Romeo and Juliet By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act I: Scene 3

Summary

Lady Capulet questions Juliet regarding her feelings about marriage and then informs Juliet of Paris' proposal. When her mother mentions that Paris will attend the feast that evening, Juliet reacts with dutiful reserve, whereas her nurse, recalling incidents from Juliet's childhood, volunteers a bawdier response.

Analysis

This scene introduces Juliet on stage and explores the theme of youth versus old age and the difference in attitudes between The Nurse, Lady Capulet, and Juliet towards love and marriage. The Nurse's uninhibited attitude towards sex is contrasted with Lady Capulet's reserved discussion of Juliet's proposed marriage to Paris.

The Nurse is a comic character who is a foil for Juliet, contrasting Juliet's youthful innocence with the Nurse's older, coarser outlook on life. The Nurse's reminiscence about Juliet's being weaned and learning to walk also anticipates Juliet's move towards sexual maturity. For example, in her account of when Juliet fell over learning to walk, the Nurse recalls that her own husband noted bawdily: "Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit." Such comments help depict Juliet as an adolescent on the threshold of womanhood, while reinforcing the idea that Juliet has been objectified as a marriage commodity since birth.

Juxtaposed with the Nurse's reflections on Juliet's childhood is Lady Capulet's discussion of the proposed match between Juliet and Paris. In her relationship with Juliet, Lady Capulet seems distant and cold, expecting Juliet's complete obedience in agreeing to the marriage. Juliet is clearly reluctant to agree to the arranged marriage as she says demurely: "It is an honor that I dreamt not of." Lady Capulet considers Juliet to be old enough for marriage: Besides, a marriage to Paris would bring increased social status and wealth for the Capulets, as Lady Capulet observes: "So shall you share all that he doth possess."

While Lady Capulet sees Paris as the chance to make a socially advantageous match for the family, rather than considering Juliet's feelings, the Nurse regards marriage as a purely physical relationship, almost a burden women simply must bear. She reinterprets Lady Capulet's line that marriage increases a woman's wealth and status as referring instead to the way in which marriage increases a woman through pregnancy. Thus, neither her mother nor her Nurse addresses the romantic concept of love that Juliet harbors. In fact, each identifies a distinct aspect of female oppression — social and physical.

Juliet's response to her mother's wish for her to agree to the marriage is clever and evasive: "I'll look to like, if looking liking move / But no more deep will I endart my eye." This answer indicates Juliet's emotional maturity because she has made up her own mind that she cannot marry someone whom she does not love, rejecting both her mother's and the Nurse's materialistic and sexual views of love. While she seems to acquiesce to tradition, her words suggest an awareness that there must be something better, beyond the concept of marriage that reinforces female social subordination.

Juliet's attitude anticipates her rebellion against her parents later in the play; as the gap between Juliet and her family widens. Juliet's view of love also points to the spiritual quality of her love for Romeo, which is not tainted by economic and sexual concerns. Because her concept of love transcends the temporal issues of family feuds, oppression of women, and generational differences, it is doomed to become the victim of those jealous forces.

Glossary

Lammas-tide a harvest festival formerly held in England on Aug. 1, when bread baked from the first crop of wheat was consecrated at Mass. The festival is used to symbolize fertility and plentitude, qualities which can be linked to Juliet as a young adolescent.

laid wormwood to my dug rubbed wormwood on my nipple: a method of weaning children. The Nurse's role when Juliet was a young child was to act as her wet-nurse and breast-feed Juliet.

tetchy touchy; irritable; peevish.

trow think.

by th'rood an oath: by Christ's cross.

broke her brow fell and cut her forehead.

by my holidame from the Anglo-Saxon for holiness, here used by the Nurse to mean "holy dame," that is, the Virgin Mary.

young cockerel's stone young rooster's testicle.

stinted stopped crying.

disposition inclination.

he's a man of wax he's perfect, without fault, like a wax figure.

endart shoot as a dart.

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