Why is Juliet under so much pressure in this scene? Explain the difficulties she faces and comment on the way she reacts to the adults around her.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a complex play which shows the tangled web of human emotions. Elizabethan England was an era of male dominance. Juliet finds herself in a patriarchal society, when her father; Lord Capulet’s word is law. Refusing a decree from her father makes people believe that she is challenging his authority as the head of the household.
The scene opens with Juliet trying to persuade Romeo that ‘It is not yet near day’. Dawn would bring about the departure of Romeo, as his banishment from Verona makes it impossible for him to stay within the city’s walls, while the prospect of Lord and Lady Capulet finding him added to the need for him to leave. Staying would only result in his death, ‘I must be gone and live, or stay and die.’ Juliet is still convinced ‘it was the nightingale and not the lark.’ and so Romeo welcomes death if it means he can spend a few more minutes with his love ‘Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.’
Romeo’s departure leaves Juliet with a sense of foreboding as she finally realises the burden of her hidden marriage; almost as if she sees his death. ‘I have an ill-divining soul! … As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.’
So soon after his departure, Juliet is able to fabricate her tears for the death of her cousin rather than for the absence of her love, ‘You let me weep for such a feeling loss.’ Even as her mother talks of sending someone to kill him, Juliet still keeps her true feelings under wraps, ‘With Romeo till I behold him – dead-‘ At such a tender age, Juliet is still able to keep up the facade of hate in front of her nearest and dearest.
Despite this, her mother’s ‘joyful tidings’ soon break the carefully constructed mask as she speaks of her marriage to County Paris on Thursday. Her ‘careful father’ has decided that she shall be made a ‘joyful bride’. The shock and anger are clearly notable in Juliet’s feisty reaction:
‘Now by Saint Peter’s Church and Peter too,
He shall not make me there a joyful bride.’
Juliet uses defiance at first and dramatic irony to create different meanings to her words: one for the audience, and another for her family. Her mother may have thought that this was just a heavy promise, but it is also Saint Peter who decides who goes to heaven and hell: a bigamous would most definitely not be allowed. How things have gone from bad to worse she does not understand, and her frustration continues as she forgets herself and argues with her mother:
‘I will not marry yet, and when I do, I swear
It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate,
Rather than Paris.’
She is so lost in her anger and worry, that Juliet almost forgets that her love for Romeo is a secret, in this quote, as the rushed addition of ‘whom you know I hate’ indicates. She says this to try and persuade her mother that she cares not for Paris but her defiance only proves to rile her.
Her mother is cold towards her daughter following her refusal and is almost leaving her for the lions when she tells her to ‘tell him so yourself;’ and feel the wrath of her father. Lady Capulet is completely supporting her husband and although this is a predictable move, it is also very childish. When her daughter had most need of her, Lady Capulet was no help; if anything she was a hindrance to Juliet’s plight. This distance between mother and daughter has always been there and in many ways Lady Capulet is jealous of her daughters close relationship with her father which is seen in the manner in which he talks to her. ‘Thy tempest-tossed body.’ Lady Capulet unknowingly adds pressure onto Juliet as she is so excited about the marriage that Juliet knows she is going to be disappointing her. She also seems jealous of the groom who has been chosen for her daughter. Seeing her turn down the match only causes her to become angry. She also appears to think that if she distances herself from her daughter, then maybe she will change her mind – but this only proves to isolate her. ‘Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word.’
Juliet is also extremely close to her Nurse. Due to Lady Capulet’s distance, Juliet has practically been raised by her Nurse. A confident and a responsible adult figure, the Nurse is Juliet’s closest friend and so is the only character with the entire truth in the play.
Lady Capulet also appears to be envious of the Nurse’s relationship with Juliet. Throughout the play, the Nurse has a very strong relationship with Juliet mainly due to her mother’s distance and this only caused Juliet to seek the Nurse even more. The Nurse is a constant in Juliet’s life; someone she can go to for advice no matter what the subject may be.
Lord Capulet’s entrance paves the way for a tense atmosphere. The character of Lord Capulet varies throughout the play. At the start of the play, he appears to be a caring and considerate character.
‘Earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she’
Lord Capulet’s feelings towards Juliet are made clear as he explains to Paris that her life is extremely important to him, especially as his other children have dies and so the decision of her marriage cannot be taken lightly. He also goes on to explain how important Juliet’s feelings are to any decision he may make.
‘My will to her consent is but a part’
Lord Capulet is expressing that Juliet must be happy in a match before he makes it – but later in the play we see a flip in his feelings towards the subject.
Misinterpreting her tears for Romeo as grief for Tybalt, Lord Capulet decides to accept Paris’s proposal for Juliet to cheer his daughter up. He feels that some good news will shake her out of the hollow of grief she has created, but he has no idea how horrified his daughter is at the thought of this marriage. In this Scene, Lord Capulet begins by offering fatherly comfort to Juliet but by the end of the scene, he is speaking in third person ‘she’ ‘her’. This would have an even greater impact on Juliet as it would make her feel like an outsider already.
When Lord Capulet see’s her defiance, his attitude completely changes to that of violence and anger.
‘Hang thee young baggage, disobedient wretch!’
It is almost as if all his respect towards her has gone as his rage pours from him. He feels that she challenges his authority by refusing this marriage; his good intentions are being trampled upon. Lord Capulet sees Juliet as being ungrateful and does not care about the hopes and dreams her parents had for her, as he has no idea how complicated his daughter’s life has become. He is quick-tempered and impetuous towards Juliet in this scene and this abrupt anger toward her only adds to the pressure Juliet feels. The changing nature of her relationship with her parents is evident.
‘out, you baggage!
She still wants to please her father, but knows she cannot marry Paris as pretending to marry to a Shakespearean audience was a mortal sin – delivering yourself to the devil himself.
He still cares for her, but he has now given his word to Paris and cannot back away from that. Arranged marriages were a typical part of life during this era and gentlemen such as Paris was considered quite a catch. He is a very good prospective husband for her and Juliet has passed the usual age for marriage:
‘younger than you,
Here in Verona, ladies of esteem,
Are already mothers.’
Juliet’s response makes Lord Capulet feel as though he has spoiled her and must now teach her who is the head of the family through violence and anger, as well as well placed guilt – all adding to Juliet’s already mounting concerns.
‘Is she not proud? Doth she not count her blest,’
We can see his anger mount as he almost gives in to the violence and gives his daughter a smack:
‘My fingers itch.’
This is one of Lord Capulet’s most powerful lines within this Scene as it demonstrates the lengths he will go to ensure his pride and dignity are intact. He even goes on to curse ever having a child- the same child himself and his wife had ‘thought us blest’ to have.
This fury soon rounds on the Nurse and Lady Capulet where even his wife has to remind him he is overstepping the mark and becoming ‘too hot.’ We also see become aggressive and insulting towards the Nurse who is trying to intervene on Juliet’s behalf.
‘You are to blame my lord, to rate her so.
…. Hold your tongue, Good Prudence,’
Juliet’s own feelings on the matter are presented through the manner she continues to conduct herself around her parents. She begs to be heard and given a chance to explain herself, her tone of voice respecting but fearful as well as worried at what else could go wrong.
‘Good Father, I beseech you on my knees,’
The Nurse is in a position of trust as Juliet confides her hidden marriage and this gives us the opportunity to see how much of a betrayal the Nurse’s advise is for her. She is a mother-figure in Juliet’s life. The Nurse may have a pragmatic and realistic approach to this new problem, but all Juliet can see is the sting of betrayal.
‘I think it best you married with the County.’
We see the tragedy of the tale as Juliet does not listen to the Nurse’s words. Although to the audience and Juliet this appears to be the highest betrayal, the Nurse is only trying to look after Juliet as well as the rest of the family. To keep the peace and attempt to prevent the family tearing themselves apart, the Nurse tells Juliet that ‘Your first is dead, or ’twere as good he were.’
Despite this, the Nurse must know that there is no way the Fria r would conduct this second marriage and so it appears that either the Nurse doesn’t care about heaven or hell, or simply doesn’t believe in such things. It is shocking to think that the Nurse may care more about Juliet marrying and having a family and babies, than about Juliet’s own feelings and love for her husband, Romeo.
To Juliet, this is the biggest treachery. It is the worst thing that the Nurse could have said. She is almost turning her back on Juliet and sticking up for her parents, even after she was the one to help the couple marry in the first place. The one person who could normally be counted on for comfort and support had just horrified Juliet with her response. We can see a gap begin to form between their relationship as Juliet reels in shock.
By the end of the scene, Juliet is completely isolated as her one confidant turns there back on her. Even after this blow, Juliet is able to compose herself and convince the Nurse that she has gone to confessions, when she actually goes to seek the Friar’s help. She is sarcastic as makes the Nurse feel she is praising her for the comfort.
‘Well thou hast comforted me marvellous much.’
Juliet is now completely on her own, with the pressures each adult around her places upon the young girl. She is learning the harsh reality of growing up, that adults can let you down. Society doesn’t have the answer for Juliet as she has to hide secret after secret. The entire act is like a cauldron of emotions.
The modern audience would perhaps empathise with Juliet because she is in love but her parents have forbidden her from seeing them. We sympathise with her as Lord Capulet won’t let her follow her heart and will ‘drag thee on a hurdle thither’ if she refuses to go to the church.