Juliet is a fervent and sensual character whom Shakespeare has also revealed to the audience as sly and ardent. She is young but presented to us as very mature, she receives all the audience’s sympathies as she receives very little help or guidance from home. Trapped in love she conveys her readiness for sacrifice to be with her beloved; for this she receives our respect and so we have a special bond with her.
I am writing about the character of Juliet in the Shakespeare play and exploring the ways in which Shakespeare presents her to the audience.
This play is set in Verona, Italy in 1599 and is a play of two families the Capulets and Montagues who are in bitter feuds with each other. The setting in Verona Italy is appropriate to the play as the setting is known to people as the city of love which is one of the main focuses of the play.
Juliet is part of the Capulet family and is 14 almost years old in the play when she faces tragedy.
she is quickly regarded as a heroine. In the play Juliet is portrayed by Shakespeare as a compassionate and sensual character who stands up for what she believes in. She is frequently found in emotional and empathetic situations where she is stuck between two sides of a dispute. Throughout the play Shakespeare presents the audience with conflicting stages of compassion and emotion for Juliet such as when Juliet kills herself with a dagger after finding her beloved Romeo dead.
In this Scene the audience are in grief and sorrow for Juliet’s tragic loss whilst Juliet’s death also brings a sense of anger to the audience towards Friar Lawrence for causing their deaths.
Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet derived from Brooks “Tragical history of Romeus and Juliet” this poem was about two feuding families and two lovers who are trapped between the hatred of their families. Shakespeare re-wrote this and speeded up the story lines as in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet were together as a married couple for only one night whilst in Brooks version Romeus and Juliet spent 3 months together after they got married. Shakespeare also made Juliet younger. At this time boys and girls of 14 years of age could legally marry.
In Act 1 Scene 2 Paris, a noble man asks Capulet, the father of Juliet, if he can marry Juliet, at first Capulet disagrees for Juliet to marry as she is at such a young age.
“My child is yet a stranger in the world”
(Act 1 Scene 2 – p.g, 13 line(s) 8)
Later Juliet’s father reconsiders and Lady Capulet (Juliet’s mother) asks Juliet if she would like to marry Paris. Shakespeare has made Paris want to marry Juliet because this would make him more powerful and rich seeing as Juliet’s family is wealthy and Juliet is the heir to the Capulets family estate.
“She’s the hopeful lady of my earth.”
(Act 1 Scene 2 – p.g, 13 line(s) 15)
Paris is endowed with qualities which make him a good choice of marriage for Juliet in her parent’s eyes. At this time Juliet hasn’t thought of marriage before but lives to obey her parent’s wishes and says I’ll see if I like him.
“I’ll look to like, if looking liking move;
But no more deep will I endart mine eye”
(Act 1 Scene 3 – p.g, 20 line(s) 98-99)
At this point in the play the audience are presented with Juliet as an obedient and respectful young girl. Juliet’s father arranges for Juliet to meet Paris at an organised party in their house. At the party Juliet meets Romeo the only son of the Montagues who she immediately falls in love with unaware of his identity as their families are bitter enemies.
Juliet is first mentioned in the play in Act 1 Scene 3 this is irregular as she is one of the main characters of the play and she is not mentioned at the start of the play, but Shakespeare has done this intentionally to create intrigue in the play about the two families hated feud; this allows the audience to really feel intrigued about the two familie’s abhorrence for each other. This is shown in the fight at the beginning of the play Act 1 Scene 1 – p.g 6, line(s) 69.
Capulet is some what hard-hearted towards Juliet as he seems to the audience of the play as uncaring to his daughter’s feelings and preoccupied with the fact that his daughter can have an advantageous marriage, which will be beneficial to the Capulet house hold; by the fact that the person Juliet marries (preferably Paris) will be rich and give the Capulet family a higher status.
Lady Capulet also gives the impression to the audience of the play that she would value her husband’s opinions and will over her daughter’s. The audience knows this because when Lady Capulet asks Juliet how she would feel if she was to get married, Juliet replies;
“It is an honour I dream not of.”
(Act 1 Scene 3 – p.g, 19 line(s) 67)
this is ambiguous. It could mean she doesn’t want to get married to the audience.
Lady Capulet is also shown to the audience as being uninterested with matters concerning Juliet, this becomes apparent to the audience when Lady Capulet reveals in her conversation with the nurse that she doesn’t know her daughter’s age:
“Thou Knowest my daughter’s of a pretty age.”
(Act 1 Scene 3 – p.g, 17 line(s) 11)
Shakespeare has created this type of relationship between Juliet and her parents on purpose to generate sympathy amongst the audience for a girl who is kind and affectionate but unfortunate as she is trapped between her parents who don’t pay attention to her and want their desires above hers. However, amidst all the hatred and calamity in Juliet’s life the nurse is presented to the audience as an affectionate and simple minded woman who has an aspiration to satisfy the needs of the young Juliet, she is also seen as a mother figure to Juliet as she is more close to her then her mother. This becomes obvious to the audience when the nurse says she has breast fed Juliet when she was young. The nurse reinforces the thought that she is a like a mother Juliet never had because she knows her birthday unlike her real mother. Shakespeare has done this to make the audience feel sympathetic towards Juliet as she has to rely on someone else to act like a mother figure to her.
At the end of Act 1 Scene 3 the audience feel empathetic towards Juliet and feel sympathy for what they believe is a young girl trapped in the middle of her oppressive parents trying to force there will over hers, with total disregard for her feelings.
Romeo and Juliet contrast distinctively which is pointed out to the audience in Scenes 3-5.
Romeo is well established from the beginning of the play as he has close friends in Mercutio and Benvolio. Romeo is also shown to the audience at the very beginning of the play as being a victim of misguided courtley love with Rosaline. Shakespeare presents Romeo like this to the audience to give the impression that Romeo is a young man who is a misguided playboy type figure. Juliet seems more intelligent. She hasn’t got any social life and rarely goes out. Girls had less freedom then.
Act 1 Scene 2; at the party the background is set as Tybalt is angry at the presence of Romeo who is a Montague, however Capulet discredits him and acknowledges that Romeo is a gentleman. This scene is the first time the two “star-crossed lovers” Romeo and Juliet meet and talk.
Romeo: “Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?”
Juliet: “Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.”
(Act 1 Scene 5 – p.g 29, line(s) 100-101)
When the lovers Romeo and Juliet meet they exchange words and kiss, up until now the audience have thought of Juliet as a young simple girl who always obeyed her parents but is now being carried away by a wave of emotions she is feeling for someone she has only met for a couple of minutes. Unknown to Romeo and Juliet at this point are each other’s identities, that thery are from the rival families; Juliet from the Capulet and Romeo from the Montague.
In Romeo and Juliet’s conversation; Shakespeare uses a sonnet to create a dramatic effect in the play, Shakespeare uses a love style sonnet for the two lover’s conversation so the effect created is a type of falling into each other’s arms as they both end up kissing, this also signals to the audience that this is true love. The conversation is made by Shakespeare to sound very religious by the use of “pilgrim” and other religious imagery to sound as if the two were destined for each other; it also creates a romantic love atmosphere in the foreground with the background set as hatred, violence and abhorrence by their bitter families.
The audience would be somewhat confused at this point of the play as Juliet (seen previously as a simple obedient young girl) kisses what to her is a complete stranger in the part of Romeo; who was in love in the beginning of the play with Rosaline.
Act 2 Scene 2 is the balcony scene where Juliet after meeting Romeo at the party sighs about her new love unaware that Romeo is listening. Braced by confidence and assertiveness for her new love she openly says;
“But trust me, gentlemen, I’ll prove more true”
(Act 2 Scene 2 – p.g 38, line(s) 100)
From this scene onwards Juliet starts to adopt a sense of the awareness of fortune which Shakespeare uses to foreground the theme of fate and in order to bring irony to the play as what Juliet predicts really does happens in the end. It is also used to make Juliet seem more clever and intelligent to the audience.
Shakespeare reinforces the deep love of Juliet for Romeo when Juliet talks extravagantly of her love for Romeo.
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
(Act 2 Scene 2 – p.g 39, line(s) 133-135)
After Juliet meets Romeo Shakespeare has made Juliet seem more mature and shrewd, through the use of Juliet’s aptitude to predict her fate; which I mentioned earlier. Shakespeare also makes Juliet more mature because this allows the audience to feel Juliet’s love for Romeo as being so strong that it can change her attitude. She is acting impulsively now and we are anxious for her.
In Act 2 Scene 5 the nurse acting as a go between tells Juliet of Romeos plans to get married with the aid of Friar Lawrence. In this scene Juliet is impatient and eagerly awaits news from her nurse about Romeo, in this scene Shakespeare starts to use similes and metaphors in Juliet’s language.
“Unwieldy, slow, heavy, and pale as lead.”
(Act 2 Scene 5 – p.g 53, line(s) 17)
Here she says that the nurse moves slowly. Other similes and metaphors Juliet used in this scene are;
“She would be as swift in motion as a ball”
(Act 2 Scene 5 – p.g 53, line(s) 13)
These are used effectively to emphasise her impatience for news of Romeo. They also revel Juliet’s witty side. Imagery is used by Shakespeare to enable Juliet to express the deep love she feels for Romeo;
“Love’s heralds should be thoughts”
(Act 2 Scene 5 – p.g 53, line(s) 4)
The audience of the play can feel the depth of love between Romeo and Juliet which Shakespeare is trying to convey, through Juliet’s use of metaphors and similes. This use also brings out dramatic tension in the play as Juliet waits anxiously for news of Romeo; it is used by Shakespeare because the audience sympathise with Juliet and want her and Romeo to be together, however it won’t happen. Shakespeare also uses her language to make the audience empathise with her and feel the suffering she is going through mentally.
Shakespeare gives Juliet major soliloquies to make up for her passive role and to inform the audience about Juliet’s character, thoughts and state of mind, often women at this time would not have been able to express their opinions and thoughts. So by the use of soliloquies the audience can empathise with her throughout the play. Soliloquies are used to allow us to read her mind as she is desperate for news of Romeo;
“Perchance she cannot meet him: that’s not so.
O, she is lame!”
(Act 2 Scene 5 – p.g 53, line(s) 3-4)
This is telling the audience exactly what frame of mind she is in.
In Act 3 Scene 1 Mercutio livid with Romeo’s unwillingness to accept Tybalt’s challenge draws up his own sword and fights Tybalt; in the process they are both killed. Meanwhile Juliet is eagerly waiting for the nurse on news of Romeo; she is unaware of Tybalt’s, her cousin’s death, she is also unaware of Romeos banishment to Mantua for killing him.
Later when the nurse gets back to Juliet she tells her the bad news of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment;
“Tybalt is gone and Romeo banished,
Romeo that kill’d him, he is banished”
(Act 3 Scene 2 – p.g 69, line(s) 69-70)
Juliet’s heart feels torn by her conflicting emotions over Romeo’s exclusion and Tybalt’s deaths, at the end of the scene she grieves for the loss of her husband.
“There is no end, no limit, measure, bound,
In that word’s death, no words can that woe sound.
Where is my father and my mother, Nurse?”
(Act 3 Scene 3 – p.g 71, line(s) 125-127)
Juliet uses lots of oxymorons as she tries to reason through the situation. Who has she married? Is he a:
“Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical
Dove-feather’d raven, wolvish-ravening lamb!”
(Act 3 Scene 2 – p.g 69, line(s) 75-76)
Oxymorons are contradictory words put together to reflect her frustration as she tries to find the right language. Juliet is married but not had sex before and feels cheated. She wants to experience it:
“O, I have bought the mansion of a love,
But not possessed it, and though I am sold,
Not yet enjoy’d.”
(Act 3 Scene 2 – p.g 67, line(s) 26-28)
Juliet also says;
“Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night ”
(Act 3 Scene 2 – p.g 67, line(s) 21-24)
Shakespeare has done this intentionally to create a canny combination of love and death; He uses contrasts cleverly and with irony to show Juliet’s passion and innocence because they will both be dead soon.
The audience are made to question Juliet’s loyalty regarding Romeo and her family. When Capulet tells Juliet to marry Paris her family becomes less important to her which Shakespeare points out clearly to the audience when she tries to mislead her mother;
“Good pardon him, I do with all my hart:
And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart.”
(Act 3 Scene 5 – p.g 83, line(s) 83-84)
Juliet also manipulates her father;
“Good father, I beseech you on my knees,
Hear me with patience but to speak a word”
(Act 3 Scene 5 – p.g 86, line(s) 158-159)
This attitude change of Juliet towards her parents is intentionally used by Shakespeare to make the audience see her strong will and utter loyalty to Romeo. She is rather distant from her mother when she lies to her;
“Indeed I never shall be satisfied
With Romeo, till I behold him-dead-”
(Act 3 Scene 5 – p.g 83, line(s) 93-94)
This is ironic because it is exactly what happens.
As the play goes on, her family and the nurse become less important to her. Shakespeare represents Juliet as genuinely upset about what has happened which proves to the audience how much she loves Romeo.
Act 3 Scene 5 is a very tough time for Juliet as Lady Capulet brings her news about her arranged marriage to Paris.
At the end of Act 3 Scene 5 Juliet feels let down by her mother and father, even the nurse who was previously on her side and stuck by her throughout her experiences with Romeo; the person she trusted most lets her down. The nurse tells Juliet;
Nurse: “I think it best you married with the county.”
Juliet replies sarcastically: “Well, thou hast comforted me marvellous much.”
(Act 3 Scene 5 – p.g 87, line(s) 217)
Shakespeare has intentionally created this situation of abandonment for Juliet as it makes the audience feel sorry for her, as she is a young girl and everyone has let her down except Romeo.
In Act 4 Scene 1 Juliet meets Paris at the church where they are to get married. Paris talks to Juliet passionately; Juliet replies with courtesy, however when she is with Friar Lawrence she grieves over her unhappy situation with Paris and threatens to kill herself rather than to break her sacred marriage vow to Romeo. Juliet also becomes rather hysterical about the thought of a marriage to Paris.
Juliet: “chain me with roaring bears,
Or hide me nightly in a charnel-house,
O’ercover’d quite with dead men’s rattling bones,”
(Act 4 Scene 1 – p.g 87, line(s) 80-82)
Again this is ironic as this will inspire the Friar’s plot.
In Juliet’s desperation to get out of her arranged marriage with Paris the Friar offers her a way out; a potion which is taken which will make her fall into a coma and takes up the appearance of death. At this point the Friar would call Romeo to rescue Juliet. She agrees to it. Later Juliet returns home and asks forgiveness from her father;
“By holy Lawrence to fall prostrate here
To beg your pardon.”
(Act 4 Scene 2 – p.g 94, line(s) 20-21)
This brings her father into a frenzy of excitement; pleased with Juliet’s new obedience he decides to hold the wedding a day early.
Juliet torments herself in Act 4 Scene 3 where she has a brave but disturbing soliloquy over the Friars intentions as to whether the potion would actually work before she swallows it:
“What if it be a poison which the friar
Subtly hath minister’d to have me dead,”
(Act 4 Scene 3 – p.g 96, line(s) 24-25)
however although she is frightened and petrified she reminds herself that the Friar is a holy man and has good intentions so she takes the potion and goes to sleep in her bedroom to allow the potion to take effect.
This situation Juliet is in brings her closer to us the audience as she is being brave although afraid over the potion; she takes it in the hope of being reunited with her beloved Romeo for loves sake. The audience is also feeling frightened for Juliet and hope the potion works so she wakes in time to be rescued by Romeo. Up until this point in the play the audience felt sympathy for Juliet being such a young girl she is and stuck between her parents will to overcome hers but now we the audience have a bond with her and feel the emotions and suffering she goes through so we want things to work out for her. We are terrified for her as she imagines the ghost of Tybalt and her ancestors bones in the tomb.
In Act 4 Scene 5 the discovery of Juliet’s death is slow; we know she is in a coma however everyone else is unaware, when the Nurse finds Juliet ‘dead’ she is in a flurry and makes a scene she seems to be the only one in the Capulet house hold to weep. Juliet’s mother only seems disappointed as she had one daughter and she is dead;
“Cruel Death hath catch’d it from my sight!”
(Act 4 Scene 5 – p.g 100, line(s) 48)
We the audience find it difficult in this scene to sympathize with the grief of the Capulets house hold as we know Juliet isn’t really dead; this is especially true for the father who almost over exaggerates;
Despis’d, distressed,hated, martyr’d kill’d!
Uncomfortable time, why cam’st thou now
To murder, murder our solemnity?”
(Act 4 Scene 5 – p.g 101, line(s) 59-61)
The lack of weeping from the parents reinforces for the audience the fact that Juliet was unloved by them and that Romeo is the best thing for her, as we the audience are closer to her then we ever were we want what’s good for her.
Juliet actually dies alone in the vault where her body has been moved, she kills herself with a dagger after finding her beloved Romeo dead. Even the Friar leaves because he is scared when he hears a noise.
As life has no meaning without Romeo, Juliet has no reason to live so she kills her self violently with the use of a dagger which she bravely and poignantly plunges into her chest;
“O happy dagger, This is my sheath.”
(Act 5 Scene 3 – p.g 116, line(s) 169-170)
By Juliet’s suicide being carried out in such a violent way she is presented to the audience as brave and courageous; her actions show us that she is loyal to Romeo to the end even though she could have left she prefers death to life without Romeo.
Shakespeare presents Juliet as an imaginative, impetuous and mature girl who is a victim of oppression by her parents. Her character sometimes quite sensual is also presented to the audience as sly and ardent. We the audience have a bond with her as she goes through the play feeling conflicting emotions for what she believes in. Juliet has a much more complex character than Romeo whose been well established from the very beginning of the play, her imagination is some what over the top which makes her more interesting then Romeo.
Shakespeare uses Juliet to predict forthcoming events to the audience through her major soliloquies. Juliet deserves the status of a tragic heroine because she has all the makings of one; she sacrifices herself in the name of love and she is proven to be courageous and valiant through her suicide. She is indeed ‘true and faithful’, and ends the feud through her suffering.