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The ways in which Juliet acts and speaks through the play show us how the parent - child relationship worked in the 16th century

Juliet, at the beginning, is very obedient to her parents. She addresses her mother as ‘Madam’ (P63 Line 6), which is very formal. Today, we address our mothers as ‘Mum’. ‘Mother’ would be the most formal word that we use today. ‘Madam’ implies a distance between them but also shows how Juliet thinks her mother as important to her.

However, Juliet addresses her father as ‘father’, which would imply that he is closer to his daughter than his wife is. In Act 1 Scene 2, Lord Capulet has the interview with Paris where he asks for Juliet’s hand in marriage.

At first he refuses because he feels she would be “too soon married…she hath not yet seen the change of 14 years” (P57, Line 9). Capulet knows the age of his daughter whereas Lady Capulet had to ask the nurse, which again implies how Juliet is possibly closer to her father. He seems to be a generally easy-going man; but we know from Act 1 Scene 5 that Capulet can lose his temper very quickly when defied (here by Tybalt).

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I believe that from him getting angry and because he doesn’t like to be defied, he thinks highly of himself.

We first meet Lady Capulet in Act 1 Scene 3 where she abruptly proposes the idea that Juliet marries Paris. Juliet is willing to “look to like” at Paris, but at this stage is happy to remain obedient to her parents who will “endart [her] eye/[no more deep than her mother’s] consent gives strength to make it fly.

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” (P69, Lines 97/9).

Juliet speaks very politely to her mother (P67, Line 65) and in the quote above is saying that she will not fall in love until her mother tells her to. This is complete obedience; however, Juliet believes she can control her emotions whereas we know that we cannot help whom we fall in love with. The thought at the base of this image is of Cupid shooting his arrow at a target, refusing to be controlled. Later on in the play, Juliet’s love and obedience for her parents becomes consumed in her greater love for Romeo. Her passion for Romeo is as sudden as his for hers. The obedient child who told her parents she would “endart [her] eye” (P96, Line 97) no further than she had permission to, now calls out and longs for Romeo, (though unaware of his presence) and says [she] will no longer be a Capulet (P97, Line 36).

Where we can see that Juliet wishes to marry for love; “If that thy bent of love be honourable,/Thy purpose marriage…” (P103, Line 143/4); her mother shares a different view on the ideal marriage. Lady Capulet in her proposition to Juliet about Paris says, “So shall you share all that he doth possess” (P69, Line 93). This implies (along with many other parts of her speech) that Lady Capulet sees marriage as sharing wealth and possessions rather than love. By suggesting the idea that Juliet marries Paris, makes Lady Capulet seem concerned for Juliet’s welfare that she will have a good husband who is obviously rich and would look after her.

However, this concern for her daughter is not necessarily accompanied by a close bond of emotion. In fact, Juliet and her mother have a distant relationship. It is by far affectionate as there are no terms, which show affection toward each other in their dialogue. There is also little emotional closeness because Lady Capulet did not bring her up, except for teaching her good manors and courtesy. She left her daughter to the nurse to look after and bring up, ever since Juliet was a baby and the nurse was her wet nurse. Because of this, Juliet is much closer to the nurse and often confides in her, such as about Romeo (P87) when Juliet told the nurse to find out about him. The nurse “can tell her age unto an hour” (P63 Line 11). Lady Capulet even had to check with the nurse how old her daughter was because she was not sure! (P63).

In today’s society, we would generally feel it wrong if someone was employed to look after the child when the mother could do it. We see the best upbringings as those where both parents are with the child to teach and support. However, in the 16th century, it would have been normal for aristocratic families like the Capulets to employ a nurse as a wet nurse. Some families continued to employ the nurse but others left. So, in their fashion, the Capulets are good parents.oweveHH

But Juliet takes the example of none of the people who brought her up. When she falls in love with Romeo, she is following neither her mother nor the nurse’s beliefs. Much of what she says contains sexual references. In Act 2 Scene 5, the nurse has anticipation for Juliet for the sexual pleasures of her wedding bed; “You shall bear the burden soon at night” (Line 75). Her mother, as already stated above, believes in marriage for security and wealth. Juliet is independent of both of these views and decides to marry for love.

Her parents are totally unaware of her love for Romeo, so without asking, naturally assume that she mourns Tybalt’s death. In Act 3 Scene 5, Lady Capulet pays an unaccustomed visit to Juliet in her bedroom, again showing her distance from her daughter. Instead of offering sympathy, Lady Capulet plainly tells her to stop her mourning:

“Therefore have done; some grief shows much of love,

But much of grief shows still some want of wit.” (P177, Lines 72/3.)

Juliet’s mother tells her that her father has arranged for her to be married to Paris; she says he is “careful”; Capulet accepting Paris’ offer, despite his previous comments (“and too soon married”) shows how he is concerned and compassionate for Juliet. They believe that planning her marriage will make her happy and take her mind off Tybalt so in this sense they are being good parents by doing what they believe would make her happy.

However, the fact that this marriage has been arranged without any thought of what Juliet might think about it shows how out of touch they are about her feelings. It probably would not have occurred to them that they were not being good parents to Juliet. It was often the custom then to arrange a suitable marriage for your children – it was probably arranged for them by their parents. When Juliet refuses to accept Paris they are genuinely puzzled by her response. Their reaction is harsh:

“I would the fool were married to her grave”, says Lady Capulet. (Line 140)

Capulet’s threat to “drag thee on a hurdle thither”, with its implication that Juliet is guilty of treasonable behaviour of the sort leading to execution, shows not just his outrage, but his feeling (probably shared by many of Shakespeare’s generation) that resistance to a parents will was similar to a subject’s attack on his king. He also called her harsh names:

“green-sickness carrion,” ” baggage,” “tallow-face!,” “disobedient wretch.” (P183 Lines 156/7,160)

Lady Capulet tries to calm him down because she is not only concerned for Juliet, but also for her husband’s health. But despite her effort, he becomes even more threatening.

“… hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, for by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee”

(Lines 193/4)

This Scene, Act 3 Scene 5, is probably the best illustration of the failings of parental love in the play; even the Nurse, who has had the role of a parent to Juliet lets her down. When Juliet turns to her for help and support she advises her to make the best of things, to marry Paris and forget Romeo. Juliet realises she can no longer look to her Nurse as a mother figure. Juliet must feel completely abandoned by both her parents and Nurse. The nurse says:

“I think it best you married with the County.

…Romeo’s a disclout to him;

…I think you are happy in this second match,

For it excels your first…”

Juliet is shocked by both the nurses’ disloyalty to Romeo and her lack of moral sense in advocating a bigamous marriage. She will no longer trust the nurse or use her as a confidante. She cannot believe what she said; “Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!” (P198, Line 234)

We feel at this point in the play hate for Juliet’s parents because we see them through Juliet’s eyes. Her parents’ words are full of harsh language (“tallow-face”, “disobedient wretch”) whereas Romeo and Juliet’s speeches are full of passion, and beautiful language in sonnets and poetry (P85, 95-103). Romeo refers to Juliet as a saint, his love, his lady, the sun, moon, stars, and angels. Love is also a frequently mentioned word. Because of the language, we take the side of Romeo and Juliet and dislike the parents.

In Act 4 scene 5, Juliet’s parents seem to express their grief at Juliet’s apparent death in a superficial way. Their pity is more for themselves than for their daughter:

” Uncomfortable time, why cam’st thou now to murder, murder our solemnity?”

(Lines 60/1)

Nevertheless, in the final part of the play their grief appears more genuine as they realise what has happened:

” O me, this sight of death is as a bell, that warns my old age to a sepulchre.” (Lines 205/6)

The final scene is a triumph of love over hate. The love of Romeo and Juliet has a fitting memorial in the reconciliation of their families. Parental love seems to win through, too. Their remarks, although brief, are full of love, grief, and guilt.

I feel that Lord and Lady Capulet are good parents for the period in which they lived, in the way that they made sure she was well looked after, was taught good manors and courtesy, and in general, had a good upbringing. However, when Juliet decides to rebel, or not do what her parents want, they don’t understand and refuse to listen to her views. They end up arguing and their only daughter dies, so they pay the price for not being good parents at this point, even though they think they are only doing what is best for her.

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The ways in which Juliet acts and speaks through the play show us how the parent - child relationship worked in the 16th century. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from

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