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“O happy dagger, / This is they sheath; / there rust, and let me die.”

Juliet Capulet (5:3:168-170)

First published in 1595, Romeo and Juliet has consistently been one of William Shakespeare’s most renowned plays. It is primarily a tragedy, but it tells of one of the most iconic and famed love stories ever written. It tells of the death-marked love between a pair of star-crossed lovers, who must die to bury their parents’ strife and end the ancient grudge between the feuding Capulet and Montague families. It tells the tragic lives of two young lovers, in a heart-gripping story containing light and dark, love and hate, life and death. Essentially, it tells of two young people taking their own lives to forever be joined with love. During this essay, I will follow the heroine, Juliet Capulet, in her story of how she burst into adulthood, and how she made the final decision to end her life forever.  

The first instance in which Juliet demonstrates independent thinking, is during Act 1 Scene 3, when she is asked by her mother about the possibility of an engagement between herself and the Prince of Verona. “It is an honour that I dream not of.” (1:3:66) is Juliet's reply. For the Elizabethan era, this is an odd response, and the audience are unsure of whether or not she has accepted Paris’ proposal. Juliet makes her decision clearer however, when she continues speaking to her mother: “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move; / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly”. (1:3:98-100) Basically, Juliet is saying that she will look at Paris, and no-one else without her mothers permission, but she cannot guarantee that she will accept his proposal.

Throughout this small speech, Juliet appears to be a model and dutiful daughter, but is she really as loyal and obedient as first impressions suggest? On one hand Juliet tells her mother that she will do only what she is told, and promises to look at the Prince, possibly even accept his hand in marriage. Nevertheless, on the other hand, Juliet deliberately disobeys her mothers’ obvious wish by not agreeing to the marriage straight away. She has therefore taken control of the situation, and has not agreed to do anything that she doesn’t want to do.

Juliet’s attitude (and her parent’s leniency) towards the proposal, is very uncharacteristic behaviour for the Elizabethan era, when daughters were generally not given much choice about their lives or future husbands. Not only is Juliet being asked for her opinion, but she also seems comfortable with betraying her parent’s wishes, and saying “no”. This shows huge development in Juliet's character, as, by not agreeing to the proposal straight away, and by saying she will only marry Paris if she likes him, Juliet is showing the audience – and her parents – that she can make her own decisions in life, and is not completely reliant upon others for help.

Later, at the Capulet’s ball, Romeo and Juliet engage in the sophisticated conversation that marks the starting point of their courtship. The first time these “star-crossed lovers” speak to each other, they do so as a sonnet (1:5:92-105). Shakespeare wrote their first meeting in the style of a sonnet, because this type of writing was a highly dignified and common activity for noblemen during Queen Elizabeth’s rein. By having Romeo and Juliet speak in such intellectual and literate ways, Shakespeare would have made clear that these young lovers were the main characters in the play, and the audience would have felt an instant connection between them, knowing that they are meant to be together.

Throughout the discussion, at no time does Juliet behave like a subdued child; instead she acts like a woman and takes control. She cleverly responds to Romeo’s desire to kiss her by saying: “Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake”. (1:5:104) In other words, “I’m not going to kiss you, but I will kiss you back if you try”. Consequently, she is not breaking the promise to her mother by initiating the kiss either. This conversation is also important because it demonstrates Juliet's intelligence: she is able to participate in the highly developed wordplay with Romeo, and she seems less childlike as she does this.

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Sadly, Juliet learns that Romeo is a Montague and therefore her enemy. Her reaction to this knowledge however, gives us another insight into her character. “My only love sprung from my only hate! / Too early seen unknown, and known too late! / Prodigious birth of love it is to me, / That I must love a loathed enemy.” (1:5:137-140) Juliet declares her love for Romeo after only a few minutes in his company, and - unlike Romeo, who has recently been infatuated with Rosaline - Juliet admits to only one love. This is a clear advancement from her earlier ...

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There are however missing apostrophes and one or two errors which could have been eliminated by careful proof-reading.