Harriet Blair 11R
How does Shakespeare use language and other dramatic devices to create sympathy for Juliet in Act Three Scene Five?
Act 3 Scene 5 is an important turning point in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ as it is at that moment that we see the reason why Juliet is pushed to such extremes to convince her family that she has died which leads to the tragic ending. To make us feel sympathy with Juliet at this point, Shakespeare uses language and different dramatic devices such as soliloquy, equivocation and unintentional forecasting of the future for the lovers which the audience will pick up on but the characters do not.
Shakespeare makes us feel sympathy for Juliet right from the beginning of the scene by displaying the perfect love between her and Romeo before breaking it apart. The contrast which we see between the elevated and flowing style of the lovers’ discussion and the more discordant, broken lines from the Nurse and Lady Capulet conveys to us the reality of how beautiful their love was compared to life as it would be apart from each other. This is shown if you compare a line from Romeo when he talks about the “envious streaks [which] lace the severing clouds in yonder east” to when Lady Capulet enters and uses the straightforward phrase “Why how now Juliet?” There is a clear difference in tone as Romeo’s language is very beautiful and flowing using words such as ‘lace’ which suggests delicacy and referring to the sky which could be a reference to one of the themes of the play which sets the couple’s love up in the sky like stars and is literally ‘too good for this world’. This is further backed up by his use of the words ‘night’s candles’ to represent the stars which is a beautiful image and allows the audience to see their love in a glowing, star-like manner which puts them even further up on a pedestal. Lady Capulet’s words, however, are to the point and monosyllabic which pulls Juliet back to the earth where she is not fated to belong and therefore make us feel sympathy for her as she seems too good for that. We can also see the difference in harmony here as when Romeo and Juliet are together their lines have a steady rhythm and each of them speaks for the whole line of ten counts before the next takes a turn, whereas as soon as the Nurse and Lady Capulet arrive there are lines which fall short of the correct number of beats for iambic pentameter. An example of this is when the Nurse first enters and says “Madam” and Juliet replies with “Nurse” on the next line. This marks a certain form of tension which may be signified with a pause and awkward silence when the play is performed which would give the audience a feel for how much more comfortable Juliet is when talking with Romeo than she is with the Nurse. This again increases our sympathy with her as we know that he is about to leave and she will lose that more comfortable aspect of her life.
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Once her parents have then arrived, equivocation is used strongly on Juliet’s part throughout the entire scene in which she tells her them something which they see to mean one idea but in actual fact she and the audience know that it means something else. This is shown when Juliet claims that Paris “shall not make me there [St. Peter’s Church] a joyful bride”. Her mother assumes that Juliet says this because she is still unhappy after Tybalt’s death and would therefore find it difficult to be ‘joyful’ but the audience know that she says this because she is already married and therefore she would be less than ‘joyful’ to be made a bride again. Shakespeare uses this equivocation in several ways to make us feel sympathy for Juliet. One of these is that she is always telling the truth and never actually lies to their parents, only relying on their interpretation of what she says. This is important to the audience, especially in Shakespearian times when moral standards were very high for a young girl, as it is seen that although she has been deceitful and married without her parents’ knowledge she is still unwilling to lie and this might make her seem ‘bad’ in the eyes of the audience and therefore lower their sympathies. Some may say that she is still being presented as dishonest as she is purposefully giving her parents the wrong impression through her words but I believe that Shakespeare made sure that Juliet did not lie in this scene so she comes across as the character in possession of the higher moral ground, therefore increasing our loyalties to her and thus making us feel more sympathetic towards her. Another similar result of the equivocation is that the audience can see how Juliet is being presented as fiercely loyal to Romeo as even though it could seem that all hope is lost with him, she still will mislead her parents and refuse to say anything against him. I think that this is also an important part to the equivocation and has a role in developing our sympathies as again it gives her the moral high ground as she is being faithful to her husband and will again not lie about her feelings.
Although the audience would expect this equivocation to lead Juliet’s parents to act rationally, Shakespeare uses Capulet’s harsh and cruel language to further increase our sympathy for Juliet. His choice of words to describe Juliet are particularly callous, calling her ‘unworthy’, ‘green sickness carrion’, ‘baggage’ and ‘tallow-face’ amongst others. Even to an Elizabethan audience who may feel that Juliet should do what her father wants these words would seem a bit too strong, it would be very hurtful to be referred to as ‘carrion’ which conveys the image of rotting flesh which is a terrible way for a father to be speaking to his daughter. To call her ‘baggage’ is as well particularly of interest, especially to the modern audience, as it has associations with heaviness and objects which have to be carried around which are in the way. In this way it seems as if Capulet doesn’t even want a daughter and this is backed up by the fact that he says he believes that he has ‘one child too much’. It is interesting later on in the play then for the audience to see how suddenly Capulet’s reactions change when he believes that his daughter has died. Instead of words about disowning her and calling her names he cries that with his “child [his] joys are buried”. At that point in the play the audience will think back to when he was being so cruel to her and their sympathy for her situation will increase even more because if he had just let her know how much he loved her back then and allowed her to take her time to sort things out, none of the tragic events would have to have happened. Capulet’s reaction to Juliet also ties into the theme of the different views of the old and the young. Capulet believes that Juliet is simply being insolent and disobedient, calling her ‘young baggage’ emphasising the fact that he sees her as just a child, whereas Juliet feels that she is acting out of love and loyalty. These are views ahead of her time as in those days she would have been expected to do what her parents wanted and this would especially make us as a modern audience feel more sympathetic towards Juliet as these are morals and standards which we take for granted these days and would feel that Capulet is being old-fashioned and cruel.
Our sympathy for Juliet is also increased by the recurring references to another theme of the play, death and the idea that the lovers jinx themselves by referring to their deaths in a careless manner without thinking their words through or realising that they will come true. There are many examples of this throughout the scene as there are throughout the play, for example the last line of the scene in which Juliet asks that ‘If all else fail, [herself] have the power to die.’ It is unlikely that she knows quite how dangerous these words are as the audience will know that she will die because of the narrative lines at the beginning of the play so will see that at some point along the way, the plan will fail. This is effective because not only will the audience sympathise with her but they will also begin to worry for her as the tension builds up to the point where the plan does all go wrong. The theme is referred to again several times by her parents, for example when Lady Capulet claims that she ‘would the fool were married to her grave’. This strengthens the sympathy the audience have as not only have her parents turned against her in her choices but now also seemed to be carelessly predicting her death. I think that this theme is important to include in this scene as death is now very close and so it makes sense to build up the audience’s expectation of it. However, it could be argued that the audience, instead of empathising with Juliet, think that she is being foolish to keep mentioning death in such an off-hand way, making it entirely her fault for dooming herself, thus decreasing their sympathies decrease for her instead of increasing. Also it could be said that Juliet does not need sympathising with over her death because it is only after that occurs that her love with Romeo can run its course without the pain and troubles of life and therefore is a happy occasion rather than one which we should feel sorry for her about. However, I think the death at the end marks the suffering which the couple have been through reaching a peak and therefore is something which is dreaded and should make us sympathise with Juliet more rather than less.
A final dramatic device which Shakespeare uses to great effect in this scene to increase our sympathies with Juliet is the soliloquy at the end. In this we can see the extent of Juliet’s frustration as it is unlike her nature to curse the Nurse calling her ‘ancient damnation’ and a ‘most wicked fiend’. It seems from this that she is not thinking properly as these are very strong words for her to use and at no other point in the play do we hear her outcry with such anger. We sympathise with her there as we see that the Nurse, the only person whom she could trust before, seems to have turned against her and she has no-one left who understands her anymore. I think it is important that Shakespeare removes the Nurse as someone whom Juliet can turn to as it shows that she is really at her last resort once she goes to the Friar and we feel sorry for her as there is really nothing left that she can do. Another advantage of the soliloquy in helping us to empathise with Juliet is that it makes us feel like she is personally talking directly to us and entrusting us with her problems unlike she could do with her parents and the Nurse. This makes us feel individually responsible for her happiness and more worrying about what happens to her therefore increasing the sympathy which we have.
In conclusion it is obvious that Shakespeare has purposefully used many dramatic and linguistic devices to increase our sympathy for Juliet in this scene. This could be for many reasons, for example to make her seem like ‘the good character’ again after going behind her parents back or to increase our empathy with her so that we can understand her grief in the final scene.