Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare tells the story of two young lovers whose families are enemies. Because of the family feud their love story ends in tragedy.
It is very difficult to single out one character or cause of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. There are various events and misunderstandings which lead up to their deaths. However I am going to focus on two key characters: the nurse and Friar Lawrence. I have chosen these two characters because their actions play a major part in the tragic end.
The nurse is Juliet’s maid and helper. She has known her since childhood. Juliet trusts her with her secrets. After Juliet has met Romeo at the party, she gives the nurse the job of taking a message to him. The nurse does this despite the fact that she is employed by the Capulet’s and she knows that the Montague family is their sworn enemies. I think her actions are very immature.
In Shakespeare’s time the children of the rich were given wet nurses who raised the child as their own. Therefore the nurse and Juliet are as close as mother and daughter.
I feel she should have warned Juliet about the consequences because it was obvious something dreadful was bound to happen because of the old family feud. By sending the messages she encourages Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. The nurse shows Juliet how excited she is which gives Juliet confidence to marry Romeo secretly. She also shows Romeo excitement when she goes to tell Romeo how much Juliet loves him and wants to get married to him.
Without the nurse’s input into Romeo and Juliet’s relationship I don’t think they would have got so far with the marriage. Juliet would not have a person who she could use to send messages to Romeo and she would not have been encouraged by any excitement.
Romeo and Juliet may have other ways of getting messages through to each other but I still feel that it would not have gone so far in such a short period of time without the nurse sticking by her side so strongly.
The nurse’s job is to look after Juliet which she does not do properly. She has been employed by the mother and father of Juliet and her first consideration should have been to do her job correctly. The only reason she may have helped Romeo and Juliet is if she cared about how Juliet felt more than her job.
Following Romeo and Juliet’s secret marriage the nurse makes it possible for them to consummate the marriage. She helps Romeo to come to Juliet’s bed chamber and keeps look out while they spend the night together. In the morning she warns him about someone coming upstairs so he could escape. If the marriage was not consummated they could have got the marriage annulled easily. Again the nurse is being really irresponsible because she is acting like a teenager and giving them false hopes of being together when she knows very well that it is not possible.
Juliet is only13. She is very young and inexperienced. It was common for girls of her age to be married off. However, once Juliet has lost her virginity she would find it more difficult to find a husband. The nurse must have known this.
Juliet’s father insists that she marries Paris. He warns her that if she does not follow his wishes he will cast her out on the street and disinherit her.
Capulet:”An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend: An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, for by my soul I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee.”
Act 3 Scene 5 Lines 191-193
Juliet is in a desperate state, because her mother and her father have both turned against her. Naturally Juliet turns to the nurse for help and support because the nurse is closer to Juliet than her own mother.
I felt that the nurse should help Juliet as she had been doing the whole time, but that is proved wrong when she turns against her and tells her to marry Paris who her father favors. Throughout the play the nurse seems like a real friend to Juliet; helping her in every possible way, but at this moment when Juliet is in crisis she betrays her.
Nurse: “I think it best you married with the county, O, he’s a lovely gentleman!”
Act 2 Scene 5 Lines 217-219
The nurse saw the level of aggression in Juliet’s father and became more concerned about her own safety. She knew he would be furious if he found out she had been helping Juliet go against his commands. In the 16th century England the daughters of the rich were seen as property. They were given away by their families and had no rights. It was the same for the time when the play is set therefore Juliet knows she will not have the law on her side or anyone to support her.
As a direct result of the nurses actions Juliet realizes she is alone and she has to make her own decisions. As a consequence she goes to the Friar and agrees to take the potion.
Juliet: “I’ll to the Friar to know his remedy. If all else fail, myself have power to die.”
Act 3 Scene5 Lines 241-242
There is no real reason to why the nurse helps Juliet so much then turns against her feelings and opposes to what Juliet wants. It seems like she was only helping Juliet because she thought of the relationship as a joke. She may have played along with it for a bit of amusement. The nurse may not have realized how she may have been affected if Juliet’s parents found out that Juliet had her support.
In conclusion the nurse could have discouraged Juliet and warned her about the horrific outcome that may occur because of their love affair instead of helping her. She had an immense influence on Juliet because she had brought her up which means she may have been able to change Juliet’s mind about marrying Romeo in secret if not at all.
Friar Lawrence is the other character I will be looking at who I feel had a very big hand in the tragedy of the play. Friar Lawrence is the priest of the Montague family and he is very close to Romeo. Romeo and Friar Lawrence have a friendly relationship and Romeo feels he can trust Friar Lawrence with anything.
We first meet Friar Lawrence when Romeo confides in him that he loves Juliet and wants to marry her. Friar Lawrence agrees to marry the couple in secret.
Friar Lawrence: “in one respect I’ll thy assist be: For this alliance may so happy prove to turn your household rancor to pure love.”
Act 2 Scene 3 Lines 90-93
He should have been doing his job properly by making sure Romeo does not get into any trouble and stays away from the Capulets but instead he helps him get married to Juliet. The Friar should have warned Romeo about the outcomes of their secret affair and he could have also let his family know so they could have sorted the situation out. Friar Lawrence has good motives for marrying the couple. He knows about the feud and he hopes that if Romeo and Juliet get married it will bring the families together.
The wedding would not have been possible without Friar Lawrence because he is the one who performs the ceremony. The organizing is done by him and Romeo only follows his plan. He does not warn either Romeo or Juliet about the consequences of their secret marriage. After Romeo has killed Tybalt he hides with Friar Lawrence. Friar Lawrence arranges his escape to Mantua. This is a positive action that helps Romeo survive.
After Romeo has a fight with Juliet’s cousin Tybalt and he is banished Juliet goes to Friar Lawrence for help because the nurse turns against her. The Friar comes up with a plan for her which is complicated and is bound to go wrong. Friar Lawrence gives Juliet a potion to fake her death so that she could escape with Romeo. Meanwhile he intends to send Romeo a message so that he knows Juliet isn’t really dead. Unfortunately the message does not reach Romeo because the messenger is not allowed into Mantua.
The plan that Friar Lawrence made was for the safety of the couple but there were situations that he could have considered before setting it in action. There was no way that he could have known for sure if the message had reached Romeo. He acted with good intentions and he was under pressure. He still should have considered the consequences of the plan.
In the tomb when Juliet is alone with Romeo’s dead body Friar Lawrence runs away because the guards are coming.
Friar Lawrence: “Stay not to question for the watch is coming. Come, go, good Juliet; I dare no longer stay.”
Act 5 Scene 3 Lines 158-160
At that moment Friar Lawrence was only considering his own safety. It’s a direct result for Juliet’s actions. He leaves her alone with no option because her family is on their way to the tomb and there is no way out for her. I therefore blame Friar Lawrence for Juliet’s death. Had he stayed with her he could have prevented her death.
I feel Friar Lawrence and the Nurse are both equally to blame for Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. Both Friar Lawrence and the Nurse were there to support Romeo and Juliet, but they failed.
No one person is to blame for their deaths. Tybalt or Lord Capulet could also be blamed for their roles. I feel that Romeo and Juliet are also to blame for their own deaths. They had only known each other a short while and yet rushed into marriage. They knew about the feud between their families, but didn’t think about the consequences. Even though they were only teenagers they still acted irresponsibly.