I am writing to you to aid your research, rehearsal and performance of this fabulous play in which you have the very important role of playing Juliet.
Shakespeare wrote the majority of his masterpieces in Stratford-on-Avon but he set the stories in foreign countries, in this case Verona, but based them upon the customs of that time that he knew from the area he worked and lived in. This life was very different to the one we have now with different understandings about how people, especially children, should behave and their attitude towards their parents. This vast difference comes across very strongly in this scene (Act 3 scene 5).
Juliet was born into a noble house and in these places marriage was often contracted at a young age for many reasons including property, prosperity and family alliance. But the average age of marriage was still quite high, in the middle twenties. Women married younger than men; with an average gap of three years which is similar to the age of consent which happens to be much younger than that of today. In 1619 it was 12 for a girl and 14 for a boy and again this is apparent in this scene as Juliet is not even 14 when she is betrothed to Paris and consummates her love to Romeo. Shakespeare himself was married at the age of 18 as was normal suggestible by the low marriage age in that period. The reasoning behind this late marriage age is that it took a long time for a couple to acquire enough belongings to set up a household. This why children of noble birth had to respect their parents marriage wishes otherwise they would be left without resources. This induces fear of acting without permission which is strengthened because of their young age which also induces further tragedy.
In society of that time, children were expected to obey their parents in all circumstances and parents also had the right to arrange their children’s marriage. Especially their daughters. But this meant Juliet and her fellow females would be subject to this rule twice over: female to male, and child to parent. But religious teaching enforced that children should not be forced into a marriage that they resisted.
This scene plays a major part in moving the plot forward and from here the tragedy begins to build as all other characters are either abusing Romeo or saying he is lost forever. Juliet’s plan to kill herself is very ironic because both Romeo and Juliet end up committing suicide because of their families’ feud. This feud is exaggerated in this scene because both Lady Capulet and the Nurse try to put Romeo down ‘That same villain, Romeo’.
Juliet’s character undergoes massive changes in this scene. At the beginning and throughout Juliet still refers to her mother as ‘Madam’ or ‘Lady Mother’ which is extremely polite and expected of her. But her tone of voice changes. Her words have underlying meanings and she is deceiving her parents. This shows she has matured as she is no longer an innocent, obedient, submissive and weak little girl but a strong willed young woman with an independent mind. Also showing this is Juliet’s emotional state as it gets ever more complex. This must be conveyed to the audience as upset after Romeo leaving, happy about consummating their love on their first night together, yet fear from knowingly doing wrong and confusion about her feelings towards Tybalt’s death. This scene also shows how Juliet is taking control of her own life by firstly deceiving her parents, out rightly refusing to abide by their wishes and marry Paris but still showing strong devotion towards her husband and lover even though she faces great peril. The audience’s opinion of Juliet vastly improves at this point appealing to their emotional state as human beings and the pity they feel towards her for she cannot be with the man she passionately adores.
The fact that Romeo and Juliet are in love at such a young age may seem rather false to many people but this scene proves Juliet’s undying devotion and love doesn’t falter even whilst facing eviction from her family and home.
The relationship hasn’t changed between Juliet and her mother up until now but it falters when Capulet enters. Lady Capulet is angry and ashamed that her daughter would refuse such an offer and embarrass them so but the slight maternal instinct she must have towards Juliet is overpowered by the above as she doesn’t reach out to her daughter to help her. Capulet is extremely angry and ashamed which is understandable as in a noble house, the reputation and respect of the family name had to be maintained. Therefore, the relationship between Juliet and her parents in this scene means she is more isolated and alone than before. This isn’t helped by the nurse, who is Juliet’s closest friend, ho offers no comfort what so ever and even further offends Juliet by abusing Romeo herself. Juliet now has no one to turn to for advice and solace so she feels her only way out is death. If they had been more understanding and not forced a dictatorship upon Juliet, she may not have come to this conclusion.
Several themes are developed in this scene and all are big contributors to the final tragedy. Juliet is battling against her parents will about marrying Paris which is surrounded by the authority of the elders, and so is battling for the right to marry the man she loves even though they belong to feuding families. Secondly, there is love versus duty. Should Juliet follow her heart or abide by her duty to do her parents wishes? Comedy versus tragedy is a very important theme as the plot battles within itself even though we know from the chorus at the beginning that fate has already been decided and tragedy will override. All of the events in this plot build up to a final tragedy which is destined to happen as it is foretold that even such a strong and binding love as theirs will not survive the turmoil of feuding family’s, family honour and duty to one’s parents.
Shakespeare uses imagery to build up a picture of the argument between Juliet and her parents whilst using the correct language to inform and hide the true meanings behind Juliet’s words. At the beginning of this scene Juliet is upset, so should have silent tears running down her cheeks and only the tone of voice should give away her sadness so as to build up the confusion and upset further on in the scene. All of the lines in this scene have double meanings so on lines such as ‘yet let me weep for such a feeling loss’ they should be delivered carefully and thoughtfully to invoke the dramatic irony. When Lady Capulet starts insulting Romeo, Juliet will feel immediate anger and resentment so the tone of voice should change again to show anger and hatred rather than sadness. ‘What villain madam?’ must be conveyed defensively without replying too fast to show Juliet’s instinct to stand up for her husband without alerting Lady Capulet.
Juliet’s speech of refusal to marry Paris is very important because it shows how Juliet’s character and attitude has changed. It must be said in a strong, clear, determined, defiant and independent voice that contrasts to the puppet-like one of earlier on in the play. Towards the end of the scene the sobbing must be built up especially when Capulet enters the room to show his authority and strength over Juliet. Also, Juliet is becoming more desperate and cautious by the second, so this must be conveyed to the audience in her voice and body language. At the end of the scene Juliet must shrivel up into her quietly confused, desperate and sad frame of mind but still panicky to show her isolation by having fear in her eyes and voice. Her anger must overrule this frame occasionally to express her anger towards the other characters, and her horror and disbelief that the nurse is no longer by her side must also be shown in the line ‘Speakest thou from thy heart?’
The mixed emotions conjured up in this scene and the amount of drama created through the love of two people is phenomenal. It varies from happiness to sadness, anger to disbelief, and various states of confusion. This creates drama through the entire play as it is unpredictable which creates suspense and a feeling that a character is about to explode with emotion at any one time. Shakespeare is very successful at dramatising the situation because of all the mixed emotions and the contrast in social status and society from then to this day. This scene fits in with the entire play because it shows all the contrasts between Juliet’s previous life and her life with Romeo which forced her to mature quicker than is probably good for you. It fits because it shows how deceiving Juliet had to be because of society and because of these wrongs in the society; it shows the tragedy that was destined to happen.
I hope this has been of use to you and will aid you to take on this role as it is a very important part and must be performed correctly. I wish you every success with ‘Romeo and Juliet’.