Examine the theme of parental conflict in Romeo and Juliet. Discuss the relevance of this theme for both a modern day audience and a Shakespearean audience.
In Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet there is a theme of parental conflict present. An Elizabethan and modern day audience would react differently to issues raised about parental conflict in the play. I intend to look at the differences and analyse them to highlight contrasts between these societies and show how Shakespeare is still relevant today.
I will set my essay out in a structure; I will begin by writing about the father daughter relationship, move on to the mother daughter relationship, importance of nurse and friar, and relationship with nurse. I will end the essay by concluding my points. In each section I will discuss societies expectations behaviour and social code, closeness, attitude, quotes and tone from Romeo and Juliet, characters personality and the message Shakespeare was trying to give out.
One of the main relationships shown in Romeo and Juliet is that of the father and daughter. In sixteenth century England the father was treated like the lord and master by all including his wife and children where the property of their parents and were to give them the respect a servant gives a master. It was very considered foolish to marry for love, this meant it was the duty of the father to find a suitable husband for his daughter. The father would want his daughter to marry above or within her social group to a ‘gallant, young, and noble gentleman’ (Act 3 Scene 5 line 113-114). This type of practice only took place in the wealthy classes, so to secure their position in the social hierarchy.
In Act 1 Scene 2 Paris is eager to marry Juliet and seeks approval from Capulet. Capulet at first believes Juliet to be too young but Paris assures him that, “Younger than she are happy mothers made”(Act 1 Scene 2 Line 12) and he eventually comes round to Paris’ idea. When Juliet is told of the arrangement she says that marriage, “is an honour that I dream not of”, she is obedient and promises to give consideration to the man her parents have chosen. Then she meets Romeo. The major event of parental conflict comes in Act 3 Scene 5; this is just after the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt and the exile of Romeo. Romeo and Juliet have just consecrated their marriage and Romeo leaves, Lady Capulet comes in and finds Juliet crying, as this is mother daughter relationship I will save my analysis for the next section.
When Capulet arrives he at first shows sympathy but grows angry and tells her to calm down or he will get enraged, “Without sudden calm, will overset / Thy tempest tossed body” (Lines 136-137). When Capulet finds out Juliet does not want to marry Paris he grows more furious to the extent that he calls her names and his, “fingers itch”(Line 164) to hit her. In Act 4 Scene 2 Juliet apologises for her disobedience but this is only because she is going to fake her death not because she is truly sorry. These are the only times Capulet and Juliet talk, which might give an insight into the reason Juliet is so disobedient or has a poor relationship with her father.
In the sixteenth century audience there was different places for different classes. These different classes interpret the play differently due to their social standing. The Groundlings were normally lower class as these were cheap tickets due to the conditions; people stood in the centre of the theatre on the ground with no cover from the weather. These people would have worked for the upper classes like Capulet. They would have disliked them as they were considered better people than the lower classes. The sight of Juliet defying her father would have been enjoyable to them. This would have been so enjoyable because they would see their so called superiors not being able to control a little girl and the families suffer so much because of their children. The upper classes sitting on seats would have been disgusted with the behaviour of Juliet. A child should respect her elders and accept the wonderful husband her parents found her. The sheer idea that love can make a successful marriage was preposterous to them so Juliet would have been shunned by the upper classes.
A modern day audience would have a completely different opinion. In modern society there is no obvious class structure and everyone is considered equal. Arranged marriages are very uncommon and mostly only occur in Asian tradition nowadays. This audience would find Capulet attitude towards his daughters choice appalling as it is considered that people are allowed to make their own choice in who they want to marry and people consider what Capulet did as abuse.
Capulet tries to be a good father but sometimes it does not seem it. Capulet has a strong character and his family honour and image is very important. At the start of the play when the fight breaks out Capulet wants to get involved to fight for the honour of his name, “Give me my longsword, ho”(Act 1 Scene 1 Line 69). At the party Capulet stops Tybalt from fighting with Romeo because an attack on a man thought high of in the views of Verona would be a mistake. Capulet does not want Tybalt to ruin his public image by starting a fight at his party, “You’ll make a mutiny among my guests”(Act 1 Scene 5 Line 79). Capulet does love his daughter this can be seen in Act 1 Scene 2 where he is constantly thinking of her well being, “too soon marr’d”(Line 13) he is afraid marrying so young will end badly. She is all he has left, “Earth has swallow’d all my hopes but she” (Line 14). Capulet at this point is happy to allow Juliet to choose for herself, “My will to her consent is but a part” (Line 17) Capulet’s consent is only part of it. “within her scope of choice / Lies my consent and fair according voice” (Lines 18-19) he is saying that Juliet’s choice has his consent to marry her. Although Capulet say it is Juliet’s choice he probably gets enraged in Act 3 Scene 5 because of the stress of his nephew in law being murdered. He would also be mad with her because he has agreed with Paris about the wedding that he would be embarrassed to call if off because his daughter is making a fuss. It would make it seem he is not a good father and can’t keep his daughter under control.
I think Shakespeare’s message in this part of the play is that fathers must keep control of their daughters as a disobedient girl can bring trouble to her family with her misled ideas of what she wants.
Another relationship in Romeo and Juliet is that of the mother and daughter. In a sixteenth century household the mother was meant to co-ordinate the running of the house, this meant telling the servants what they had to do in an upper class house. Wives are the property of their husbands and should treat them as a master and obey their wishes. The mother has a stronger relationship with the daughter than the father but a nurse does most of the responsibilities of raising a child.
Act 1 Scene 3 is the first conversation between Lady Capulet and Juliet. In this scene Lady Capulet informs Juliet of Paris’ proposal of marriage. Lady Capulet calls Nurse back, ” Thou knowest my daughter’s of a pretty age.” (Line 11) Nurse knows Juliet’s age and knows her well, like a friend; this is why she is called back to hear the conversation. When asked by Lady Capulet, “How stands your dispositions to be married?” (Line 66) Juliet replies by saying, “It is an honour I dream not of.” (Line 67). When asked, “can you love this gentleman?” (Line 80) Juliet says, “I’ll look to like, if looking liking moves;” she will expect to like him if looking is enough to like him. Act 3 Scene 5 also involves conversation between Lady Capulet and Juliet. This is just after Tybalt’s murder and Romeo’s exile so Juliet is upset. Lady Capulet talks of Romeo as a villain, “That same villain Romeo.” Juliet has to pretend that she also hates Romeo as to not arise suspicion, “Indeed I never shall be satisfied / With Romeo, till I behold him – dead – ” (Line 94). Lady Capulet discusses poisoning Romeo in Mantua; “he shall soon keep Tybalt company;”(Line 91). After talking of killing Romeo, Lady Capulet tells Juliet that next Thursday morning she, “Shall happily make thee there a joyful bride” (Line 115). Juliet appeals to her mother to, “tell my lord and father, madam / That I will not marry yet”(Lines 120-121) but she says no fearing the wrath of Capulet and tells Juliet to, “tell him so yourself;”. It is obvious that Lady Capulet loves Juliet but does not want to go against her husband because he is much more powerful than she is.
The audience from the sixteenth century would believe Lady Capulet to be acting in the best way possible. All classes would believe a wife should respect and fear defying her husband but still love her daughter.
A modern day audience would be ashamed at Lady Capulet for not standing up to her husband and helping Juliet. It is considered now that both sexes are equal. No one sex is dominant. Women are now less fearful of their husbands as it is considered immoral to hit or otherwise scare your wife into submission.
Lady Capulet is confident when Capulet is not around she is quite outward. She openly plans with Juliet how to kill Romeo and she talks of finding out about Paris by using the simile of a book. When Capulet is in the room she seems to grow scared and says hardly a thing only giving little comments to please Capulet, like in Act 3 Scene 5 lines 139-140, “Ay, sir, but she will none, she gives you thanks / I would the fool married to her grave.” Lady Capulet is being sarcastic and says the last bit to please Capulet because he would not like Juliet’s decision. Family is important to Lady Capulet. Lady Capulet is so upset at the death of Tybalt her nephew that she begs for death of Romeo, “For blood of ours, shed blood of Montague.” (Act 3 Scene 1 Line 145). When Prince does not offer this she goes about finding ways to kill Romeo and decides to poison Romeo in Mantua, “Shall give him such an unaccustom’d dram”.
Shakespeare’s message about wives that he gives through Lady Capulet is they should be obedient most to her husband over everyone else including children.
The importance of the friar in this story is as a herbalist and a priest. Friar Lawrence knows the power of, ” plants, herbs, stones and their true qualities”(Act 2 Scene 3 Line 16). Friar Lawrence make potions for healing, but also has the knowledge of poisons like the one he give Juliet to mimic death. The Friar does weddings, “That thou consent to marry us today” (Act 2 Scene 3 Line 64). He weds Romeo and Juliet and was most likely going to marry Paris and Juliet as well. Friar Lawrence often offers advice for Romeo and Juliet and it was his idea for Juliet to take his potion to simulate death, “And this distilling liquor drink thou off”(Act 4 Scene 2 Line 94). Then tell Romeo so he can come and take her to Mantua and rejoin as husband and wife, “Shall Romeo bear thee hence to Mantua”.
The Friar also takes confession, “Have you got leave to go to shrift today” (Act 2 Scene 5 Line 66). Nurse asks if Juliet has leave to go to confession (shrift) to which the reply is yes, Nurse then tells Juliet to go to Friar Lawrence’s cell.
The Nurse is important to the raising of Juliet, as such a task is not appropriate for a woman of Lady Capulet’s standing. As Juliet grew up in the care of the Nurse she has grown to be like a best friend to Juliet. Nurse acts as the go between for Romeo and Juliet, ” What a’clock / Should I send to thee?” (Act 2 Scene 3 Lines 167- 168) Juliet is asking what time she should send a messenger to find out where and when they shall be married; this messenger is the Nurse. The Nurse has not much to do with Lady or Lord Capulet.
A sixteenth century lower class audience would be pleased that such a pillar of society like a Friar and an important member of the household like the Nurse were helping to break down two upper class families by encouraging this couple to go against their parents wishes. The upper classes would be shocked at the possibility that these people they would trust so much could fuel such a pointless affair.
A modern audience would be relieved that with all these people against the love of Romeo and Juliet there are a few who will help this relationship to work. The thinking and skills of the Friar would be particularly outstanding in the success of the couple had it not have failed because of a late message.
Shakespeare’s message about the people we choose trust is that they could be helping a cause that would not be acceptable to us. You are always ignorant of other peoples actions.