William Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was set in Renaissance Italy in romantic Verona. We believe that Shakespeare got his inspiration from the poem by Arthur Brooke’s entitled ‘The Tragical History of Romeus and Juliet’ written in 1562. The play explores the themes of opposing passions of love and hate and youth verses age. Also the importance of fate in determining life’s course. The modern audience needs to understand about social and cultural conventions in Shakespearian times. As so as a girl reached child bearing age she was considered old enough to be married.
We are going to explore the relationship between Juliet and the Nurse and the Nurses importance to the play. The Nurse is like a mother to Juliet so throughout the play she influences a lot of her decisions, which alter the play’s direction. The Nurse takes messages between the young lovers without which their relationship could not continue.
Act One Scene Three opens with the Nurse calling out for Juliet in affectionate terms such as ‘lamb’ and ‘ladybird’ thus meaning that the Nurse and Juliet were close like mother and daughter.
The Nurse has at the start of the scene reveals her earthy sense of humour
‘by my maidenhead at twelve years old I bade her come’
The Nurse has played a major role in nurturing Juliet. She can recount the tale of weaning Juliet whilst her mother was at Mantua. This suggests that Juliet, she plays a much more formal role in Juliet’s mother did not play a nurturing, caring, motherly role towards Juliet, she plays a much more than a motherly role.
The Nurse’s language is obviously that of an uneducated person ‘to see it techy and fall out wi’ the dug’ shows that the Nurse can only express herself in very basic terms. Her language is of a much lower class standard then that of a Lady Capulet and Juliet’s. The Nurse recounts when Juliet was a toddler and Juliet wouldn’t stop crying and the Nurse’s husband makes a bawdy quip even though he was using a sexual innuendo Juliet stops crying because of his voice soothed her. Lady Capulet first banishes the Nurse when she comes to talk with Juliet but then recalls her. When the Nurse keeps talking lady Capulet probably feels that she and Juliet have had enough of the nurse’s prattling. At this point Juliet also says
‘And stint thou too, I pray thee, Nurse, say I’
Juliet loves the nurse greatly and she asks the nurse to be quiet in a much more polite way but she is still authoritative in her speech. This shows that Juliet treats the nurse like a servant as she issues orders to her but we also know that Juliet loves the Nurse at this point. The next line emphasises the nurse’s affection for Juliet
‘Thou wast the prettiest babe that e’er I nursed
And I might live to see thee married once,
I have my wish,’
The Nurse thinks on Juliet like a daughter and is delighted because she thinks she will be able to see Juliet get married. After this Lady Capulet’s reason for her visit has been brought up, the subject of Juliet’s marriage. Juliet’s reply is
‘It is an honour that I dream not of’
This shows that Juliet is a strong minded young lady to speak to her mother like that; you can see that her mother expects Juliet to be thrilled and extremely grateful but she tells her that she has not thought to marry yet. The Nurse is shocked by Juliet’s answer and comments
‘I would say thou hadst sucked wisdom from thy teat’
Lady Capulet’s relationship with Juliet is much more formal where as the nurses is much closer. Lady Capulet’s next words are also revealing about the culture and expectations of rich Italians at this time.
‘younger than you
Here in Verona, ladies of esteem
Are made already mothers. By my count,
I was your mother much upon these years
That you are now a maid.’
Juliet’s mother is telling Juliet that lots of girls in Verona are married with
children at her age as she herself was. The culture was that girls
married as soon as they reached child bearing age. The contrast between the ways that Lady Capulet and the Nurse praise Paris is also significant. The Nurse echoes her superior’s comments. She comes from a much lower
class and different lifestyle than the Capulets, she has a more practical and
lusty view of life. Lady Capulet would have been brought up in a
much formal society she would have no knowledge of men before she was
married and would have to rely on books. It would have been customary for
ladies to ‘love by the book’. Lady Capulet praises Paris in a very elaborate
style whereas the nurse uses much more basic description. The Nurse seizes
on Lady Capulets words and seems to make another bawdy pun
‘No less! Nay, bigger women grow by men.’
Juliet’s reply shows her to be mindful of her mother’s
efforts in finding her a handsome husband and she’s trying to be an obedient daughter. She says she will try to like him and that she recognises what her mother has done for her. The Nurse’s final words in this scene are to Juliet, The words she speaks stay ringing in are ears as the play unfolds.
‘Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days.’
The Nurse loves Juliet and is just saying that she should do what makes her happy.
In Act 2 Scene 4 the Nurses is out on the street searching for Romeo so she can pass on a message from Juliet. Romeo spies the Nurse but does not seem to recognise her. We assume from the young men’s comments that the Nurse is rather over-dressed and she becomes the butt of some rather unkind remarks
Nurse ‘A fan Peter’
Mercutio ‘Good Peter, to hide her face, for her fan’s the fairer face’.
The change of scene shows a completely different side to Romeo he’s confident cheeky and rude this compared to the lovesick boy of the opening scenes this is probably because he is with his friends and not his love Juliet. The Nurse has made quiet an impression on the young boys the Nurse I think believes she is just as high class as the Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio. Mercutio directs his sexual teasing at the Nurse and the Nurse hasn’t got the wit or brains as Mercutio has and doesn’t really no how to react. They continue to taunt her, calling her a ‘bawd’ but she makes clear that she has come to give a message to Romeo, Mercutio then starts again with his sexual innuendos showing that Mercutio is a young man who enjoys having fun but sometimes at the sake of others he loves the sound of his own voice so could be called self centred or egotistical. The Nurse pretends to be insulted by Mercutio’s words and calls on her manservant Peter to speak up for her.
‘I saw no man use you at his pleasure’
Peter doesn’t really seem to are or respect the Nurse she does not seem that she is held is no great esteem by her fellow servants, they don’t see the Nurse as a higher class to them or anymore important. Juliet should still trust her with her important message because she’s always been there for her and she’s the only true person Juliet can trust but the Nurse isn’t that intelligent so that could worry Juliet. The Nurse declares that she is so angry that she is so angry that she is shaking but nevertheless she has enough presence of mind to make sure Romeo knows that she will not have her young mistress` affections trifled with.
‘if ye should lead her in a fool’s paradise, as they say, it were a very gross kind of behaviour.’ This again reveals her deep affection for her mistress she has seen another side of Romeo acts differently with his friends even through her anger she makes it clear that Romeo should not dare deceive Juliet. The conversation which follows between her and Romeo rushes headlong; she seems so keen to take his message back to Juliet that she goes to rush off before he has had a chance to tell her what it is.
‘What wilt thou tell her, Nurse? Thou dost not mark me.’
We can see from this that the Nurse isn’t very intelligent she came to talk to Romeo to pass on a message and to get the answer and take it back to Juliet the Nurse starts to return to Juliet and Romeo has to reminded her that she doesn’t have the answer. So it must be hard for Juliet to trust the Nurse with such an important message because the Nurse always seems to mean well but she isn’t that intellectual and in this case forgetful. Romeo speaks now in poetic terms of what he wants done to prepare for their night of joy.
‘And bring me cords made like a tackled stair,
Which to the high top-gallant of my joy
Must be my convoy in the secret night.’
In contrast the Nurse’s words come tumbling out and she prattles on about Paris being a ‘toad’ in Juliet’s eyes and how she teases Juliet about him. We learn a lot more about the Nurse in this scene we find out that the Nurse seems to class her in a higher class then we would think. That she isn’t that bright and that she can get so worked up that she becomes forgetful. We see a different side to Romeo in this scene he is much more overconfident and cocky because he is with his friends and not with Juliet. We learn that Mercutio can be cruel but amusing he doesn’t seem to come across to mean. I think this scene gives us a couple of misgivings about the future it shows Mercutio and Romeo together and that there organizing the wedding.
At the start of Act 3 Scene 5 Juliet and Romeo awaken from there wedding night together. Juliet tries to persuade Romeo that it is not yet dawn, not yet time for him to leave her. At first he says he must go, but then resolves to stay and face capture and death. Juliet then accepts that it is morning and time to part. The Nurse warns the lovers that Lady Capulet is coming. As Romeo leaves, Juliet’s words are filled with foreboding.
‘O God I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.’
Juliet doesn’t know how real her words out and how she is foreseeing the future. The conversation which follows between Juliet and Lady Capulet is full of irony.
‘O my heart abhors
To hear him named and cannot come to him,
To wreak the love I bore my cousin
Upon his body that hath slaughtered him.’
Lady Capulet thinks that Juliet means that she wants to kill Romeo but she means she wants the love that she had for Tybalt and uses it to love Romeo more. Juliet’s Father comes in and mistakes Juliet’s tears for sorrow for Tybalt. He flies into a towering rage on hearing of Juliet’s refusal to marry Paris he threatens and insults her
‘Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church a’ Thursday
Or never after look me in the face.
Juliet’s father thought he was trying to do something good for Juliet to cheer her up but he doesn’t realise the whole story and feels as if his kind gesture has been thrown back in his face. The Nurse does not stand idly by and let her young mistress be treated in this way
‘You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so.’
Capulet’s reply shows that he thinks the nurse to be nothing more then a servant who shouldn’t dare speak to him like that and should be gone.
‘Peace you mumbling fool!
Utter your gravity o’er a gossip’s bowl.’
Her mother’s reaction is quiet different. Juliet begs her to help and even says her wedding bed should be made next to Tybalts in the monument.
‘O sweet mother, cast me not away!’
Her mother’s reply is that she has done her part and that it is not her place to do anymore she has finished with Juliet and will not help her.
‘Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word
Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee,’
The audience’s thoughts at this point are that there is not much hope for Juliet’s situation. The Capulets tried to do a pleasant thing for Juliet but when they see that she doesn’t like it they go out of control and are cruel to her and tell her she doesn’t have a choice. Her parents do not understand at all. Juliet would be feeling desperate and emotional at this point she has lost all hope. Juliet would need a wise counsel at this point .The nurse isn’t the cleverest but Juliet would ask her because she trusts her. The play is tense at this point it is desperate and we do not know where it is going to go. Juliet asks the Nurse for counsel.
‘Your first is dead, or ’twere as good he were
As living here and you no use to him.’
The Nurse urges Juliet to marry Paris saying that Romeo might as well be dead. Juliet loves Romeo and wants to be with him she also cannot marry again because she believes she will be sent to hell.
Juliet: ‘Speak’st thou from thy heart.’
Nurse: ‘And from my soul too, else beshrew them both.’
At this point Juliet feels betrayed and loses her trust and respect for the Nurse so stops arguing and pretends that the Nurse has comforted her. There would be no point in fighting back. When the Nurse exits, Juliet speaks of damnation after hearing the Nurse’s advice to forget Romeo and marry Paris she feels betrayed and vows never to trust her again. The Nurses advice is ludicrous to Juliet. Romeo is the love of her life who she will never give up she doesn’t love Paris. The Nurse also doesn’t realise Juliet’s beliefs another reason why she couldn’t possible take the advice. It would have been a sin to commit adultery or bigamy. The Nurse is from humble upbringings with no religious scruples and sees women as only being of ‘use’ to men in bed. The Nurse would have no empathy with Juliet’s passionate love for Romeo and her devotion to religion.
The last time we see the Nurse is when she discovers Juliet’s ‘body’ on the day on which would have been her wedding day to Paris. The Nurse is devastated and we feel sorry for her she has always been there for Juliet and was like a mother to her. We do think that Juliet leaving the Nurse out of her plan was justified because even though the Nurse means well she would be likely to put her foot in it and mess the whole thing up.
We have learnt that Juliet’s mother loves Juliet but in a very formal manor she only goes to see her if it’s very important. Her father loves her also but doesn’t understand her like the Nurse when he tried to do something nice for Juliet he didn’t understand why Juliet didn’t like it and he got very mad at her. The story was bound to end tragically when the young lovers were left to there own devices they didn’t have the life experience they needed. Even though there love was true and real they didn’t think of all the possibilities of there plan and that lead to there deaths.