The Complex Character of Juliet in Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'

Categories: Romeo And Juliet

William Shakespeare's timeless play 'Romeo and Juliet' explores the multifaceted character of Juliet, a young woman whose evolution throughout the story reflects the societal norms and personal challenges of the Elizabethan Era. In this essay, we will delve into the portrayal of Juliet's character and how it evolves over the course of the play. To fully appreciate Juliet's character, it is essential to understand the historical and cultural context of the Elizabethan Era.

The Elizabethan Era: A Contextual Overview

The Elizabethan Era, spanning from 1558 to 1603 during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, is often referred to as a golden age in English history.

However, it was a time marked by distinct social norms and gender roles that greatly influenced Juliet's character portrayal in the play.

During this period, the theatre was a significant form of entertainment, but it came with its own set of peculiarities. Notably, women's roles on the stage were performed by men, including female characters like Juliet. This practice sheds light on the gender dynamics of the era, where male actors took on female personas.

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Actors, in general, were not held in high esteem and were often considered second-class citizens and troublemakers by society. They were even labeled as sinful. It wasn't until 1660 that women began appearing as actors on the stage.

Moreover, the use of lead-based paint in the elaborate makeup of actors resulted in severe health consequences, including death, although the scientific understanding of such risks was limited during that time.

Women in the Elizabethan Era occupied subservient roles in society, reflecting the prevailing patriarchal norms.

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They were considered inferior and were often regarded as possessions of their fathers, who had the authority to arrange their marriages. Marriages were primarily driven by financial considerations, not love.

Additionally, women were not formally educated during this period. Their skills were expected to revolve around domestic tasks such as sewing, playing musical instruments like the piano, and providing entertainment, particularly for women from affluent families.

Shakespeare: The Bard of Avon

William Shakespeare, baptized on April 26th, 1564 (with a possible birth date of April 23rd, 1564), and passing away in April 1616, was a prolific English poet and playwright. He is widely acclaimed as the greatest writer in the English language, leaving an indelible mark on literature and drama.

Shakespeare's impressive body of work includes thirty-eight plays, 154 sonnets, and around five poems. Often referred to as the 'Bard of Avon' or simply 'The Bard,' Shakespeare is celebrated as England's national poet. His creative period is believed to have spanned from 1586 to 1616.

His works have been translated into numerous languages, and his plays continue to be performed worldwide. Many phrases from his works have become common idioms in English and other languages. Throughout history, debates have arisen regarding Shakespeare's personal life, touching on matters such as his sexuality, religious beliefs, and authorship of his works.

Juliet's Character Evolution

At the onset of 'Romeo and Juliet,' Juliet is portrayed as a dutiful and obedient daughter. She conforms to the expectations of her mother, Lady Capulet, and her family, showing no signs of defiance. When Lady Capulet suggests the idea of marriage, Juliet embraces it because it aligns with her mother's wishes.

Lord Capulet, Juliet's father, initially appears as a calm, considerate, and caring parent who values his daughter's opinions and feelings. His composed demeanor is evident when he allows Romeo to stay at the Capulet's party despite Tybalt's objections. However, tensions simmer beneath the surface as Tybalt vows revenge.

Juliet shares a close bond with the Nurse, who breastfed her as an infant. This nurturing connection is believed to have deepened the mother-daughter relationship between Juliet and the Nurse. In Act 2, Scene 5, the Nurse's protective instincts for Juliet are evident when she warns Romeo and Juliet of Lady Capulet's approach, preventing their discovery.

When Lady Capulet enters Juliet's room, an argument ensues upon Lord Capulet's arrival. Juliet, in contrast to her earlier obedience, retreats to the corner, seeking comfort from the Nurse. Her transformation from a compliant daughter to one in need of solace is apparent.

Juliet's relationship with her parents takes a tumultuous turn when Lady Capulet attempts to discuss Tybalt's death. Juliet, now displaying her quick wit and intelligence, uses clever wordplay to avoid revealing her love for Romeo. She becomes skilled in deception.

Romeo's discovery of Juliet's Capulet lineage initially distresses him, as he exclaims, "My life is my foe's debt." However, their love transcends the feud between their families. Juliet mirrors this conflict, stating, "My only love sprung from my only hate." Her despair stems from her love for a Montague, yet she cannot control her feelings.

Juliet's character further evolves as she becomes increasingly flirtatious with Romeo, playfully remarking, "you kiss by th' book." Their language becomes affectionate and extravagant, emphasizing their intense passion. Juliet's declaration, "I'll no longer be a Capulet," underscores her willingness to defy her family's expectations for the sake of love.

Her language shifts to practicality, maturity, and sensibility, indicating her growing agency in their relationship. It appears as though Juliet assumes a degree of control over Romeo's impulsive romanticism. Romeo, equally overwhelmed by love, harbors concerns about potential heartache.

In a bold move uncharacteristic of Elizabethan women, Juliet proposes marriage, stating, "if thou thy love be honorable, thy propose marriage." This role reversal challenges traditional gender roles, as fathers typically arranged marriages.

Act 2, Scene 5 sees Juliet's impatience as she anxiously awaits news from Romeo. She employs flattery to manipulate the Nurse, recognizing her fondness for her. This manipulation highlights Juliet's growing resourcefulness.

As Juliet anticipates Romeo's arrival, her excitement underscores her newfound sexual and passionate dimensions. Her eagerness to consummate their marriage is evident in her reference to the "love-performing night."

Juliet's world shatters when she mistakenly believes Romeo to be dead, unaware of Tybalt's demise. Her despair is palpable, exemplified by her exclamation, "What devil art thou dost torment me thus?" Her attachment to Romeo is evident as she equates his death with that of her own family member.

The Nurse plays a critical role in Juliet's life, but when she criticizes Romeo, Juliet staunchly defends him. This loyalty reveals Juliet's unwavering commitment to their love, epitomized by her retort, "Blistered be thy tongue."

When Lady Capulet discusses Tybalt with Juliet, she manipulates her words, subtly hinting at her love for Romeo without revealing it outright. This clever maneuvering showcases Juliet's adeptness in navigating complex situations.

Desperation marks the conclusion of the scene, as Juliet invokes religion to secure her escape from her family's constraints. In a deeply religious society, Juliet's use of religion as a pretext for her actions is a testament to her desperation to be with Romeo, even if it means defying societal norms.

Juliet's Dilemmas and Choices

In Act 4, Scene 1, Juliet finds herself in an uncomfortable situation as Paris presses for their impending marriage. While Paris perceives Juliet as a possession, Juliet's heart remains devoted to Romeo. She is candid in her confession to Paris, subtly hinting at her true feelings and cleverly using double meanings.

Juliet's declaration, "I will confess to you that I love him," serves as both an admission of love and a revelation of her loyalty to God. Her words carry the weight of her internal struggle between love and duty.

Juliet employs dramatic exaggeration when she contemplates death rather than marrying Paris, exclaiming, "O bid me leap, rather than marry Paris." Her extreme response underscores the depth of her love for Romeo and her unwillingness to betray her heart's desires.


Juliet's character in 'Romeo and Juliet' undergoes a remarkable transformation, reflecting the societal norms and challenges of the Elizabethan Era. From an obedient daughter conforming to her family's wishes, she evolves into a courageous and resourceful young woman who dares to defy convention for the sake of love.

Her journey from compliance to deception, flirtation, and ultimately defiance reveals the complexity of her character and the enduring power of love in the face of societal constraints. Juliet's choices and dilemmas serve as a testament to the timeless appeal of Shakespeare's work and the enduring relevance of his characters.

Updated: Nov 01, 2023
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The Complex Character of Juliet in Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet'. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

The Complex Character of Juliet in Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' essay
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