Hard Times by Dickens and Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare

In both Hard Times by Dickens and Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare tragedy in one form or another strikes the young characters. Most of the causes for this misfortune can be traced back to their infancy and parental figures. ‘Fuck’ is a mostly colloquial adjective which I interpret to mean having a negative effect, such an effect which permeates these two texts and their characters. It is quite possible to identify that the parental figures within both the play and novel, have ‘fuck(ed)’ up their children. The existence of parents, whether distant or oppressive has obvious consequences in both texts.

In Hard Times Louisa, who has been “nurtured” by her father, Gradgrind, through education and the undertaking of ‘ologies’, is presented by Dickens to be rather unfulfilled. Dickens explains that Louisa’s brother Tom’s ‘imagination had been strangled in his cradle’, much like Louisa’s has been. Dickens’ use of the word ‘cradle’ has both maternal and paternal connotations. However, using the violent word ‘strangled’ in the same paragraph suggests that The Gradgrinds are stifling of their children. In contrast, in Romeo and Juliet the lack of parental influence has graver consequences for both junior characters.

Shakespeare uses the characters of Friar Lawrence and Nurse as a way of showing to the audience the metaphorical barrier that both Romeo and Juliet share with their parents. Both characters present themselves as surrogate paternal and maternal figures. Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to present the strong connection Nurse has with Juliet and the wavering involvement of Lady Capulet. Lady Capulet believes Juliet is ‘weeping for (her) cousin’s death? ’. However, the audience knows; as well as Nurse, that Juliet is actually ‘weeping’ because of Romeo’s departure.

Marilyn Stasio reviewed the Broadway production and observed that ‘Jayne Houdyshell (Nurse) can be down-to-earth and kind of funny in this warm maternal role. ’ This consideration furthers the argument that Juliet is lacking a relationship with her mother since Stasio described Nurse as ‘maternal. ’ Their divided lives means Juliet cannot talk to her mother about her problems, consequentially she tries to solve them herself resulting in her death through lack of parental guidance. Montague is also distant from his son, Romeo.

Shakespeare shows this as Montague does not know what is plaguing Romeo ‘I neither know it nor can learn of him’, ‘nor can learn’ suggests that Montague is not close enough with his son for Romeo to confide his feelings in him. Therefore when it is requisite that both children tell their parents of their love, in the hope Juliet does not have to marry Paris, they cannot because of their estranged relationship. This miscommunication leads to a deceptive plot by Juliet to trick her parents into believing she is ‘dead’ by drinking a ‘distilled liquor’ which would give this impression.

Tragically, Romeo also believes her to be truly dead and kills himself, after seeing this Juliet joins him in ‘everlasting rest’. Despite the detrimental effects that the events in both novels have on the young protagonists, it is not to fair to attach full blame to the parents. Dickens uses sarcasm to display the irresponsibility of Signor Jupe, through the character of Bounderby. ‘A man so fond of his daughter, that he runs away from her! ’ Dickens’ use of the exclamation mark adds a theatrical tone to this statement mirroring sarcasm.

Ironically, this statement is probably true. The life Sissy lives without her father in Sleary’s circus is a far more enjoyable experience than that which she would have had living in ‘the public house’ with a ‘dingy little bar. ’ Sissy’s father having left, intentionally for the benefit of his daughter or unintentionally, enabled her to have more freedom in life, the freedom of expression. Sleary says ‘people mutht be amuthed’, purposely, phonetically spelt in a comical manner, which explicates that Sissy has had the better experience through abandonment.

Dickens himself knew the importance of encouraging a child’s imaginative development and was passionate about fairy tales, his personal favourite being The Arabian Nights. Equally in Romeo and Juliet the fate of both ‘star-cross’d lovers’ was clear from the outset of the play. Shakespeare’s use of the word ‘star’ creates a sense of inevitability for the two young characters. Elizabethans were extremely interested in astrology, believing it had a profound influence on human affairs and that men’s fates were controlled by the stars.

Therefore, Shakespeare’s description of Romeo and Juliet as ‘star-cross’d’ suggests that their unfortunate deaths were not the result of their lack of parental guidance but due to the cruel hands of fate. On the other hand Gradgrind’s obsession with ‘facts’ and the literal meaning of everything in life nearly results in devastating repercussions for Tom. After having been revealed that he has robbed the bank, Tom flees to Sleary’s circus in the hope to escape abroad. However Tom’s plans are interrupted by Bitzer who attempts to apprehend him ‘I must have young Mr Tom’.

Dickens’ use of the modal verb ‘must’ raises the tension since the verb reflects Bitzer’s feeling of obligation, indicating to the reader that Tom is going to be caught! Hearing this Gradgrind hypocritically appeals to Bitzer in attempt to save his son ‘have you a heart? ’ In this sense he is not a bad parent but actually rather caring of his son. Despite this, Gradgrind’s callous personality and teaching results in a fitting rebuttal from Bitzer; which illuminates the irony of the situation, ‘circulation… couldn’t be carried out without one. Since Tom’s father was unable to appeal to Bitzer, if Sleary had not distracted Bitzer with his ‘learned dog’ then Tom wouldn’t have been able to escape. Ultimately leaving him punishable for his crimes and essentially ruining his life. Equivalently in Romeo and Juliet the stubbornness of the two feuding families results in the deaths of the two protagonists. Shakespeare identifies the ‘ancient grudge’ which exists between Romeo and Juliet’s households. The word ancient reflects the long existence of this ‘grudge’ and shows how deeply rooted the conflict is.

This meant that Romeo and Juliet were not able to announce their love for one another. Had this grudge not existed and the parents of Romeo and Juliet not continued with the tradition, their love wouldn’t have been so complicated and Juliet would have been able to marry Romeo openly without it ending in tragedy. Given that marriage to Romeo would secure Juliet the same societal position as if she had married Paris, ‘alike in dignity’. Therefore the ‘parents’ strife’ resulted in the untimely deaths of the two young characters.

Dickens contrasts Louisa and Sissy in Hard Times, which reflects the difference in parenting styles and subsequently the impacts of bad parenting on Louisa. Sissy is characterised as a very emotive and imaginative character whereas Louisa is presented to pertain many aspects of stoicism, since she was taught ‘never to wonder’ by her father. Dickens uses an imperative here ‘never’ to symbolise how Gradgrind controls all aspects of his daughter’s life. Also, Dickens uses nominalisation to express Gradgrind’s stern and apathetic parenting style.

The second part of his name ‘grind’ is synonymous with drudgery and labour; free from excitement. Similarly in Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare utilises language in order to reflect the control Capulet exercises over his daughter. When Juliet disregards her scheduled marriage to Paris ‘shall not make me there a joyful bride! ’, Capulet is introduced and argues with his daughter’s decision ‘how now? ’ ‘What is this? ’. Shakespeare uses repetition of the word ‘how’ and perpetual rhetorical questions to explicate Capulet’s anger towards Juliet for disobeying him.

Capulet uses deprecating language against Juliet, ‘wretch’, which gravely contrasts Juliet’s respectful tone, shown by a lack of punctuation and short sentences ‘good father’. Through this Shakespeare shows the unbalanced relationship of Juliet and her father, that Juliet is controlled by her father as if she is his property. Which, in the 16th Century was the truth, women were the property of their husbands or fathers. Furthermore, Shakespeare uses stage directions to symbolise the hierarchy in the household.

Juliet is kneeling when she addresses her father, thus providing a physical representation for the audience how Juliet is below her father and Capulet has an authoritative position over her. This profound control Capulet has over his daughter creates a sense of desperation in Juliet which ultimately causes her to stage her death so she may marry Romeo; unfortunately resulting in her actual suicide. In Hard Times the controlling nature of Louisa’s father also has terrible consequences.

Gradgrind stresses that all that is important in life are ‘facts’ therefore nurturing Louisa’s emotional and creative development is superfluous. However, Louisa’s childhood being dominated by ‘facts’ has resulted in her being unfulfilled in adult life; Louisa blames her father for her being in a ‘state of conscious death’ as a consequence of her neglected wonderment. ‘Conscious’ reflects Louisa’s knowledge and understanding of the world in a scientific manner but ‘death’ refers to her contentment; she has never truly dreamed in childlike wonder and her image of the world is purely factual.

The oxymoronic phrase reflects the importance of wonderment and development outside facts for a well-balanced adult individual. This being said, suggests Gradgrind’s parenting has had a negative effect upon Louisa since she is clearly unhappy, ‘dead’. Alternatively, it can be considered that in Romeo and Juliet the lovers have only themselves to blame. Juliet’s parents advised her to marry Paris from the beginning; Capulet says ‘she shall marry this noble earl.

Shakespeare emphasises the word noble, which highlights to the audience that Paris is a respectable man and probably not a bad choice for a husband. Moreover the title earl is recognised as pertaining both wealth and status, therefore a marriage would secure Juliet financially enabling her to have a decent life and future prospects. This would’ve been especially important in the 16th century since women were fully dependant on their husbands in financial terms, considering they couldn’t be employed themselves.

Therefore had Juliet married Paris as her parents suggested she would not have been tempted to reunite with Romeo, which resulted in her suicide. In the same sense Tom’s problems with money were raised because of his own irresponsibility. Dickens presents Tom’s naive approach to his issues through his speech, ‘what is a fellow to do for money? ’. The endearing word ‘fellow’ shows that Tom is sympathising with himself, which suggests he is irresponsible since he doesn’t believe his financial situation to be his fault.

It is possible Dickens was reflecting his father in Tom who in 1822, was in debt. Critic Margaret Oliphant (1854) reviewed the novel as ‘the petulant theory of a man in a world of his own making. ’ This existentialist view suggests that parental influence doesn’t affect us greatly, our world is our ‘own making’ and therefore Tom’s terrible situation was not the fault of Gradgrind. Although Louisa, who had the same childhood as Tom, explicitly says to her father that her downfall was a direct result of his parenting.

Louisa says Gradgrind has ‘hardened and spoiled her’, which has resulted in her ‘deadened state of mind. ’ Additionally, Dickens uses ‘Mrs Sparsit’s staircase’ as a metaphor for Louisa’s downfall i. e. her declining happiness ‘coming down. ’ Then the next two chapters are so called to correspond with Louisa’s disposition, ‘lower and lower’ and ‘down. ’ This suggests that Tom’s difficulties also arose from Gradgrind’s parenting, and he is not to blame for his monetary problems.

Shakespeare characterises Juliet differently after her father orders her to marry Paris, ‘disobedient wretch. ’ Juliet in previous acts was portrayed as a very respectful young lady, Shakespeare uses a lot of mannerisms in her speech to reflect this, ‘Madam, I am here. ’ The use of Madam shows that Juliet has respect for her mother, which is how children were expected to behave in Shakespearean times. However after Juliet is ordered to marry against her will she quickly matures and becomes more cynical.

Juliet says to her Nurse ‘thou hast comforted me marvellous much’ the alliteration in this sentence adds a tone of sarcasm to Juliet’s speech. The sarcasm displayed as a result of Juliet’s father’s insensitivity, shows that parenting has had a negative effect on Juliet, transforming her from a dignified innocent child into a sarcastic cynic. Finally, I believe that Philip Larkin’s opinion on parenting is beautifully mirrored in both these texts. It is indisputable that the issues each young character faces have been catalysed if not spawned from the clearly influential parental figures.

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