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Family Relationships in 'Romeo and Juliet'

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C Williams

on 12 March 2018

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Transcript of Family Relationships in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Act 1 Scene 3
The Nurse and Lady Capulet, Juliet's mother, call her to discuss the idea of her marrying Paris. This is the first time we meet Juliet in the play.
Act 4 Scene 2 & 3
Having seen Friar Lawrence, Juliet returns home, where she finds Capulet and Lady Capulet preparing for the wedding. She surprises her parents by repenting her disobedience and cheerfully agreeing to marry Paris. Capulet is so pleased that he insists on moving the marriage up a day, to Wednesday—tomorrow. Juliet heads to her chambers to, ostensibly, prepare for her wedding. Capulet heads off to tell Paris the news.
Act 3 Scene 4
Image by Tom Mooring
Act 3 Scene 5
Family Relationships in 'Romeo and Juliet'
After spending the night, Romeo hurries away as Juliet pulls in the ladder and begs fate to bring him back to her quickly.

Lady Capulet calls to her daughter. Juliet wonders why her mother would come to speak to her so early in the morning. Unaware that her daughter is married to Romeo, Lady Capulet enters the room and mistakes Juliet’s tears as continued grief for Tybalt. Lady Capulet tells Juliet of her deep desire to see “the villain Romeo” dead (3.5.80). In a complicated bit of punning every bit as impressive as the sexual punning of Mercutio and Romeo, Juliet leads her mother to believe that she also wishes Romeo’s death, when in fact she is firmly stating her love for him. Lady Capulet tells Juliet about Capulet’s plan for her to marry Paris on Thursday, explaining that he wishes to make her happy. Juliet is appalled. She rejects the match, saying “I will not marry yet; and when I do, I swear / It shall be Romeo—whom you know I hate— / Rather than Paris” (3.5.121–123). Capulet enters the chamber. When he learns of Juliet’s determination to defy him he becomes enraged and threatens to disown Juliet if she refuses to obey him. When Juliet entreats her mother to intercede, her mother denies her help.

After Capulet and Lady Capulet storm away, Juliet asks her nurse how she might escape her predicament. The Nurse advises her to go through with the marriage to Paris—he is a better match, she says, and Romeo is as good as dead anyhow. Though disgusted by her nurse’s disloyalty, Juliet pretends to agree, and tells her nurse that she is going to make confession at Friar Lawrence’s. Juliet hurries to the friar, vowing that she will never again trust the Nurse’s counsel. If the friar is unable to help her, Juliet comments to herself, she still has the power to take her own life.

Juliet the adult?
In the confrontation with her parents after Romeo’s departure, Juliet shows her full maturity. She dominates the conversation with her mother, who cannot keep up with Juliet’s intelligence and therefore has no idea that Juliet is proclaiming her love for Romeo under the guise of saying just the opposite. Her decision to break from the counsel of her disloyal nurse—and in fact to exclude her nurse from any part in her future actions—is another step in her development. By abandoning her nurse and upholding her loyalty toward her husband, Juliet steps fully out of girlhood and into womanhood.
Family Relationships
Thematically, this scene continues to develop the issue of parental influence, particularly the strength of that influence over girls. Lady Capulet, herself a woman who married at a young age, offers complete support for her husband’s plan for their daughter, and puts pressure on Juliet to think about Paris as a husband before Juliet has begun to think about marriage at all. Juliet admits just how powerful the influence of her parents is when she says of Paris:
“I’ll look to like, looking liking move; / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly” (1.3.100–101).
In effect, Juliet is saying that she will follow her mother’s advice exactly in thinking about Paris.

Capulet, Lady Capulet, and Paris walk together. Capulet says that because of the terrible recent events, he has had no time to ask his daughter about her feelings for Paris. Lady Capulet states that she will know her daughter’s thoughts by the morning. Paris is about to leave when Capulet calls him back and makes what he calls “a desperate tender of my child’s love” (3.4.12–13). Capulet says he thinks his daughter will listen to him, then corrects himself and states that he is sure Juliet will abide by his decision. He promises Paris that the wedding will be held on Wednesday, then stops suddenly and asks what day it is. Paris responds that it is Monday; Capulet decides that Wednesday is too soon, and that the wedding should instead be held on Thursday.
While providing a humorous moment, the Nurse’s silly anecdote about Juliet as a baby also helps to portray the inevitability of Juliet’s situation. The Nurse’s husband’s comment about Juliet falling on her back when she comes of age is a reference to Juliet one day engaging in the act of sex. His comment, therefore, shows that Juliet has been viewed as a potential object of sexuality and marriage since she was a toddler. In broad terms, Juliet’s fate to someday be given away in marriage has been set since birth. This suggests that women's only role is to become mothers and that they have no control over this fate.

This scene also provides insight into the three main female characters. Lady Capulet is a flighty, ineffectual mother: she dismisses the Nurse, seeking to speak alone with her daughter, but as soon as the Nurse begins to depart, Lady Capulet becomes nervous and calls the Nurse back. The Nurse, in her hilarious inability to stop telling the story about her husband’s innuendo about Juliet’s sexual development, shows a vulgar streak, but also a familiarity with Juliet that implies that it was she, and not Lady Capulet, who raised the girl. Indeed, it was the Nurse, and not Lady Capulet, who suckled Juliet as a baby (1.3.70).

Juliet herself is revealed in this scene as a rather naïve young girl who is obedient to her mother and the Nurse. But there are glimpses of a strength and intelligence in Juliet that are absent in her mother. Where Lady Capulet can't get the Nurse to cease with her story, Juliet stops it with a word. Juliet’s phrase
“But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly”
seems to imply a complete acquiescence to her mother’s control. But the phrase can also be interpreted as illustrating an effort on Juliet’s part to use vague language as a means of asserting some control over her situation. In this phrase, while agreeing to see if she might be able to love Paris, she is at the same time saying that she will put no more enthusiasm into this effort than her mother demands. This, therefore, makes it seem like she's a true teenager underneath her obedient appearance!
Taking it further...
Aristocratic Families
Could Shakespeare be making a comment on the relationships between parents and their children in aristocratic families here? It might be interesting to compare the parting words of Juliet's mother and the nurse, who is perhaps more like our idea of what a mother should be.

Lady Capulet:
"We follow thee.—Juliet, the county stays"
Here Lady Capulet is telling Juliet that the count Paris is waiting for her, but even this is an afterthought.
"Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days."

What do these two quotations imply about their respective relationships with Juliet?
Ideas: The nurse seems more caring, how? Is Lady Capulet focused on the count's feelings, rather than Juliet's? What does this imply? Is there more intimacy between the nurse and Juliet?
Lord Capulet's "disobedient wretch" speech.
Act 4 Scene 5
Early the next morning, the Capulet house is aflutter with preparations for the wedding. Capulet sends the Nurse to go wake Juliet. She finds Juliet dead and begins to wail, soon joined by both Lady Capulet and Capulet. Paris arrives with Friar Lawrence and a group of musicians for the wedding. When he learns what has happened, Paris joins in the lamentations. The friar reminds them all that Juliet has gone to a better place, and urges them to make ready for her funeral. Sorrowfully, they comply, and exit.

Act 5 Scene 3
Fathers and Daughters
Capulet’s reasons for moving up the date of Juliet’s marriage to Paris are not altogether clear. In later scenes, he states that he desires to bring some joy into a sad time, and to want to cure Juliet of her deep mourning (of course, ironically, she mourns her husband’s banishment and not Tybalt’s death). But it is also possible that in this escalating time of strife with the Montagues, Capulet wants all the political help he can get. A marriage between his daughter and Paris, a close kinsman to the Prince, would go a long way in this regard. Regardless of Capulet’s motivation, his decision makes obvious the powerlessness of women in Verona. Juliet’s impotence in this situation is driven home by the irony of Capulet’s determination to push the wedding from Wednesday to Thursday when a few days earlier he wanted to postpone the wedding by two years.
"I think she will be ruled in all respects by me. Nay- I doubt it not"
Shakespeare uses dramatic irony here: Juliet has already disobeyed her father and the audience are aware of it. Elizabethan daughters were expected to obey their father's will in everything.
It could be argued that Capulet's fear of being embarrassed is greater than his care for Juliet's wishes. As he corrects himself here, it is clear that he wants to present himself in a strong and positive light to Paris, whom he refers to as his "friend" repeatedly, although this might have something to do with the "County's" status too?
Act 3 Scene 5
Patriarchal Power
Juliet feels so strong that she defies her father, but in that action she learns the limit of her power. Strong as she might be, Juliet is still a woman in a male-dominated world. One might think that Juliet should just take her father up on his offer to disown her and go to live with Romeo in Mantua. That is not an option. Juliet, as a woman, cannot leave society; and her father has the right to make her do as he wishes. Though defeated by her father, Juliet does not revert to being a little girl. She recognizes the limits of her power and, if another way cannot be found, determines to use it: for a woman in Verona who cannot control the direction of her life, suicide, the brute ability to live or not live that life, can represent the only means of asserting authority over the self.

A social system where the father is the head of the family and men have authority over women and children or a society governed by men and male concerns.
Ie-Elizabethan England or the society of Verona in the play.
Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

Before the play even starts, in the Prologue, the Chorus tells us that Romeo and Juliet is a play about family conflict. "Two households" (that would be the Montagues and the Capulets), "both alike in dignity" (of the same social standing) are going to be involved in a rather messy, and uncivil family feud. We are told, even before we meet them, that Romeo and Juliet will die as a result.
Nonetheless, the fact that "civil" blood will be shed suggests that Shakespeare is interested in more than two families and their members; but in the impact that a fight between two families important to a society can have on the whole community.
In their mourning for Juliet, Lord and Lady Capulet appear less as a hostile force arrayed against the lovers and more as individuals. The audience gains an understanding of the immense hopes that the Capulets had placed in Juliet, as well as a sense of their love for her.
At the end of Act 5 Scene 3, we are shown what has become of these two great families. Chaos reigns in the churchyard, where Paris’s page has brought the watch, the Prince and the Capulets. Romeo, Juliet, and Paris are discovered dead in the tomb.
Montague arrives, declaring that Lady Montague has died of grief for Romeo’s exile. The Prince shows Montague his son’s body. Upon the Prince’s request, Friar Lawrence succinctly tells the story of Romeo and Juliet’s secret marriage and its consequences. Balthasar gives the Prince the letter Romeo had previously written to his father. The Prince says that it confirms the friar’s story. He scolds the Capulets and Montagues, calling the tragedy a consequence of their feud and reminding them that he himself has lost two close kinsmen: Mercutio and Paris.
Capulet and Montague clasp hands and agree to put their vendetta behind them. Montague says that he will build a golden statue of Juliet, and Capulet insists that he will raise Romeo’s likeness in gold beside hers. The Prince takes the group away to discuss these events, pronouncing that there has never been “a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo” (5.3.309).
Key Quotation
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

Juliet here is struggling with the conflict between her feelings for Romeo and her knowledge that he is an enemy of her family. She tries to separate Romeo from his identity as a Montague, and contemplates deserting her family for him. She does not imagine that their love and their families' opposition can be reconciled. These two types of love are opposed to each other.
Key Quotation
Hang thee, young baggage! disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church o' Thursday,
Or never after look me in the face:
Speak not, reply not, do not answer me;
My fingers itch.
Here, Capulet is becoming passionately angry because Juliet is disobeying him. Not only does he call her such names as "young baggage" and "disobedient wretch," he tells her that if she doesn't get herself married on Thursday then he's kicking her out of the house. There is real violence here too in “hang thee” and “fingers itch” which has led some directors to portray Capulet almost as an abusive father.
What do you think Shakespeare is suggesting about fathers and daughters in general and aristocratic fathers and daughters specifically?
Key Quotation
An you be mine, I'll give you to my friend;
And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in
the streets,

According to Lord Capulet, obedience to the head of the household is a prerequisite for even remaining part of the family. The reference to Paris as a “friend” could be read in a couple of ways. Perhaps he’s really embarrassed to be letting down his friend, but perhaps “friend” is actually a euphemism for financial supporter and Capulet is most upset that he’ll lose out. In fact, obeying Lord Capulet is pretty much the definition of being a Capulet—think about the Capulet servants, who are part of the family as long as they swear loyalty to him. This is more Family than family.
Key Quotation
How now, my headstrong! where have you been gadding?
Where I have learn'd me to repent the sin
Of disobedient opposition
To you and your behests, and am enjoin'd

Juliet tells her father what he wants to hear: that she will be obedient and do what he wants her to do. She even lies that she's been off at Friar Laurence's cell, confessing her sins (being a disobedient daughter).

The thing is, Juliet now has a new master: her husband. She's obeying her husband by disobeying her father; Shakespeare’s audience would see this as the right thing to do, but only because she is married to Romeo in the eyes of God.
Key Quotation
She’s dead, deceased, she’s dead. Alack the day!
Alack the day. She’s dead, she’s dead, she’s dead!

Again here we see that the nurse has a key maternal role in the family: she is just as upset as Lady Capulet. In fact, Lady Capulet seems to model her grief on that of the nurse, almost repeating her lament word for word. Interestingly, both women are portrayed as extremely emotional in this scene, whereas Capulet, though upset, keeps his cool.
What could this say about his role in the family and society in general?
Key Quotation
O me, O me! My child, my only life,
Revive, look up, or I will die with thee!—
Help, help! Call help.

Here Juliet's mother shows clear grief at Juliet's death, even suggesting that she'll die too as a result. Shakespeare here is clearly showing that family love is as powerful as that between 'star-crossed lovers'. The structure of the speech even implies this: repetition gives the impression that Lady Capulet is emotional. The mention of Juliet being the only Capulet child here also reminds the audience of Capulet's lamenting "Why had we but one" earlier in the play when Juliet disobeyed him. Perhaps Shakespeare is telling his audience that the Capulets are being rightly punished for their treatment of her.
Key Quotation
Ha? Let me see her. Out, alas! She’s cold.
Her blood is settled, and her joints are stiff.
Life and these lips have long been separated.
Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.

Shakespeare uses Capulet here to fulfill two functions: first, he proves to the audience that Juliet really seems dead, by going into physical detail. This creates dramatic irony, since we know she is just asleep, but it also creates some doubt about whether she will wake again. Secondly, Capulet fulfills his role as powerful man of the house; he is grieved, but will not show this in an overflow of emotion.
What do you make of his description of Juliet here? Does it seem very fatherly?
Key Quotation
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.

The prince, a man in a position of power, ends the play with this rhyming couplet on "woe" and "Romeo". Despite the deaths of the protagonists, peace has been found and Shakespeare shows us this through the finality of this last rhyme too.

What do you think is the overriding message of the play on family?
Key Quotation
"All are punished"

At the end of the play, Shakespeare makes it very clear that the feud hasn mended, but at a cost. The Montagues and Capulets are not innocent victims who've lost children, but deserved what the prince calls a 'punishment'.

What point do you think Shakespeare is trying to make here?
That families should, but often don’t, think about each others’ needs and wants.
That families aren’t just blood relations, that we have a duty to our wider community as a family too.
That aristocratic families, who have no excuse not to look after each other, are often the worst at this; money seems to get in the way of love.
That peace within, or between, families is the most important thing.
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