Juliet Capulet in Romeo and Juliet
Juliet Capulet is the lovely daughter of the old Lord Capulet. She lives in the old palace of the Capulets with her parents. She is tended by a faithful but garrulous old nurse. She is just fourteen. And yet she stands on the verge of womanhood. She has reached the age where under southern skies girlhood is trembling into womanhood. Her father looks upon her as a child, ‘a stranger in the world.’ But her budding beauty has attracted the gaze of handsome Paris, who is anxious to make her his bride. She is bubbling with youth. Her nature is such that it only requires the awakening touch of a great Love to arouse it to the noblest and sweetest life.
Juliet is acknowledged by all to be the most beautiful damsel in Verona. Romeo at the Capulet ball is suddenly struck by her exceeding beauty. She seems to him to teach the torches to burn bright. In the night her beauty shines like a rich jewel worn by a black moor. It is heavenly beauty, too rich for use, too dear for earth. She is just like a snowy dove trooping with crows. Romeo speaks when he is dazzled by her unearthly beauty:
“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear
Beauly too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady o’er her fellow shows.”
Development of Juliet’s Personality
Juliet also, like Romeo, undergoes development, though he undergoes more than she. From her first appearance Juliet is more mature than her lover. Yet she changes. She advances form the unaffected simplicity of a young girl to the complicated emotions of a woman placed in tragic circumstances. When we see her for the first time, she is obedient and submissive to her parents. She seems to be willing to marry Paris. Her love for Romeo springs suddenly into being. And from that time her character develops. She goes from strength to strength without the temporary lapse that Romeo suffered.
At the masked ball, in her first conversation with Romeo, she shows herself as witty as Romeo. Romeo is fertile in figures and can occasionally invent fresh things like “Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day / Stands tiptoe on the misty mountains.” But it is always Juliet who leads the talk in their two great scenes together, and it is also she who knows what language cannot do:
“Conceit, more rich in matter than in words,
Brags of his substance, not of ornament.
They are but beggars that can count their worth;
But my true love is grown to such excess
I cannot sum of half my wealth.”
Her best lines are those in which she draws upon language to invent for her the images of death which she must confront before Romeo can be permanently hers. Yet when she wakes to find Romeo lifeless, she can muster no language capable of helping her in such an extremity and quickly joins her lover in death. By contrast, Romeo’s best speech is perhaps the one he delivers in the tomb.
Juliet’s Love and Modesty
Juliet’s attitude to love is shown quite different from the presumption of Romeo. It is one of modesty. In the Balcony Scene she reveals her sweet and tender love for him, speaking modesty, yet directly:
“In truth fair Montague I am too fond
And therefore thou mayst think my heavier light.
But trust me, gentleman, I’ll prove more true
Than those that have more cunning to be strange.”
Juliet confesses her selfless love to Romeo which is charged with profound feelings:
“My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep, the more I give to thee
The more I have, for both are infinite.”
Juliet’s Practical Wisdom
Shakespeare subtly differentiates between Juliet and Romeo in the effects of their passion upon them. It is not Romeo but Juliet who sees things in their practical light. In spite of her self-abandonment to love, Juliet is strong and practical. Even in the conversation by moonlight this trait of character is exquisitely brought out. Juliet’s questions are directly to the point. While Romeo indulges in beautiful descriptions of the situation, Juliet’s language is unambiguous. Her love does not blind her to the practical needs of the situation. She fears for the safety of Romeo in the Capulet’s garden:
“How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The Orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here.”
It is she who makes the practical proposal for secret marriage:
“If that thy bent of love be honorable
Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow.”
She also possesses practical wisdom. Her nature rises up in rebellion against the advice of the Nurse. But she is wise enough to see that she must disarm any suspicion on the part of the nurse. She gives her to understand that she is inclined to follow her advice. Similarly she dissembles before her father after returning from the Friar’s cell. She acts the part of the obedient daughter and begs pardon from her father.
Her love for Romeo never wavers. When the Nurse brings the sad news of Tybalt’s murder and Romeo’s banishment, she rebukes her lover. But soon she feels sorry and reads the situation in true perspective. She shows no sign of weakness which Romeo shows in similar situation. Her love is never shaken. Although her father bullies her mother deserts her, and the Nurse gives her wrong advice, she does not weaken. She never loses her self-control. She is calm when she says:
“Give me some present counsel, or behold
‘Twift my extreme, and me, this bloody knife
Shall play the umpire.”
Her courage is her greatest characteristic. She conjures up the horrors of the dangerous potion. Yet she takes it. She shows greatest strength at the end of the play. Friar Laurence’s plan is miscarried. The Friar suggests that she should escape to a convent. She refuses the suggestion. She never hesitates, and stabs herself.
Juliet: A lonesome figure
After Romeo’s departure she is left alone to face the situation. Everyone has deserted her. Her father has bullied her. Her mother has taken her hands off. The Nurse has given her immoral advice. The Friar takes fright at the crucial moment and runs away. Romeo lies dead at her feet. All have deserted her. She feels utterly lone.
Is Juliet Deceitful?
Critics have blamed Juliet for deceiving her parents by her secret marriage. Juliet should not be blamed. No decent parents should force their child to marry against her will. Shakespeare is careful to direct our sympathies. When Juliet is informed of her marriage she says
“I wonder at this haste, that I must wed
Ere he that should be husband comes to woo.”
She desperately implores her mother to postpone the marriage but her mother is unfeelingly indifferent. She says
“I would the fool were married to her grave.”
Capulet tells her that he will drag her to church on hurdle, calls her green sickness carrion, a disobedient wretch. He tells that he will cast her out to “hang, beg, starve, die in the streets.” His brutality is shocking. Shakespeare makes him to behave like a beast only to deepen our sympathy for Juliet.