Juliet, the only child of the Capulet household, is a character whose love for Romeo changes her from an obedient girl to a passionate young woman.
Juliet is very young. Shakespeare makes her this age to heighten the sense of tragedy, that someone so young and innocent can die for love.
‘Madam, I am here. What is your will?’
Juliet addresses her mother formally, showing that she is distant from her mother.
The question ‘what is your will?’ establishes her as compliant and docile (obedient), politely obeying her mother.
Context: Children were brought up by servants in the 14th century and the relationships between parents and children would often have been formal. Girls were expected to obey their parents at this time.
‘If he be married / My grave is like to be my wedding bed’
When Juliet meets Romeo, she falls deeply in love, reflecting how youthful and passionate she is.
Her language is extreme; she will die if she cannot marry Romeo. She, like Romeo, has been swept up in a storm of strong emotion, showing the intensity of true love.
Shakespeare uses foreshadowing; the association here of love with death reminds us of the Prologue’s warning that these lovers are ‘star-cross’d’ and so doomed to die.
We could question the suddenness and authenticity of this very new love but the structure of the play allows us, the audience, to intimately (closely) watch the unfolding of love between the two. This enables us to understand the strength of their emotions which affects their decision making.
We also suspend our disbelief, overlooking the implausible (unbelievable) elements in the narrative. The fast pace of the play does not give us time to pause and question just how genuine their love for one another is.
Romeo’s language defines Juliet with light imagery, capturing the shining quality of Juliet.
The light imagery emphasises her physical beauty as it illustrates just how dazzling she is. She is seen as a force for the good as light is also a symbol of hope; the imagery reflects her personality in an incredibly positive way.
Yet the association with Juliet as shining bright is perhaps negative as it connects Juliet with star imagery, reminding the audience that she is a ‘star-cross’d lover’, doomed to die.
Context: This religious imagery shows that Juliet is seen as pure and almost sacred; it also validates their relationship for the Elizabethan audience, to whom the Christian religion was a fundamental part of their lives.
‘too rash, too unadvised, too sudden’
Juliet questions the intensity and wisdom of their love, suggesting that she is more cautious and more mature than the headstrong (impatient) Romeo.
She is aware of the possible consequences of their love, and the tri-colon here reminds Romeo, and the audience, of the many negatives to their love. It is not straightforward and could, and indeed will, be dangerous. The tri-colon piles on the many negatives of their love and captures Juliet’s anxiety.
‘Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night’
Juliet is impatient for night-time as she waits for her husband on their wedding night. The imperative verb ‘spread’ (or ‘close’) highlights Juliet’s eagerness for her wedding night.
We see her here as passionate and hot-blooded, full of desire for her new husband. The soliloquy shows her development from the beginning of the play, when, shy and demure, she waited on her parents’ pleasure. Here, she is seeking her own pleasure and the command verb reflects this control she has taken over her own life.
Context: Juliet’s sexuality is clearly shown here, safely shown, as she is now married. Sex outside marriage would be outside the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in the Elizabethan era but, because she is married, Shakespeare can now show her sexual side.
‘violently as hasty powder fired’
Juliet claims that she will kill herself rather than marry Paris and her hyperbole reveals her complete horror at dishonouring her husband. Her love for Romeo is absolute and she proves herself true and loyal in her declaration of choosing to die rather than betray him.
The dramatic irony here is painful; we know that she does indeed die for love, showing her courage and dedication. Yet again, Shakespeare is reminding the audience of the Prologue’s warning that she will take her life; we watch her make her desperate plans, painfully aware that she is powerless to escape her tragic fate.
Grade 9 Analysis
Look at the character in a different way.
Does Juliet deserve our full sympathy?
Yes: Juliet’s suicide is an incredibly painful moment for the audience as the lively, passionate girl dies for love, and audiences have enormous sympathy for her. She does deceive her family by faking her death but this deceit is only a consequence of the situation the incredibly young and naive Juliet finds herself in, and her actions reflect her love and commitment to her husband. The action of the play only lasts five days and this whirlwind speed forces Juliet to make hasty decisions. The audience, also caught up in the fast-moving action of the play, feels empathy for the innocent girl who is so completely and helplessly in love.
No: Juliet is highly manipulative when she fakes her own death, causing huge distress to her already grieving family. This shows a devious side to her character and perhaps makes us doubt her integrity. This sly side to her character is also seen in Act 1 when her mother asks her to ‘like’ of Paris’ love and Juliet replies ‘I’ll look to like, if looking liking move’. Her slick mirroring of her mother’s words suggests a sharp intelligence which buys her time; she does not commit herself but instead prevaricates. She is not so much innocent as a girl adept at manipulation.
As a young girl in fourteenth century Italy, and sixteenth century England, Juliet would have had very little power. These patriarchal (male-dominated) societies would have left her, a young girl, with no option but to plot and deceive.