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    Consider the character of Juliet Essay

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    Consider the character of Juliet. How does she change and develop from the beginning of the play and once she meets Romeo? Refer to Shakespeare’s use of language.

    Romeo and Juliet, one of the most revered and profoundly known love stories of all time. Adopted for play performance from an Italian poem first written by Masuccio Salernitano in 1476, William Shakespeare elaborated and enhanced the great tragedy; and it is his version that continues to be remembered through the ages. Shakespeare is worldly renowned as one of the best dramatists of all time and was famous for his plays – especially for his tragedies – such as Macbeth, Othello and Hamlet. These were most likely tinted by his own life experiences and idealistic view of love – which we can see from his other work, take for example Sonnet 18 – Shall I compare thee?

    In the play Romeo and Juliet, the Elizabethan audience’s moral and social views (such as marriage and religion) are challenged as they are forced to see the inadequacies or sometimes harshness of the customs of their era. We are introduced to a young girl of 13 years, born into the comfort of an upper class family, whose life had already been predestined for her – in terms of marriage – and was expected to be compliant with her parents’ wishes. She is seen today as one of the best tragic heroines, because she starts off as a submissive and naive child who is unaware of the ways of the world and blossoms into a strong and resolute woman who overlooks the meaningless customs and is prepared to go to extreme lengths to fulfil her true destiny.

    In Act 1 Scene 3, we meet the heroine of the play – Juliet – for the first time. She is being introduced to the audience by her nurse, as she calls her to come: ‘What lamb! What lady-bird!’ This first comparison already gives an impression that Juliet is vulnerable, quiet or needs lots of guidance, as lambs do. This could also be interpreted to mean that the Nurse believes that Juliet was just a follower of her parents’ commands and didn’t have a mind of her own. We later see in this scene that Juliet was prepared to be guided wholly by her parents in view of marriage. ‘ I’ll look to like, if looking liking move./But no more deep will I endart mine eye/ Than your consent gives strength to make it fly’ and that she was very discreet and subdued. When Juliet does come, she answers ‘What is your will?’ This response shows some of the characteristics of Juliet. It shows her directness and straight-to-the-point attitude towards her mother. This could be because she didn’t see her mother often (they only talk twice in the play) and so there must be an important reason why her mother needed to call her. It could also be that she wasn’t close to her mother and so didn’t feel comfortable talking to her – we can clearly see that Juliet is much closer to her Nurse than to Lady Capulet (we see this in the casualness of speech between them, Act 2 Scene 5, and also when Juliet confides in the Nurse in Act 3 Scene 5).

    Lady Capulet asks the Nurse to leave them so that they could speak privately, although quickly rethinks saying that the Nurse should ‘hear our (that is, Juliet’s parents) counsel’. It seems as if Lady Capulet doesn’t feel very comfortable talking about this subject to her daughter, because the speech comparing Paris to a book seems rehearsed, as it is in the style of a poem, for example ‘This precious book of love, this unbound lover/ To beautify him only lacks a cover’.

    This is the first appearance of double meanings in the play, as Lady Capulet is actually talking about ‘bed’ covers rather than book covers, and she is possibly trying to entice Juliet into thinking of the sexual pleasures that will come with marriage.

    Also, despite the fact that Juliet had witnessed her mother using double meanings, she did not begin to use them until she met Romeo. This shows that even her mother didn’t make as much of an impression on her behaviour than Romeo does. Shakespeare uses poetry in Romeo and Juliet, only at scenes of high importance such as the meeting of Romeo and Juliet, and so Lady Capulet’s speech doesn’t seem genuine. For example Romeo introduces poetic language to Juliet when they meet for the first time at the party and she carries on the poem such as ‘palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss’. Using poetic language is Romeo and Juliet’s secret language only to be used by them, and Lady Capulet intrudes on their poetic language by using it herself. This can be seen as allegory for the outcome of the whole of the play, the family intrude on Romeo and Juliet’s relationship resulting in the death of both of them.

    Children being close to their nurses was common at the time. The Nurse’s opinion was important, as nurses were valued members of the household in Elizabethan times, and would be in charge of the welfare of babies. The children were usually breastfed and taken care of, and raised by the nurse.

    Lady Capulet speaks about Juliet being of a ‘pretty age’- or ready for marriage. This was a common view of the time, and Lady Capulet seems to have previous experience on the matter, as she had a baby around Juliet’s age which identifies her to be roughly 28 years old and since her husband is an old man (act 1, Scene 2, Line 3), it raises the suspicion that she herself had an arranged marriage, as was the custom of the day. The Nurse then has a long speech which reminisces about the period of when Juliet was born, and then addresses her. The way Juliet responds is commendable, for after her mother, Lady Capulet has become exasperated (‘hold thy peace’) she continues to be respectful of the Nurse and finds a polite way to stop her ramblings – ‘I pray thee Nurse, say I’ (line 49).

    Lady Capulet shifts the focus of the conversation and asks a direct question about Juliet’s inclination to be married. Juliet answers in a way intended to please. She describes marriage as an ‘honour’. This line probably shows how marriage was seen as a guarantee and gateway to a good life and that marriage was the highlight of a young maid’s life.

    Juliet also says that marriage was something that she ‘dream[s] not of’. She had not really thought about the concept of marriage before, but Lady Capulet responds quickly and pushes Juliet for an answer, and gets to the point saying that Paris seeks Juliet and then urges Juliet to look him over, and this was crudely encouraged by the Nurse. Juliet answers tactfully in lines 97-99; she makes a non-committal statement by saying she will expect to like him if looks is what stirs her to like him. This shows that she is very intelligent and reserved in her speech (despite her sentences being short and limited in variety in this scene) while still remaining tactful. She doesn’t want to offend her mother by refusing her suggestion, “I’ll look to like if looking liking move”, although she has her own mind and can make her own decisions and so doesn’t make any promises. It also demonstrates Juliet’s mature views for her age, as most girls of 13 would have been excited to have a man request for her to be his wife. It also shows her utmost obedience as she will not look any further than her mother gives consent to.

    The use of language differs greatly between the Nurse, Lady Capulet and Juliet. While the Nurse ‘witters on’ and repeats herself and talks about irrelevant and unnecessary things, there is an extreme contrast to Juliet’s frank and direct unequivocal approach to speech. This can be seen lines 20-50 of the Nurses speech in Act 1 Scene 3. Also, Juliet’s language contrasts with Lady Capulet’s whose speech – in rhyming couplets – was very poetic, creative and imaginative, using sophisticated vocabulary, hidden messages and imagery such as metaphors and similes. Juliet’s language is simple and direct and she uses short, sharp sentences.

    I think Shakespeare uses this great contrast to emphasise how shrewd and quiet Juliet is, she only speaks four times throughout this scene compared to the extensive speeches that Lady Capulet and the Nurse give. It also shows her development from a na�ve girl to a determined woman that knows exactly what she wants. From the beginning of this scene the majority of her lines are questions, (“what is your will?”) which indicates that she is looking for knowledge, or needs to be guided – which corresponds to the “lamb” comment earlier in the scene. Her language however, changes and her use of short sentences stop because of the meeting of her true love, Romeo. This could also be seen as contradictory to the Nurses ‘lamb’ comment earlier, as it shows she has her own mind, and can decide on what she wants for her own life. A contrast can also be from what Juliet was like before she meets Romeo (she was looking for knowledge), but once she meets Romeo, she has found knowledge.

    When Juliet meets Romeo in Act 1 Scene 5, it is a pivotal point of change in her language. She develops from her simplistic sentences, to sophisticated ones that contain double meanings and creative imagery. Romeo greets her with a bout of flattery, by introducing himself as a pilgrim approaching her, and metaphorically naming Juliet as a ‘holy shrine’, and then he suggests that they kiss. Love poetry of this era, usually identified the woman as a “saint, angel or goddess, whom the male suitor approaches with expression of his unworthiness and undeserving” ( By involving religion into his greeting he infers that his love for her is pure and untainted.

    Juliet follows on from his imagery of saints and religion, and pretends to be the saint, although she modestly refuses his kiss – using a pun on palmers, ‘I…palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss’ – by saying that religious piety is contented by the touching of a statue of a saint, and also with hands clasped in prayer. This shows how Juliet has taken into effect the double meanings now that she has met Romeo. The appreciation of double meanings allows her to tease and flirt with Romeo and also express her love for him. After another attempt at Romeo trying to get a kiss from her, Juliet refuses deftly once more, still playing on the religious imagery saying ‘lips they must use in prayer’. The touching of hands and lips shows that Shakespeare refers to the body quite a lot and so doesn’t reduce Romeo and Juliet’s love just to physical attraction. It is a much deeper and intimate relationship that they have already established within only a few lines being exchanged. This quickness and adeptness in speech to come up with a witty response for Romeo, has ‘kept her on her toes’, a skill which she will need later on to cope with the challenges she will face later on because of her love for Romeo.

    From their very first meeting she has developed her language. Romeo then again bids that she ‘let lips do what hands do’ (line 103), where she then again uses a play on words with ‘move’ – and so could not move to kiss him, ‘anymore than a statue of a saint could, no matter how much she wanted to grant his plea.’ ( The religious imagery is developed by the pair, with Juliet demonstrating herself to be just as witty as Romeo.

    After this build-up they both kiss, and Romeo says that ‘his sin is purged’. Juliet cleverly suggests that maybe she has now been given the sin that was on his lips and so ‘sweetly’ encourages another kiss.

    This mock ‘sin’ could be viewed literally. It could be taken to mean that Romeo has now corrupted her, with her new disobedient and crafty nature, as she now uses double meanings – which is seen throughout the play, especially at Act 4, Scene 1 – and has become more deceptive. This could also mean that Romeo has now introduced her to a new world, and has opened up a new horizon whereby love is not merely familial obedience, and that it is acceptable to go beyond the expectations of periodic culture and customs for the commitment to true love.

    The whole dialogue between Romeo and Juliet is in fact a Shakespearian sonnet, which was (the sonnet), the conventional structure of love poetry of the time. Romeo begins the sonnet and then Juliet then plays along – they invent and develop it together, both having a quatrain, and an exchange of lines. This equality was not very common though. Usually, love poetry was dominated by the hero/male character in the play. The woman was adored, and almost always remained silent – there are examples of this in John Donne’s work. Most of the time, a woman’s role in plays was subordinate to the males. To analyse this we need to address two things when the play was set (about 100-200 years previous to Elizabethan times) and the views of the Elizabethan era when the play was written. Women were treated as second-class citizens when the play was set, and when it was written things had only slightly gotten better. They were viewed as possessions, and could be pawned off to a wealthy suitor, and she usually had no say in the matter. Shakespeare however changes this by making Romeo and Juliet share equal parts and so sticking to the whole theme of the play which was changing values and steadfast traditions that conflicted with true love.

    For example Romeo and Juliet defy the ‘ancient grudge’ of the two feuding families and get married to one another in secret. This mutuality carries on throughout the play as they suffer together, because they are ‘equally caught up in their affection, equally helpless’ (

    The Nurse then interrupts Romeo and Juliet’s private moment, as she says that Juliet’s mother would like to speak to her. As the crowd begin to disperse, there is a moment of dramatic tension. Juliet wishes to know the name of her new found lover, and tries to point him out to the nurse – tension builds as the Nurse continues to identify the wrong person. There is dramatic irony in the sense that the audience knows that Romeo and Juliet both belong to families that are raging enemies of each other. In addition, Juliet’s verse seems to be a premonition (‘my grave is like to be my wedding bed’ – line 132) and also Romeo’s prediction (‘my life is my foes debt’ – line 115) of what is bound to happen at the end of the play; as if the love was ‘doomed’. This association between love and death runs throughout the play. When Juliet says ‘Prodigious birth of love it is to me’ (line 140) she marks out the lovers meeting in birth and death.

    In Act 2, Scene 2, Juliet for the first time is by herself, and away from all the other characters in the play (apart from Romeo – whom she is unaware of during her speech – who is secretly listening) is free to express her feelings. She talks about her love for Romeo, and the situation in the play because of the family feud. Her character seems to completely change within the short span of the couples’ meeting. She now sees the usual every day trivialities of life, and asks why Romeo is Romeo, and tells him to forsake his family and she will deny hers.

    This has become one of the most famous love scenes, but also has become clich�d through over-use. It has been adapted time and time again in different settings (such as a swimming pool in Baz Luhrmans feature film), and it is one of the defining moments in dramatic performance. However, its meaning has also become lost, as most people believe it to mean that Juliet is looking for Romeo, and so her line is “Where are you Romeo”, whereas she’s asking why Romeo is Romeo or a Montague – “Romeo Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo”. If he was from any other family, maybe her own family would be more willing for them to marry, although she has already begun to consider whether she needs or wants her family’s approval.

    This disobedience has sprung from her love for Romeo. She looks to see past the meaningless family feud, and sees it for what it is, childish differences, that she does not allow that to stop her feelings of true love. One of the most famous lines of Shakespeare’s work is recorded in Juliet’s speech ‘What’s in a name?/ That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet’ In this speech it is as if she throws of her childish ways, (in the same way as she asks Romeo to ‘doff’ his name in line 48) as she sees things from a new perspective and asks a simple question, but its answer changes her perception of her family and their grudge against the Capulets. ‘What’s Montague?’ She shakes off the preconceptions about status that had she had been conditioned to believe in since childhood, and we can see this through the conversation with her mother in Act 1 Scene 3, where she talks about ‘ladies of esteem’. She is questioning the value of the ‘class system’ , even though her family is well-respected and is wealthy (the Nurse talks about the ‘chinks’ of the household) she would give it all up for her lover.

    Although Juliet’s speech was not meant for Romeo’s ears, he speaks and says the he will forsake his name and family for her. Her responses to the description of Romeo’s journey shows a lot about her character. She is very frank and honest in nature and is almost dismissive of Romeo’s charming statements about his love for her. She is very practical and direct with her words and does not try to “sugar-coat” the situation. For example in lone 64 Juliet says ‘And the place death…if any of my kinsmen find thee here’. Romeo gives a poetic and elaborate reply about how love will triumph over all and ‘therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me’ although his idealistic and optimistic view of love was rather impractical in their situation. Juliet flatly replies ‘If they do see thee, they will murder thee’, although they stay on the balcony.

    When Romeo proceeds to compliment her, Juliet admits that she is in fact blushing, although it seems as if Juliet is apprehensive of words that could prove to be deceptive or doesn’t show one’s true feelings. Therefore Juliet then says ‘farewell compliment’ in line 89, and pleads to Romeo to speak plainly and clearly. “O gentle/Romeo if thou dost love pronounce it faithfully” This shows that Juliet doesn’t want Romeo’s fanciful, elaborated oath she would rather he spoke it plainly.

    After they confess their love to each other, another Juliet’s language changes once again. It becomes filled with metaphors and emotive language, just like Romeo’s. She also speaks of characters from Greek mythology which shows her to have more worldly knowledge than her mother and nurse think. She says Romeo is her ‘tassel-gentle’ which she wishes could call back if she had a ‘falconer’s voice’ (line 161-62). Juliet also seems to have a new view of her surroundings. Girls in the Elizabethan era wouldn’t leave home until they were married, but Juliet now views her home as some kind of prison as she states ‘Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud’. She can not talk loudly to Romeo because she is trapped in her own home, and this could also be viewed symbolically for the restraints of the couple. Her house (family and stature) are trapping her from being with Romeo, because he is a Montague, and she can not voice her opinions blatantly.

    Another example of Juliet’s language becoming richer, from the balcony meeting is when she describes the spoiled child with a pet bird. ‘That lets it hop a little from his hand/Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gives/And with a silken thread plucks it back again/So loving-jealous of his liberty’. These metaphors were not apparent in Juliet’s language until after she meets Romeo.

    In conclusion, Juliet’s character developed drastically from the beginning of the play until after she meets Romeo, and Shakespeare used her youthful innocence and naivety as a backdrop for which the story’s underlying themes of overpowering love and fate can unfold. Romeo and Juliet uses intense moments of dramatic suspense in which we see a young girl blossom into a strong and resolute woman who succeeds in her quest for love.

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