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William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

A revision tool for students
by

sarah murray

on 19 February 2013

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Transcript of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet

(cc) photo by theaucitron on Flickr The Other Players Romeo and Juliet A Boy A Girl + = TROUBLE ! Identify a hero, heroine or villain from a play you have studied. Explain why, in your opinion, this character deserves the title hero, heroine or villain. Support your answer with reference to the play.(30)OROften plays combine both serious and light-hearted elements.(a) (b)Did you find the play that you studied to be mainly serious or mainly light-hearted? Explain your answer with reference to the play.(15)Which element of the play had the greater impact on you, the serious element or the light-hearted element? Clearly explain your choice with reference to theplay you have studied.
JC Higher 2011

Name a PLAY or FILM you have studied in which there is a likeable character Describe the character Describe the ending of the play or film Would you change the ending? Why / Why not?
JC Ordinary 2011 Tension between characters is a common feature in drama. From a play you have studied choose two characters who have a tense relationship.(a)Explain the reason(s) for the tension that exists between these two characters.(15)(b)Imagine you are directing a stage production of this play. Select a scene where this tension is evident and explain what you, as director, would do to convey the tension between these two characters on stage.(15)OROften the closing scenes of a play have a powerful impact on an audience. Name a play you have studied and explain what impact the closing scenes had on you. Support your answer by reference to the play. In your answer you might wish to consider some of the following; the feelings you were left with at the end of the play, the outcome of the issues raised during the play, how you were affected by what happened to the characters, if the ending was shocking or unexpected, etc.
JC Higher 2010(30)
Name a PLAY or FILM you have studied in which there are two very different characters.
 Describe the differences between these characters.  How did these differences influence the outcome of the play?  Which of the two characters did you prefer? Explain why.  Did you find the outcome of the play satisfactory or disappointing? Give reasons
for your answer.
JC Ordinary 2010 Choose a scene from a play you have studied where a particular mood or atmosphere is
created.
(i) Describe the mood or atmosphere in this scene. Support your answer with
reference to the text. (15)
(ii) How does the playwright create this mood or atmosphere? Aspects you may
wish to consider could include: setting, lighting, stage directions, music,
sound or dialogue. (15)
OR
2. From a play you have studied choose one important relationship.
(i) Describe the main characteristics of this relationship throughout the play. (15)
(ii) How does either the setting (time or place) or another character have an
influence on this relationship? Support your answer with reference to the text
JC Higher 2009 Many dramas feature characters that are either winners or losers.
Choose a character from a play that you have studied who falls into one of these categories.
(a) Describe how your chosen character is either a winner or a loser. (10)
(b) Choose another character who has a relationship with your chosen character, and
explain the importance of this relationship.
Support your answer with reference to your studied text. (20)
OR
2. Imagine you are preparing a programme for a class production of a play you have studied.
The production team, of which you are a part, has asked you to contribute to the programme.
(a) Write character profiles for two characters who have a significant role
in the play. (15)
(b) Write an introduction to the play focusing especially on its theme(s) (15)
To keep the programme to an appropriate length you will need to write approximately 200
words for task (a) and approximately 200 words for task (b).
JC Higher 2009 Name a PLAY or FILM you have studied in which a character has an important
dream or ambition which he/she succeeds or fails in making real.
• What was the dream or ambition?
• How did it succeed or fail?
• What effect did this success or failure have on the character in question?
• Would you recommend this film or play to your friends? Why / Why not?
JC Ordinary 2009 Name a play you have studied and state what you think is its main idea and/or message.
Explain how this main idea and/or message is communicated in the play.

2. You have been asked to recommend a play for students studying for the Junior Certificate.
Would you recommend the play you have studied for this examination? Give reasons based
on close reference to your chosen text.
JC Higher 2007
Juliet is 13 and the daughter of Capulet and Lady Capulet. Her character at first appears to be quiet, obedient and innocent. She then meets Romeo and shows she is not as shy as we think. She speaks as much as him and in the same style, and they kiss twice.
She then tells the audience of her love for Romeo, knowing his family is hated by hers. She later announces her love for him again, not knowing he can hear.
Her thoughts are complex, showing her intelligence, and that her love of Romeo is sincere. When she realises he is there, her thoughts are immediately for his safety. She asks him to say he loves her, yet seems very practical about it, not wanting any proof - just his word.
Juliet shows her independence by proposing marriage. She also says she will follow Romeo 'throughout the world'. Juliet does not doubt her husband, even when she learns he has killed her cousin. She is prepared to commit suicide for him, then bravely carries out the Friar's plan, meaning she disobeys her parents and takes a huge risk. Finally, she commits suicide when she discovers Romeo dead beside her.
The Character of Juliet
PointEvidence
Juliet is quietShe says very little in Act 1, Scene 3
Juliet is innocentWe are told she is not quite 14 several times
Juliet is not shyShe lets Romeo kiss her at their first meeting
Juliet speaks directlyShe tells Romeo he kisses 'by th'book' (that he kisses well or without any real feeling)
Juliet is in loveShe says he is her 'only love'
Juliet commits herself to himShe says: 'All my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay'
She believes in himShe asks: 'Shall I speak ill of my husband?' and later gives her 'ring to my true knight'
She disobeys her motherShe tells her 'I will not marry', and that she will marry Romeo rather than Paris
She is braveShe says 'Tell me not of fear', and is quick to commit suicide, saying 'I'll be brief' The Lovers The Friends The Character of Romeo
PointEvidence
Romeo is moodyHis family thinks Romeo is behaving strangely
Romeo is sad and lonelyHis father has seen him with 'tears', and Romeo stays in his bedroom on his own
Romeo fears for the futureBefore the ball, he talks about something 'hanging in the stars' (as if he realises fate will destroy his future)
He is not sincere at firstHe forgets all about Rosaline as soon as he meets Juliet
He falls in love instantlyHe asks 'Did my heart love till now?' when he sees Juliet.
He will do anything for herHe says: 'Call me but love, and I'll be new baptised.'
He tries to do the right thingHe refuses to fight Tybalt, even if he seems a coward
He can be immatureEven the Nurse tells him to stand up and 'be a man'
He will not listen to reasonHe says, 'I defy you, stars!', as if he does not care what will happen
He is passionate about JulietHe kills himself in order to be with her Romeo is the young son of the affluent Montague family. He lusts after the unavailable, but oh-so gorgeous Rosaline until he sets eyes on Juliet Capulet (the only daughter of his family's arch enemies) and falls in love at first sight.

Romeo as a Petrarchan Lover

If you find yourself occasionally annoyed by Romeo, you're in good company. You can't spell "Romeo" without "emo" (he's so emotional and angsty), and that drives some people crazy. His over-the-top infatuation with Rosaline at the beginning of the play, immediately followed by his… completely forgetting about Rosaline, can make Romeo seem shallow and foolish.

The thing to know is that Shakespeare makes lovesick Romeo (the Romeo that crushes on Rosaline anyway) shallow and foolish on purpose. In fact, at the beginning of the play, his character is made to resemble a typical "Petrarchan lover," which had become a cliché by the time Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet (around 1595). Petrarch, by the way, was a fourteenth-century Italian poet whose sonnets were all the rage in Renaissance England. Petrarch's love poetry features "Laura," a figure who was as unavailable and unattainable as Rosaline. So, a "Petrarchan lover" is the kind of guy who mopes around sighing dramatically, moaning about the fact that his crush wants nothing to do with him, and reciting cheesy poetry about some angelic girl who's got eyes like stars, lips like luscious cherries, and who fills men with icy-fire (passion). It's no wonder that the name "Romeo" has become synonymous with the term "male lover."

Rosaline Schmazaline: Romeo Meets Juliet

So, Romeo may seem pretty annoying, that is, until you remember the last time you switched women (or men) like pairs of shoes. Then you remember that he isn't so much shallow as he is a person. A teenage person, to be more specific. That sort of gets us liking him again, especially when he meets Juliet and begins to figure out what true love is really all about. Even though Romeo breaks out a conventional pick-up line when he first chats it up with Juliet (he basically says that hooking up with Juliet would be a holy experience), it seems like his love for Juliet is pretty genuine. (We should note that some skeptics think the only difference between Romeo's desire for Rosaline and his passion for Juliet is the fact that Juliet, unlike Rosaline, loves Romeo back. What do you think?)

Does Romeo Evolve or Grow as a Character?

But, does Romeo's seemingly more authentic love for Juliet mean that Romeo evolves and matures as a character over the course of the play? On the one hand, we could say that yes, Romeo's puppy love for Rosaline gives way to a more grown up relationship with Juliet. On the other hand, we could say that Romeo doesn't really change all that much – he's rash and impetuous throughout the entire play, whether he's trespassing on Capulet property to see Rosaline, running off to elope with Juliet, or chugging a vial of poison when he mistakenly believes Juliet is dead. To be fair, Romeo does show restraint when Tybalt challenges him, which is a big deal, since Romeo damages his reputation when he refuses to fight. But, Romeo winds up killing Tybalt after Mercutio is murdered and he follows up this act of murder, by the way, with a bout of hysterics on the floor of Friar Laurence's cell (room).

Some critics argue that Juliet deserves someone better than Romeo. According to Shakespeare scholar Harold Bloom, Romeo can't quite keep up with Juliet. But never mind the literary critics. What do you think about Romeo?

A Lover, Not a Fighter?

We just made a really big deal about how Romeo may be acting a teensy bit rash when he kills Tybalt in Act 3, Scene 1. But, now we want to switch gears a bit and argue that, for the most part, Romeo's a lover, not a fighter. Let's recap a bit. When the Capulet and Montague servants start a big brawl in the opening scene, Shakespeare goes out of his way to let us know that Romeo is NOT out on the streets of Verona like all the other young men. In fact, his mom asks, "O, where is Romeo? Saw you him to-day? / Right glad I am he was not at this fray" (1.1.2). Romeo, as it turns out, has been off doing what Romeo does best…daydreaming about a girl. It seems that love has a whole lot to do with Romeo's disinterest in fighting.

Later, when Tybalt wants to rumble (because Romeo crashed the Capulet party earlier), Romeo flat out refuses to fight because he doesn't want to hurt his new wife, who happens to be related to Tybalt (3.1).

So why does Romeo kill Tybalt? Excellent question. We're glad you asked. First, Tybalt kills Romeo's BFF, Mercutio, and Romeo feels responsible. Plus, Tybalt comes back to gloat about it. (Does this mean Romeo's friendship with Mercutio is more important to him than his marriage to Juliet? What do you think? If your answer is "yes," then you should also know that Romeo wouldn't be the only Shakespeare character to prioritize bromance over marriage. Think about Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice, for example.) Second, and perhaps more importantly, Romeo is feeling pretty ashamed that he didn't fight Tybalt earlier and he blames it all on his love for Juliet:

O sweet Juliet,
Thy beauty hath made me effeminate
And in my temper soften'd valour's steel! (3.1.7)

Translation: Romeo thinks that loving Juliet has made him into a "soften'd" wimp. Turns out, many Elizabethans believed that love (between a man and a woman, that is) could turn a man into a wimp. The same idea appears in plays like Henry IV Part 1, where Hotspur refuses to have sex with his wife before heading into battle because he doesn't want to be "soft" on the battlefield.

The point we're trying to make about Romeo's relationship to violence is this: the pressure to be a "man" (which involves a lot of sword fighting in this play) eventually gets to Romeo and he caves in to the idea that masculinity and violence go hand in hand. And, we all know that when Romeo kills Tybalt his actions have some major consequences – Romeo is banned from Verona, which leads to him to seek out some pretty bad advice and guidance from Friar Laurence, which basically leads to the deaths of both Romeo and Juliet. So, we're thinking that social pressure plays a huge part in Romeo's tragedy. Juliet is much more than just a pretty face. She's smart, witty, and determined. She knows what she wants, and she gets it. It's Juliet, after all, who proposes to Romeo, not the other way around: "If that thy bent of love be honourable, / Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow," she says (2.2.17). Some literary critics argue that Juliet alone is the play's real protagonist: she is the one who speaks to the audience most frequently (often a good indicator of who is important in a Shakespeare play) and her character undergoes the greatest evolution during the course of the play. She also gets to speak some of Shakespeare's most poetically beautiful lines.

Juliet's Maturation

Juliet matures over the course of the play. She begins as a naïve girl who's dependent on her family and ends up a woman willing to desert that family to be with the man she loves. Where does this maturation takes place? We see something going on when Juliet meets Romeo. Every time Juliet comes onstage after this transformative scene, her love continues to change and deepen. Let's look at the balcony scene. The Juliet who sighs at the beginning of the balcony scene that Romeo would be perfect if only he weren't a Montague (2.2.2) is not the same Juliet who tells Romeo, wonderingly, "My bounty is as boundless as the sea / My love as deep. The more I give to you / the more I have, for both are infinite" (2.2.16).

The most intense moments of Juliet's transformation take place in the course of a single scene: Act 3, Scene 2, where Juliet completes years' worth of maturation in a matter of a few minutes – by the end of the scene, Juliet has become a woman. Check out this excerpt from her show stopping monologue, which opens the scene:

Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus' lodging: such a wagoner
As Phaethon would whip you to the west,
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway's eyes may wink and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalk'd of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties; (3.2.1)

Juliet's impatience for the night to come and for Romeo to arrive shifts into excitement and apprehension as she anticipates being intimate with her husband. She is both joyous and jittery but never apologetic about her sexual desire for her husband. (In this way, she reminds us of the decidedly unbashful Desdemona, in Shakespeare's play Othello.) When the Nurse breaks the hopeful mood of the scene with the news that Romeo has killed Tybalt, Juliet's first reaction is to grieve over her cousin and reject Romeo as just another heartless Montague. But Juliet has just married Romeo, and she takes her wedding vows seriously. In a single monologue (3.2.10), Juliet decides to choose loyalty to her new husband over love of her family. Then she has to struggle with the realization that the man she loves has been banished, and that the life she expected to lead with him will no longer be possible.

The point we're trying to make is this: Juliet is faced with hard, adult choices, and she doesn't flinch. When she asks the Nurse to find Romeo for her, she faces the facts: Romeo is coming to take his "last farewell," and she may never see him again (3.2.12). It's an interesting way of portraying a rite of passage. It's often assumed (especially in literature) that girls become women the first time they have an intimate experience. But Juliet seems to become a woman before she has matures sexually.

Juliet's Vulnerability

It's also important to realize that Juliet's path to suicide is different than Romeo's. Romeo has been banished from his home city, but he still has contact with his family and friends. Juliet, on the other hand, has been systematically stripped of the support of everyone around her. She has to undergo a brutal series of scenes that take her from saying good-bye to Romeo after their wedding night, to the news that she is supposed to marry Paris, to her father's rage when she refuses, to a meeting with Paris himself. Some might claim that Juliet has little choice other than suicide. Her father threatens to throw her out of the house onto the streets if she doesn't marry Paris. Her mother nearly disowns her. Even the Nurse turns against her. Juliet, for all the emotional maturity she gained throughout the play, is still incredibly sheltered. As far as we can tell, she hasn't really been anywhere besides her home and Friar Laurence's. She has no idea how to survive in the outside world, especially in the Elizabethan world where women couldn't really function without husbands and fathers, unless they were prostitutes. AND, in case you forgot, she's thirteen years old. Juliet Romeo Themes Love

Perhaps the most obvious subject or theme in Romeo and Juliet is love. However, Shakespeare presents love in different ways. There is Romeo's early love for Rosaline. This is like a puppy love, which the Friar calls 'doting' and not 'loving', because it was only really Romeo who believed he was in love.
Paris' love for Juliet is quite similar. He wants to marry her, but approaches her father rather than Juliet (as was the tradition). He does not really show any deep feelings for her, and even says he has 'little talked of love". This seems to indicate he wants a good marriage and has chosen her, rather than the two of them falling in love.
There is another view of love - as something spiritual and between friends. This is shown with the love Juliet shares with her Nurse, the Friar and Romeo, and the friendships between Mercutio, Benvolio and Romeo. Each of these shows a close understanding. They might make fun of each other and criticise one another's choices, but they respect and care for each other. They will also take great risks for one another: Mercutio dies to protect Romeo's honour.
The love between Romeo and Juliet is our classic idea of romantic love - they will do anything for each other and their language and behaviour reflect this.
Finally, Shakespeare deals with yet another view of love - as something purely sexual. A number of characters, especially Mercutio and the Nurse, make repeated references to sex. This is very different to the idealistic love shown by Romeo and Juliet. Fate
Another major topic of Romeo and Juliet is fate: the belief that an individual's life has been decided for them and there is nothing they can do to change it. This is used right from the start. Romeo and Juliet's ill-fated lives are described as 'death-marked', and they are a 'pair of star-crossed lovers'. The idea of fate works on several levels. Shakespeare sets the two families against each other, and there is nothing Romeo and Juliet can do about this.
The couple have a feeling that things will go badly for them. Romeo thinks something is 'hanging in the stars', while Juliet says a 'faint cold fear thrills through my veins'. This is far more mysterious for us. In Shakespeare's time, fate was taken very seriously. An audience would have appreciated what he meant by all these references. Death
Death is also mentioned a lot, in lots of different ways, such as 'we were born to die' or 'cold death', and 'death-darting eye'. Mercutio, Tybalt, Paris, Romeo and Juliet all die during the play. Death even becomes a person, one who has married Juliet (with 'Death is my son-in-law'). In Shakespeare's time people generally died much younger than they do now. The subject of death was familiar to everyone. Nowadays, we often shy away from talking about it - but it's a major topic of Romeo and Juliet. Time
Time is another major topic. Even the Chorus at the start tells us the play will last for two hours. There are many other references to time, too, such as in Act 3, Scene 2 with Juliet is waiting for the night and the arrival of Romeo. Plus, the whole play covers just a few days, and the pace changes frequently.
Time is also crucial to the plot: the plans for Juliet's marriage are brought forward, the sleeping potion only lasts a certain time, and Romeo kills himself just before Juliet wakes up. Even her death is related to time - she says she will 'be brief'. The audience might well feel the two lovers are racing to their deaths and there is nothing anyone can do to stop this.
There may be other topics you can spot - for instance, the play deals with families and the subjects of loyalty and hatred. It is good to include something about the basic ideas in Romeo and Juliet in your work. This will help you to understand what the play is about, how it all fits together, and how Shakespeare used ideas to amuse, entertain and interest his audience. Mercutio is one of Romeo's best friends who loves entertaining people and making fun of them. He plays around with language and is full of imagination in his speeches. He is also very coarse, linking many things with sex, and seems keen to pick a fight with almost anyone he meets. Mercutio (whose name is derived from the word "mercurial," meaning "volatile") is Romeo's sword-fight loving BFF. He never backs down from a duel and, although he's neither a Montague nor a Capulet, he gets involved in the long-standing family feud on the side of the Montagues and is killed by Tybalt in Act 3, Scene 1.

Why Audiences Love Mercutio

In almost every performance, Mercutio steals the show. Audiences love him – he's dirty and funny and out of control. Compared to him, Romeo and Juliet can seem whiny and repetitive. There are some productions of Romeo and Juliet that never recover after Mercutio dies; the whole show can go downhill without him. Mercutio is technically a minor character, but his personality has such a disproportionate impact that some critics argue he has to die or he would take over the play. There's an old story that Shakespeare himself admitted that he had to kill Mercutio – or else, he said, Mercutio would have killed him.

Mercutio and Love

Mercutio is also famous for his staunch opposition to the idea of love (between a man and a woman, that is). When Romeo complains about the heartache of his unrequited love for Rosaline, Mercutio tells him to stop whining about it:

If love be rough with you, be rough with love;
Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down. (1.4.4)

It's not just "love" that Mercutio has a problem with. He's also pretty hostile toward women and female sexuality in general. The clearest example of this is when he lists Rosaline's body parts in a crude monologue that makes fun of Romeo and a popular poetic convention (the "blazon," a poetic technique that catalogues a woman's body parts and compares them to things in nature):

I must conjure him.
I conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes,
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh
And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,
That in thy likeness thou appear to us! (2.1.1)

Some literary critics and actors interpret Mercutio's hostility toward women and heterosexual love as an indication of homosexuality (or bisexuality). For these scholars, Mercutio's blatantly homoerotic jokes (they're all over the play) and Tybalt's accusation that Mercutio "consortest with Romeo" (3.1.3) are further evidence that Mercutio is gay. Mercutio's sexuality is up for debate, but the thing we know for sure about Shakespeare's work is that it's full of men who value male friendship and comradery over male-female relationships. (Think, for example, of Antonio and Bassanio in The Merchant of Venice.)

Mercutio's Queen Mab

Other interpretations put a psychological spin on Mercutio's strange, imaginative rants.

The Queen Mab speech is, of course, one of Mercutio's big moments and a challenge to interpret. In the 1996 Baz Luhrmann film, Romeo + Juliet, a cross-dressing Mercutio takes drugs just before the Queen Mab speech. In the Franco Zeffirelli 1968 film version, Mercutio seems manic-depressive; the Queen Mab speech starts out as an energetic manic episode but soon crumbles into a dark depression. Check out "Symbols" if you want to know more. Benvolio is another of Romeo's friends, and makes a good contrast to both Mercutio and Tybalt. His name can be understood as 'good wishes', and he is determined to do all he can to stop the fights between the two families. Benvolio, whose name literally means "good will," is a classic nice guy. Benvolio often gets stuck playing the straight man to Romeo and Mercutio, but he occasionally manages to stick in his own funny lines. Despite the fact that he is constantly telling everyone else to chill and stop fighting, duels always seem to happen around him. Sometimes he gets drawn in. Benvolio is regarded as the trusted go-to guy. Romeo's parents turn to him when their son is acting weird (1.1) and the Prince always asks him to explain what went down in the most recent street fight. Tybalt is also a very aggressive character. He only seems interested in fighting Romeo's family, and everything he says is full of anger and hatred. Tybalt is Juliet's cousin, which makes him a Capulet. After he kills Romeo's BFF, Mercutio, in a street brawl, Romeo mortally stabs him, which causes Romeo to be banished from Verona.

Tybalt is a captivating, testosterone-driven character and almost always completely over-the-top. He's not particularly deep, but he's a lot of fun for the actor who gets to deliver his snappy one-liners and show off some impressive sword fighting skills. Mercutio, who hates Tybalt, gives him the "catty" nickname the "Prince of Cats" and it totally suits Tybalt. While Romeo can sometimes remind you of a bouncy and overeager puppy, Tybalt tends to stalk around proudly looking for fights. When his uncle Capulet prevents him from beating up Romeo for crashing the Capulet's masked ball, he's not too pleased and promises to bash in Romeo's skull at a later date: "I will withdraw but this intrusion shall / Now seeming sweet, convert to bitt'rest gall" (1.5.6). Clearly, Tybalt, likes to speak in rhymed couplets ("shall" and "gall" rhyme here), which makes him sound kind of ridiculous. Plus, he doesn't speak a single line that can't be delivered in a snarl.

Aside from the vendetta between the Capulets and Montagues, there's no real explanation for Tybalt's aggressive behavior. It seems possible that he's eager to fight because he wants to defend his reputation as the toughest of the Capulets. It's also likely that Tybalt just likes to fight, which brings us to our next point. If there's a personification of hate in the play, it's Tybalt. Think, for example, of the fact that while super macho Tybalt is storming around the Capulet ball threatening to beat Romeo to a pulp (just for being a Montague), Romeo and Juliet are a few feet away being all sappy sweet and professing their love for each other (1.5). In fact, Romeo and Juliet's first encounter occurs on the heels of Tybalt's thwarted rampage. Lord Capulet (a.k.a. Capulet) is the father of Juliet. At first, he seems like a pretty good dad. When Paris comes sniffing around for thirteen-year-old Juliet's hand in marriage, Capulet puts him of, citing Juliet's young age and even suggesting that he'd like his daughter to marry for "love" (1.2.2-3). This, by the way, is pretty uncommon in Shakespeare's plays. Most fathers (like Baptista Minola in The Taming of the Shrew) broker marriages like business deals, without ever consulting their daughters.

But Lord Capulet doesn't play the good father for long. Paris eventually wears him down and convinces him that he and Juliet should wed (3.4.2). (By this point, Juliet is already be secretly married to Romeo.) The thing is, Juliet's not exactly down with marrying Paris and things get ugly when she tells her father as much.

Lord Capulet's response to Juliet's "disobedience" is so violently harsh that we begin to see him as a bit of a tyrant. We see the physical aggression most prominently in the big, confrontational scene with Juliet over whether or not she will marry Paris. When Juliet refuses, Capulet screams, "Out you baggage, / you tallow face" (3.5.3) and says, "My fingers itch" when Juliet stands up, which may suggest that he's prone to physical violence (3.5.4). He also lashes out against the Nurse and his wife.

Lord Capulet's relationship with his wife is also up for debate. Lady Capulet is probably much younger than he, since she was married to him when she was about twelve years old. Needless to say, this age difference seems to have caused some tension in their marriage. "Too soon marred are those so early made [wives]," he tells Paris, clearly referencing his own wife (1.2.3). Like many other mothers of teens, Lady Capulet and her daughter clearly have a troubled relationship. The interactions between Lady Capulet and Juliet are strained and distant. Lady Capulet does make an effort to reach out to her daughter now that she's of an age to be married. But it's obvious that Juliet's closest bond is with the Nurse; Lady Capulet never even comes close to challenging that.

As a result, Lady Capulet doesn't come across as a particularly great mom. The big question with her character is why. Why isn't she close to her daughter? Why isn't she supportive when Juliet needs her most? Just when Juliet needs her mom's support, Lady Capulet coldly ignore her daughter's pleas to help her avoid marrying Paris. After Lord Capulet storms out, Juliet turns to her mother to soften her father's punishment. Juliet begs her even to delay the marriage. Lady Capulet responds, "Talk not to me, for I'll not say a word / Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee" (3.5.15). That's pretty cold. What's up with that?

There could be a few different things going on here. It seems very likely that Lady Capulet herself had an arranged marriage with Juliet's father, and it seems she went along with it obediently. When Juliet rebels against the planned marriage with Paris, she is rebelling against her mother's way of life, and against the kind of marriage that Lady Capulet learned to suffer through. If Lord Capulet is an abusive husband, that gives Lady Capulet further reason to refuse to defy his wishes, even for the sake of her daughter. Also, in Shakespeare's day, women were expected to be "obedient" to their husbands. We should also mention that some rather edgy modern interpretations of the play go so far as to say that Lady Capulet is having an affair; or at least actively pursuing one. We're guessing these productions of the play are picking up on Lady Capulet's over-the-top praise of Paris's manly virtues (1.3.9) and her excessive grief over Tybalt's death (3.5.7). As much as we hate to start our sentences with "as so-and-so said," we're breaking our rule here because this one is just too good. Here we go.

As scholar Marjorie Garber points out, all you have to do to see why Paris (the guy who wears down Juliet's dad until he agrees to let him marry Juliet) is such a good foil for Romeo – and why Juliet chose Romeo over him – is to contrast what Paris and Romeo each say outside Juliet's grave.

PARIS
The obsequies that I for thee will keep
Nightly shall be to strew thy grave and weep. (5.3.2)

Paris's language says: "I'm a stiff and lacking in passion." There's no way that Paris would die for Juliet. He'll probably make other marriage plans as soon as the appropriate mourning time has passed.

ROMEO
The time and my intents are savage-wild
More fierce and more inexorable far
Than empty tigers or the roaring sea. (5.3.1)

Romeo, in contrast, is furious over Juliet's death, and eloquent in his fury. He won't drip a few tears on Juliet's grave and then go home to bed. Unlike Paris, this guy is a passionate lover.

An actor can make Paris seem like a total jerk, or like a sympathetic nice guy who happened to get caught in somebody else's love story. In Baz Luhrmann's 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, Paul Rudd plays Paris as a handsome but undeniably dorky guy. His dance with Juliet at the Capulet ball is very awkward – he starts swing dancing a little – and Juliet keeps looking at Romeo and making "this is awkward" faces. (We should point out that in Shakespeare's text, Paris doesn't actually show up to the Capulet ball as expected.)
Paris's dialogue with Juliet in Friar Laurence's church can make him seem either a little clueless or a complete fool. Paris thinks Juliet is upset over Tybalt's death – he has no idea that she's already married to Romeo and that the prospect of marrying him makes her physically ill. It's easy to make some of Paris's lines seem overbearing and arrogant. He greets her with total confidence, "Happily met, my lady and my wife," he calls to her (4.1.3). Juliet and the audience cringe at this, but Paris keeps going. "Do not deny to him that you love me," Paris tells her (4.1.6). Later, when he looks at Juliet more closely, he tells her, "Poor soul, thy face is much abused with tears" (4.1.8). When she tells him that her face was bad enough to begin with, he reprimands her, "Thy face is mine, and thou hast slandered it," which hints at Paris's sense of ownership toward his fiancée (4.1.10). All of these lines together can make Paris come off as a spoiled boy who is used to getting everything he wants. His possessive attitude towards Juliet – especially laying claim to her face as his own – could come across as creepy and chauvinistic. It can seem like he's treating Juliet like another piece of property rather than a person.

But these same lines can also be spoken as very earnest and well-meaning. Paris, after all, has no reason to believe that Juliet doesn't love him and isn't excited about their marriage. This is the impression that he gets from Juliet's parents, after all. In this interpretation, Paris's confidence in their marriage comes across as pathetic rather than obnoxious. Either way, though, the "holy kiss" that Paris gives Juliet at the end of the scene is painful for everybody. It's so formal and stiff – a complete contrast to Romeo's kisses. The Nurse is one of the funniest characters in the play and one of the most disturbing. She and Juliet have what seems to be a gossiping, pillow-fighting sort of relationship at the beginning of the play. The Nurse, along with Friar Laurence, is one of the facilitators of Juliet's relationship with Romeo. She plays the role of messenger and it is her idea to bring Romeo to Juliet even after he has been banished. But when Juliet needs her most – after her parents order her to marry Paris – the Nurse betrays her. Romeo is as good as dead, the Nurse tells Juliet, and she had better forget him and marry Paris. Is the nurse as responsible for Juliet's death? Maybe. Or, as one oh-so-subtle production suggested, definitely: in this production, at the final scene, when the Prince says that some will be punished, a noose dropped from the ceiling and swung in front of the Nurse.

But why does the Nurse betray Juliet? There are two basic arguments. The first is that the Nurse really believes everything that she says when she tells Juliet:

Romeo is banish'd; and all the world to nothing,
That he dares ne'er come back to challenge you;
Or, if he do, it needs must be by stealth.
Then, since the case so stands as now it doth,
I think it best you married with the county.
O, he's a lovely gentleman!
Romeo's a dishclout to him: an eagle, madam,
Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye
As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart,
I think you are happy in this second match,
For it excels your first: or if it did not,
Your first is dead; or 'twere as good he were,
As living here and you no use of him. (3.5.5)

As this argument goes, the Nurse simply does not understand that Juliet's love for Romeo is the real thing, and not some childish infatuation. She thinks Juliet can easily move on. If you're feeling a little judgmental, you could say this attitude is both callous and unperceptive. Her dirty-minded way of looking at love cannot comprehend a love like Juliet's. There's also the possibility that the Nurse doesn't want to lose Juliet to an uncertain future with Romeo in Mantua. Selfishness might play a role in wanting her beloved Juliet to stay in Verona and marry Paris – and doubtlessly bring the Nurse with her when she moves to Paris's house. Regardless, the Nurse's comic character becomes almost monstrous in the way she treats Juliet's love. Telling Juliet that Romeo is as good as dead is pretty mean.

OK, so that's camp #1. Camp #2 is a little more sympathetic. It might be that the Nurse understands Juliet's love for Romeo, but is a wizened woman of the world. She has a pretty good idea of how difficult it would be for a woman to survive alone in the world during this time period. It's important to recognize that the Nurse does try to stand up to Lord Capulet when he is yelling at his daughter, a bold move – he's her boss, after all. "You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so," the Nurse tells him (3.5.3). In response, Lord Capulet attacks her verbally – and perhaps physically as well. So the Nurse just gives up, which may have something to do with Lord Capulet's violent thrashings. The Nurse then decides that Juliet has no choice but to marry Paris. In this interpretation, the Nurse's praise of Paris is not sincere, but helpless. She knows Juliet's love for Romeo is real, but in order to save Juliet from the disastrous consequences of her secret marriage, she tries to make a second marriage to Paris seem acceptable.

Aside from this "Big Question," there are many smaller nuances to explore in the Nurse's character. The first is the complicated relationship between the Nurse, Juliet, and Lady Capulet. The Nurse has essentially been Juliet's mother – she nursed Juliet as a baby and has been with Juliet her whole life (1.3.5). Juliet's bond with the Nurse is clear. At the same time, Lady Capulet is technically Juliet's mother, and she is in charge of her daughter's future. The Nurse is also, for all her importance to Juliet, ultimately a servant, which puts a mighty big class distinction in between the two of them. That can complicate things.

The Nurse's interactions with Mercutio in Act 2, Scene 4 give us a glimpse into her comic potential. Some actresses playing the Nurse act completely offended and prim when Mercutio busts out the sexual innuendoes. What's more comic is when the nurse enjoys Mercutio's dirty language and over-the-top flirtations. It also seems more accurate and in keeping with her character too. The Nurse, after all, makes plenty of dirty jokes in the play. Here's an example:

I must another way,
To fetch a ladder, by the which your love
Must climb a bird's nest soon when its dark. (2.5.9)

Here, she's literally talking about getting a ladder for Romeo to climb up so he can spend the night in Juliet's bedroom. To "climb a bird's nest" is also slang for having sex. The Nurse is like a mother to Juliet. She takes a great risk in helping her, and seems completely devoted to her. She makes fun of her, too, and is rude - but means only the best for Juliet. The Nurse talks a lot, often in a rambling way, but appears to be genuinely nice and caring. However, she advises Juliet to marry Paris and does not seem to appreciate how much Juliet loves Romeo. A mentor to both Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence constantly advises them to act with more caution and moderation. But Friar Laurence's own plans to help Romeo and Juliet end in tragedy. He's the guy, after all, who gives Juliet the concoction that puts her in a deep, deep, slumber that fools her family (and Romeo) into thinking she's dead. This makes Friar Laurence one of the most complex and interesting characters in the play: we don't know if he should be blamed or not. The1968 Zeffirelli film version of Romeo and Juliet highlights the irony of the Friar's role in the play. When the Friar tells Romeo, "Wisely and slow. They stumble that run fast," it is the Friar, not Romeo, who trips over his feet immediately afterwards (2.3.10). Zeffirelli also makes the Friar look like a coward when he runs out of the Capulet tomb in 5.3, leaving Juliet alone with Romeo's corpse. We also think the Friar is running a little too fast in his haste to use these kids (that would be Romeo and Juliet) as tools to patch up a hopeless family feud (2.2.9).

If you want to think about Friar Laurence some more, you might look at his relationship with Romeo and Juliet. How long has he known Romeo? Is he actually like a second father to him? Are they more like buddies? What is his relationship to Juliet? How long has he been her confessor? Does he also seem like a father to her? The Friar is like a father to Romeo. He often offers advice and clearly knows Romeo very well. He also seems to be wise, and is trusted by everyone. He knows a lot and appears to be practical. However, he takes a huge risk when he secretly marries Romeo and Juliet. His plan to save her does not work either. And his actions lead to the deaths of the couple. Credits bbc.co.uk/gcsebitesize
shmoop.com
examinations.ie
bbc.co.uk/schools/offbyheart
Reduced Shakespeare Company (youtube)
Royal Shakespeare Company (youtube)
Scottish Ballet (youtube)
West Side Story movie trailer(youtube) Mercutio Benvolio Tybalt Paris Lord Capulet The Nurse Lady Capulet The Friar Exam Questions Romeo and Juliet
This story has been retold through different genres.
Here are two famous examples- Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and the Oscar winner West Side Story. Can you identify what current TV show the ballet music is associated with?
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