbing comments on her skin, touched her, told her not to move and wasn't willing to take no for an answer." Now I think that's completely wrong! (Moreover, I've read that hands were very sexualized back then, so Juliet saying "palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss" proves that she takes part in the courtship process, right?)
Certainly! You seem to have made a pretty good start on it yourself.
If the OP means that it sounds like Romeo is hitting on Juliet, then he most certainly is. That doesn’t mean it’s unwanted attention though – plenty of flirting even now is friendly, consenting, mutual and witty. Chatting up doesn’t equal assault.
In most situations, whether or not an amorous advance is desirable or creepy/assault very much depends on consent, now and back in Shakespeare’s time. For instance, if your lover or someone you were attracted to whispered in your ear it might be sweet, but if a stranger/someone you disliked did it to you it would be a violation of your personal space, not to mention downright creepy. Same with chatting up. It’s problematic if the attention is unwanted, but there are plenty of ways of signalling consent if you’re willing.
In Romeo and Juliet’s first encounter, Romeo is the first to make a move, but since women weren’t meant/encouraged to, he has to. I might add that in performance you can easily play out the immediate mutual attraction. After all, there needs to be some impetus for Romeo to address Juliet, so it makes sense to think that she has (at the very least) acknowledged his presence before he addresses her.
Taking somebody’s hand could be very sexual (I believe you’re referring to Farah Karim-Cooper’s book, The Hand of the Shakespearean Stage, yes?), but it was also a form of greeting, so Romeo taking Juliet’s hand isn’t problematic in itself, although their dialogue instantly establishes how intimate the act is in this instance. Still, Romeo’s instinct is to use religious language to deliberately remove the sexual connotation from his touch. I’m unsure what the ‘disturbing comments on her skin’ refers to by the way; Romeo doesn’t talk about Juliet’s skin at all in that meeting.
Now Juliet shows her consent and even her complicity in more than one way. She doesn’t take back her hand, and she totally could. She also plays along with his word games by continuing the religious imagery he instigates:
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, Which mannerly devotion shows in this, For saints have hands that pilgrims hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss. (1.5.96-99)
‘Good pilgrim’ is not a disparaging term: she approves of his actions. She argues that in saying that his hands ‘profane’ her, the ‘holy shrine’ (1.5.92-3), he’s mistreating his hand. If she really was a statue in the holy shrine of a saint, then pilgrims would touch her hands. i.e. In that holy context a touch of the hand would be entirely appropriate. She’s saying about as explicitly as she can in that language that he has permission to touch her hand.
The other extremely important thing is that (as everyone always comments) the first fourteen lines of dialogue between Romeo and Juliet forms a sonnet. This isn’t necessarily presented as a conscious choice made by the lovers, and you can’t really hear it in performance, but at a textual level there’s nothing that could be more closely intertwined and indicative of mutuality. Not only is Juliet going along with Romeo’s role-play, she’s also creating poetry with him. I don’t think you would do that if you weren’t into someone.
In this context, ‘telling her not to move’ is part of the witty banter they’ve got going. Romeo asks her to ‘grant’ him a prayer (like putting hands together) except done with lips: he’s asking her permission for a kiss. Juliet doesn’t say no, she simply says that Saints don’t move and grant (implying that it’s God who grants prayers through them). In other words, saints don’t take the initiative in granting a prayer, and nor will she in granting him a kiss. It’s an oblique or passive consent. She doesn’t actively tell him to kiss her, but she says ‘I won’t say no’. Romeo plays with her ‘move’ as in ‘take requests’ and changes it to a literal ‘don’t move while I take initiative in granting my prayer’. Again, it’s entirely playful. It’s not like he’s forcing her not to move. She could move if she chose to stop participating in this game. As for ‘wasn’t willing to take no for an answer’… Where does she say no?
I do think it’s a good idea to read against the grain and come up with provocative and alternative readings, but it’s also important not to read selectively and/or twist the text to suit one’s interpretation. In this case there’s little textual reason to think that Romeo’s advances would constitute an assault.
oh! I have to tell you guys a great story one of my professors told me. So he has a friend who is involved in these Shakespeare outreach programs where they try to bring Shakespeare and live theatre to poor and underprivileged groups and teach them about English literature and performing arts and such. On one of their tours they stopped at a young offenders institute for women and they put on a performance of Romeo and Juliet for a group of 16-17 year old girls. It was all going really well and the girls were enjoying and laughing through the first half - because really, the first half is pretty much a comedy - but as the play went on, things started to get quiet. Real quiet. Then it got up to the suicide scene and mutterings broke out and all the girls were nudging each other and looking distressed, and as this teacher observed them, he realised - they didn’t know how the play ended. These girls had never been exposed to the story of Romeo and Juliet before, something which he thought was impossible given how ubiquitous it is in our culture. I mean, the prologue even gives the ending away, but of course it doesn’t specify exactly how the whole “take their life” thing goes down, so these poor girls had no idea what to expect and were sitting there clinging to hope that Romeo would maybe sit down for a damn minute instead of murdering Paris and chugging poison - but BAM he died and they all cried out - and then Juliet WOKE UP and they SCREAMED and by the end of the play they were so upset that a brawl nearly broke out, and that’s the story of how Shakespeare nearly started a riot at a juvenile detention centre
As much as I love “Exit, pursued by a bear,” I think it overshadows a few of Shakespeare’s other wonderfully weird stage directions. For example, Richard III features this peach of a stage direction before Richard receives Hastings’ severed head:
“Enter GLOUCESTER and BUCKINGHAM, in rotten armour, marvellous ill-favoured]”
Like, for a guy who seldom bothers who write stage directions, he takes the time to specify that not only is their armor rotten, they look bad in it.
I also like “He goeth down” from Romeo and Juliet.