Juliet's characterisation in "Romeo and Juliet"

Authors Avatar

Juliet’s characterisation in “Romeo and Juliet”

This tragic love story of two star-crossed lovers unfolds when Juliet, one of the two main characters, falls in love with the son of her father’s great enemy, Romeo, the other main character. Juliet realises her parents will not be happy as they want her to marry another. Therefore she goes behind their backs to marry Romeo to show her parents she’s serious about him but the play ends in tragedy.

Initially, Shakespeare presents Juliet as an innocent girl of not quite 14 years of age. Juliet is first heard of in Act 1 Scene 2 when we see her father –Lord Capulet- and the county Paris speaking of her. Lord Capulet is keen to protect her since she is his only surviving child. Paris is asking the Lord for her hand in marriage but her father says she is too young:

        “My child is yet a stranger in the world,

She hath not seen the change of fourteen years;

Shakespeare is trying to portray Juliet as not being ready to even court. By saying she is a “stranger” to the world he is commenting perhaps on her lack of experience. When Lord Capulet says

Let two more summers wither in their pride”

He is telling Paris to wait for two more years and then he can “woo” her.

In Act 1, Scene 3 we meet Juliet for the first time. Juliet is not really considering marriage at the start of the play. We know this because of her reaction to her parents’ proposal that she marry Paris: “It is an honour I dream not of”. When we first meet her, she is in the company of her mother and her nurse, so the audience is reminded that she is a young girl, not yet making decisions for herself. This idea is emphasised when her Nurse, who is an old gossip, begins to talk about an episode in Juliet’s life when she was very small. Initially Juliet is perceived as a passive character. Throughout this scene, Juliet is meek and obedient: “Madam, I am here, what is your will?” When Lady Capulet suggests marriage, Juliet seems to be quite calm and unemotional and does not even seem curious about her intended bridegroom, wishing only to please her parents. She has no real feelings for Paris but Juliet agrees to look at him at the party:

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

By using the word “consent” Shakespeare shows the audience that Juliet will only do what her mother wants her to.

However next time we see Juliet in Act 1, Scene 5 she seems to have forgotten about pleasing her mother and does not even take any notice of Paris for her eyes are set on Romeo-“the only son” of her families “great enemy”. At the dance she falls in love with Romeo. When they speak Romeo is first to mention a kiss and also mentions touching hands. However Juliet is responsive. Her language is controlled and flirtatious. They then touch hands, then Romeo says, “let lips do what hands do” and they share a kiss. Juliet realises this is wrong when she calls it a “sin”. Romeo then asks, “Give me my sin again” so they share another intimate moment. From here on Juliet knows she cannot love or marry Paris because of Romeo. Another change, which is apparent in this section, is Juliet’s attitude towards the Nurse. The Nurse is the closest person to Juliet. She has been looking after Juliet since she was born and wants more than anything to see her happily married. Juliet asks her to help her find the name of the person she just kissed. She trusts the Nurse totally.

Join now!

“Go ask his name. –If he be marrièd,

My grave is like to be my wedding bed.”

By this Shakespeare meant that Juliet would not marry another, as Romeo was the one she wants. Juliet was saying that her heart belongs to one and only one. She is being stubborn here as she will not “look to like” another. When Juliet learns that Romeo is in fact a Montague, she uses antithetical language, “My only love sprung from my only hate”, to express the difficult dilemma she faces.

 I think it is quite possible that Shakespeare deliberately put these two ...

This is a preview of the whole essay