The tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was first produced around 1595, since when it has been one of William Shakespeare’s most popular plays. Taking place in Verona, Italy, it is set against the background of a constant feud between two rival families, the Capulets and the Montagues. At a party at the Capulet’s house, one of the Montagues, a young man called Romeo, falls in love at first sight with Juliet, Lord Capulet’s only child. She returns his love and they are married in secret by Friar Lawrence.
When Romeo’s friend Mercutio is killed by Juliet’s cousin Tybalt, Romeo kills Tybalt and is forced to flee. Meanwhile, Lord Capulet decides that Juliet will marry her cousin Count Paris, which prompts Friar Lawrence to give Juliet a sleeping potion to produce in her the effects of death. He then sends a message to Romeo telling him of this ruse, but his message fails to arrive. Juliet is presumed dead and her body is taken to the family vault, where Romeo finds her. Overcome with emotion, he commits suicide next to her; she wakes, finds his body next to her and kills herself with his dagger. This double tragedy brings their rival families together in joint grief.
Lord Capulet, or Capulet as he is referred to in the text, has a major influence upon the course of events in the play. As head of the Capulet household he has both power and wealth; his key contribution to the plot is to arrange the marriage of his daughter to Paris, and to reject her when she refuses to accept his decision to do so. This causes her to take the sleeping potion that results, ultimately, in her death.
We first see Capulet in the very first scene where he calls for his sword, to ‘stand up to’ his rival Lord Montague. His dominant attitude towards those around him, which would be expected of a man of his age and position at that time, is clear from the start.
In Act 1, Scene 2 Capulet, referring Lord Montague, suggests to Paris that, “’tis not hard, I think, for men as old as we to keep the peace” (lines 2 and 3), which hints that, despite his confrontational attitude in the first scene, he is essentially a peaceful man. When Paris presses him for approval of his desire to marry his daughter Capulet points out that she is naive, because “my child is yet a stranger in the world” (line 8), and is too young for marriage, as “she hath not seen the change of fourteen years”, so that Paris should wait. This shows that, although he approves of the match, he cares for his daughter and that Paris should be patient.
He claims that “she is the hopeful lady of my earth” (line 15), that is to say it is she upon whom all his worldly hopes are centred, meaning that she is the most important person in his life, which again demonstrates his fatherly affections for her. He also tells Paris that “my will to her consent is but a part” (line 17), meaning that Paris should win her heart before the marriage will take place. He says that “within her scope of choice lies my consent” (lines 18 and 19), meaning that he will only agree to Juliet marrying someone that she has already chosen; this is a key line, given later events, and reveals that he cares about her happiness, although only to a point, as his approval of any potential husband would be essential, too.
Capulet next appears in Scene 5 of the same Act, welcoming guests to his house. He shows the jovial, friendly side to his nature, and clearly enjoys acting as ‘mine host’ or ‘the master of ceremonies’, which again indicates his controlling, dominating nature. He also claims that he is too old for partying, joking with one of his relatives that, “for you and I are past our dancing days” (line 31).
When Tybalt rashly confronts Romeo Capulet calms him down, telling him to “let him alone: he bears him like a portly gentleman” (lines 65 and 66), meaning that Romeo is dignified. He instructs Tybalt to “be patient, take no note of him: it is my will” (lines 71 to 72), which shows that he is accustomed to giving orders and to being obeyed; when Tybalt argues with him he loses his temper, calling him “a saucy boy” (line 83), meaning impertinent or rude, and “a princox” (line 86), meaning conceited or foolish.
He forces Tybalt to leave the party, despite him being his nephew, which shows that he does want to spoil the positive atmosphere with violence. He is friendly towards Benvolio and Romeo, urging them “not to be gone” (line 121) and then, when they decide to leave, saying “thank you, honest gentleman” (line 124) and wishing them “good night” (line 124).
When Capulet next appears much later, in Act 3, Scene 4, a great deal has taken place; Romeo and Juliet have fallen in love and both Mercutio and Tybalt are dead or, as Capulet says in understatement to Paris, “Things have fall’n out” (line 1). He attributes Juliet’s sadness to her cousin Tybalt’s death, saying “she lov’d her kinsman Tybalt dearly” (line 3), not realising that the reason she is upset is because Romeo, who was responsible for Tybalt’s death, will be forced to leave her. Nevertheless, he accepts Tybalt’s death phlegmatically and philosophically, pointing out “well, we were born to die” (line 4), which might be considered to foreshadow events yet to take place.
When Paris points out that, due to Juliet’s grief, this is not a suitable time for him to continue to press his suit, pointing out “These times of woe afford no times to woo” (line 8) – which is a clever play on the words ‘woo’ and ‘woe’ – Capulet, senses that he may be losing the perfect husband for his daughter. He promises Paris that he will urge his daughter to accept his hand, saying that “I will make a desperate tender of my child’s love” (lines 12 and 13), meaning an offer of her hand, as “I think she will be rul’d in all respects by me” (lines 13 to14), i.e. she will either accept his guidance or follow his orders.
Capulet proposes a prompt wedding between the two of them, in only three days’ time, on the Thursday. He asks Paris “Will you be ready? do u like this haste?” (line 22), and suggests a small ceremony “We’ll keep no great ado; a friend or two” (line 23), out of respect to Tybalt. When Paris agrees enthusiastically, wishing that “I would that Thursday were tomorrow” (line 29) he orders Lady Capulet to “Prepare her, wife, against this wedding day” (line 32) and happily retires to bed.
When Capulet enters Juliet’s chamber in Act 3, Scene 5 he is in a jolly mood. He wonders why Juliet is still crying about Tybalt’s death – or so he thinks – asking her “what! still in tears? Evermore showering?” (lines 130 and 131), suggesting a metaphor between her tears and the rain. However, this mood changes when his wife tells him that Juliet has refused Paris’s offer of marriage, stating that “she will none, she gives you thanks” (line 139) and moaning “I would the fool ere married to her grave” (line 141) – which is another example of foreshadowing events to follow.
At first Capulet cannot believe his ears; he is astonished that his daughter is turning down “so worthy a gentleman to be her bridegroom” (line 146) and dismisses her polite words, saying “Thank me no thankings” (line 153). With growing anger he makes his point very clear: Juliet must “fettle your fine joints ’gainst Thursday next” (line 154), meaning that she should get herself ready for Thursday, “to go with Paris to Saint Peter’s church” (line 155). If she does not, he promises to “drag thee on a hurdle thither” (line 156) – the uncomfortable and embarrassing way that prisoners destined for execution were taken to their fate.
He then insults her, calling her “green-sickness carrion” (line 157), suggesting that she is no better than rotten dead flesh – another example of foreshadowing – “baggage” (line 157), meaning an impudent girl, and “tallow face” (line 158), meaning white- or waxy-faced. He is partly annoyed that his plans of marrying Juliet to Paris have been wrecked and partly angry that his daughter is disobeying him, whilst his wife desperately tries to calm him down, asking “what, are you mad?” (line 158).
When Juliet begs and tries to reason with him he calls her a “disobedient wretch!” (line 161). He tells her to “get thee to church o’Thursday, or never after look me in the face” (lines 162 and 163), meaning that he will disown her if she does not marry as instructed. He tells Lady Capulet that “My fingers itch” (line 165), suggesting that he is fighting back the urge to punish Juliet by striking her. Talking about her if she was no longer there, he refers to Juliet as “a curse” (line 168), before calling her a “hilding” (line 179), meaning ‘good for nothing’.
When Juliet’s nurse tries to calm him down he tells her to “hold your tongue” (line 171) and calls her a “mumbling fool” (line 174). He then complains that he has worked “day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play, alone, in company” (lines 179 and 179) in order to provide Juliet with “a gentleman of noble parentage”, only for “a whining mammet” (line 186), or puppet, to propose feeble excuses not to marry, such as “I am too young” and “I pray you, pardon me” (both line 188). He promises that if Juliet does not marry he will disown her and that she “shall not house with me” (line 190); instead, she will “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets” (line 194) and “I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee” (line 195). Having said his piece, he then storms out of the room before she can respond to his threats.
Having referred to her as a “peevish, self-will’d harlot” (line 14), he is pleased in Act 4, Scene 2 when Juliet pretends to have changed her mind and agrees to the marriage. When she promises him that “Henceforward I am ever rul’d by you” (line 23) he responds “I am glad on ’t” (line 29) and promises “walk myself to County Paris, to prepare up him against tomorrow” (lines 45 and 46). He leaves the stage a changed man, as his “heart is wondrous light, since this same wayward girl is so reclaim’d” (lines 47 and 48), meaning that he has taken Juliet back into the bosom of his family, as he thinks that everything is going to work out as he had hoped and planned.
Having chivvied the servants in Act 4, Scene 4, he enters Juliet’s chamber in Scene 5 to find his wife and the nurse weeping over her (apparently) dead body. He claims to be so shocked that “Death……will not let me speak” (lines 31 and 32), before disproving this by telling Paris that “hath Death lain with thy wife” (line 36) and complains that “Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir” (line 38). He asks why Death has come “now to murder, murder our solemnity” (line 60 and 61); clearly distraught, he moans that “with my child my joys are buried” (line 64). He orders a complete change in his house, from “wedding cheer to a sad burial feast” (line 87) and to let the “bridal flowers serve for a buried corse” (line 89).
Capulet’s last appearance in the play is in the final part, Act 5, Scene 3. After Friar Lawrence explains the truth about Juliet’s apparent ‘double death’, Capulet is uncharacteristically quiet and calm. After being rebuked publicly by the Prince, he offers his hand to Montague as a gesture of friendship, and promises that “shall Romeo by his lady lie” (line 303), thereby acknowledging the validity of their marriage. He claims that they were both “Poor sacrifices of our enmity” (line 304), meaning that they were unwitting victims of the feud between the families – although whether he did this to show contrition to the Prince and minimise any punishment that he would receive from him is a matter of conjecture!
Throughout the play Capulet shows a range of emotions, but at all times he seems to be honest in what he says and does, not pretending something he does not feel. He is welcoming towards his guests, including Benvolio and Romeo, berates Tybalt, is friendly towards Paris and angry towards Juliet when she appears not to appreciate his match-making efforts. He is obviously not accustomed to, or willing to accept, his orders being questioned or disobeyed, but his harsh words towards Juliet, although grossly unfair, were spoken in the heat of temper, as he clearly cares for her deeply.
His genuine sadness over his daughter’s death – on both occasions – is evidence for his true feelings of love for her and, although he is quick-tempered, unwilling to listen to opinions different to his own and stubborn to a fault, he is fundamentally a good, loving father with normal human weakness.