Summary and Analysis
When Capulet refused, in Act I, Scene 2, to consent to his daughter's marriage to Paris unless she also was willing, he seemed concerned for Juliet's welfare. Such parental concern altogether evaporates into authoritarian, patriarchal ranting as Capulet shouts epithets, calling Juliet "baggage" and "carrion" for refusing his order. Capulet now uses Juliet's youth to mock her reluctance to marry, calling her a crying child and whining puppet. Capulet has degraded his daughter to chattel — an item to be brokered for value. In his fury, Capulet threatens Juliet with violence and disinheritance if she continues to disobey him, "hang! Beg! Starve! Die in the streets! / For by my soul I'll ne'er acknowledge thee."
Capulet's sudden transformation from seemingly concerned parent to vengeful adversary illustrates his tendency toward impulsive, cruel, and reckless behavior. These tendencies may have contributed to the origination of the feud itself. He has shown such tendencies previously — he wanted to engage the Montagues in a sword fight using his long sword; he viciously denounced Paris for wishing to duel Romeo at the masquerade ball; and now he has turned on his only daughter with threats of disinheritance. He literally places her in a "nothing to lose" position and thereby encourages the defiance he resents so mightily.
While Juliet's parents react with extreme bitterness, Juliet handles herself with striking maturity. No longer the dutiful teenage daughter of the Capulets, she is a young woman, a bride, a wife. Her answers are skillfully truthful yet pragmatically deceptive. In response to her mother's desire to have Romeo killed, Juliet remarks that she "never shall be satisfied / With Romeo, till I behold him — dead." Juliet's mother interprets this as anger over Romeo killing Tybalt. However, in the Elizabethan vernacular, a man's death also means his sexual climax. Since Juliet has just ventured into the realm of physical love, she desires it again — both as a youthful desire for pleasure as well as a mature yearning for further spiritual contact with Romeo.
The Nurse, who has been more of a mother figure to Juliet than her biological mother, fails Juliet at this critical moment. To comfort Juliet in her desperate situation, the Nurse offers her an easy solution — marry Paris and forget the "dishclout" Romeo. This amoral recommendation betrays Juliet's trust and indicates the Nurse's inability to understand the passionate intensity and spiritual nature of Romeo and Juliet's love. After all, the Nurse regards love as a temporary, physical relationship, and she sees Juliet's marriage to Paris in entirely practical and economic terms.
The Nurse's failure to stand up for Juliet in the face of Capulet's onslaught is also understandable. She lacks Juliet's latitude to defy the Capulets. Although a loyal servant, the Nurse is not family and is keenly aware of her subordinated social position. She has been instrumental in facilitating Juliet's secret marriage and now seeks to cover the liabilities of her actions.
Each member of Juliet's primary family has abandoned her. Still a young person in need of an older person's support, she flees to the Friar as a source of aid and counsel. Juliet's isolation is nearly complete, and yet she is calm and resolute, as she determines to die rather than enter into a bigamous marriage with Paris: "If all else fail, myself have power to die."
night's candles the stars.
Cynthia's brow the moon.
hunt's-up morning song used to wake huntsmen and, more traditionally, a newly married bride.
runagate fugitive (runaway).
wrought arranged for.
mistress minion spoiled hussy.
hurdle a kind of frame or sled on which prisoners in England were drawn through the streets to execution.
hilding a low, contemptible person.
rate to scold severely; chide.
smatter to utter or gossip; an onomatopoeic word like "chatter."
demesnes the land around a mansion; lands of an estate.
puling fool whimpering child.
mammet doll or puppet.
dishclout a cloth for washing dishes.
beshrew to curse: mainly in mild imprecations.