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.
Mercutio: There’s nothing like summer in Verona Someone underage meets someone with a boner. Our boy has got a taste for fine Capulet but Romeo started early - this one isn’t Juliet.
Romeo: I hadn’t felt love like this, it was bliss, I was in awe. You never saw a lovely maiden that I could love more. She is rich in beauty, a right fair mark, I would that she my honest adorations would hark. She said
Rosaline: I know you are a Montague, sir, Please can you get out of my way, for I don’t think we should talk and I don’t care what you say.
Romeo: She said:
Rosaline: Good sir, you’re doin’ me wrong, Seekin’ me, peekin’ at me, critiquing me. Really, sir, please go away. I don’t know what else I can say.
Romeo: So I told her she was fine, that her beauty was divine, she said…
Rosaline: Please begone, sir.
Romeo: I gave everything to this fair Capulet. Playing hard to get, she said
Rosaline: No, we’re done, sir.
Romeo: Then I said “well, I have lots of gold”, She stepped a pace, she slapped me in my face - what a disgrace - and said
Romeo: That’s when I began to pray Lord, show me how to get close to this I don’t know how to get close to this. But my love is muffled still I see no path to its will.
Romeo/Chorus: Oh, show me how to get close to this I don’t know how to get close to this. In my mind, I’m bein’ smooth Then she’s walkin’ on by and I have to…
Chorus: Move! Move! Get close to this! (x4)
Romeo: No matter what I say, she cannot be hit With Cupid’s arrow; she has Diana’s wit. She has forsworn to love, and in that vow Do I live dead that live to tell it now. Oh, coz…
Benvolio: Dear coz, what sadness lengthens Romeo’s hours? For your dear heart’s oppression I would weep showers as long as my grief would not be misplaced. Tell me, coz, of your love. A fair woman and…
Benvolio: Uh-oh! In truth? She has sworn to live chaste? Coz, I lament for your unfortunate taste. Be ruled by me: forget all about her; find another beauty both willing and more fair.
Romeo: We got invited up to Capulet’s place. There I’ll seek out her face: I’ll say-
Mercutio: You must dance, sir!
Romeo: Not I, enpierced and bound by love, staked to the ground. I cannot…
Mercutio: You’re a lover!
Romeo: This love, it pricks like a thorn.
Mercutio: Then be rough with love
Romeo: The game was unfair. I am done.
Mercutio: What are you fearful of?
Romeo: I dreamed tonight…
Mercutio: And so did I of lying dreamers
Romeo/Mercutio: In bed asleep, they dream things true/ O, then Queen Mab hath been with you!
Romeo: Peace, Mercutio! Peace, Mercutio!
Benvolio: Supper is done! If we wait, we’ll come late.
Romeo: I know I shouldn’t get close to this. I fear my fate if I get close to this, Now my mind has some misgivings if I want to keep on living. No, I really shouldn’t get close to this. But I’m gonna get close to this. It is in the hands of fate Then I see Juliet and it’s all too…
Ensemble: Get close to this. Go! Go! Go!
Romeo: Get close to this…
Juliet: Yes, get close to this.
Romeo: I must get close to this. She is the dawn’s fair light…