Free Study Guide: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare - Free BookNotes|
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ROMEO AND JULIET: FREE CHAPTER NOTES / BOOK SUMMARY
In this brief scene, the audience learns more about Juliet, the heroine of the play who has not yet been introduced on the stage. She is young girl of fourteen and obviously Capulet’s pride and joy. The father says of Juliet that “the earth has swallowed all hopes but she.” When Paris asks Capulet for her hand in marriage, he hesitates at first; then he says that he will agree if the idea pleases Juliet. In the thirteenth century, when noble marriages were usually arranged by the family, it is a loving father who wants to please his child. His concern for Juliet is similar to the concern for Romeo revealed by Lady Montague in the first scene. Even though these families hate one another, they dearly love their children.
Paris is introduced for the time in this scene. He is formal and peaceful, following all the rules as he consults Capulet about his interest in marrying Juliet. Unlike Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline, Paris’s attraction to Juliet seems low-keyed and practical. His protocol in approaching Juliet with the father’s permission is in sharp contrast to Romeo’s later approach to Juliet, first as a masked party crasher and then as an impassioned lover in the garden.
The role of fate will be very important throughout the play, and fate begins
to work in this chapter. The illiterate Capulet servant just happens to
see Romeo and Benvolio and asks them to read the list of guests invited
to the Capulet feast. If he had not been illiterate and needed the help
of a Montague, he never would have spoken to Romeo. If this meeting had
not taken place, Romeo would never have known of the party. If Rosaline’s
name had not been on the guest list, Romeo would have had no interest
in attending the party. If it had not been a masked affair, Romeo would
never have been able to go into the home of the Capulets. If he had not
been at the party, Romeo would not have met Juliet and fallen in love
with her. Fate is obviously pulling Romeo and Juliet together.
This scene is a purely domestic one set in Capulet’s house. Capulet informs
his wife of Paris’ proposal for Juliet and instructs her to prepare Juliet
accordingly. Lady Capulet goes off to find her daughter. The Nurse calls
for Juliet at the top of her voice. As Juliet enters, Lady Capulet tells
her that at age fourteen she is now old enough to marry. The Nurse interrupts
and swears that Juliet will not be fourteen until August 1st, two weeks
in future. Juliet then answers her mother by saying that she has not thought
of marriage. Her mother, in turn, instructs her to start thinking seriously
about it, adding that many “ladies of esteem” in Verona were already mothers
at her age. Next, she informs Juliet about Paris’ interest in marrying
her. Lady Capulet also states her approval of this young nobleman of rank
and wealth. Juliet replies that she will try to like Paris in order to
win her mother’s approval. A servant enters and announces the arrival
of the guests for the party. Lady Capulet bids Juliet to go at once to
meet Count Paris.
This scene introduces Juliet as a seemingly innocent, submissive girl. First, the audience hears her parents talking about her; much like Romeo was discussed in the first scene before he was seen. Then, Juliet appears on the stage for the first time, a picture of beauty and politeness. Her youth is emphasized once again, with the nurse pointing out that she will not turn fourteen for another two weeks; Lady Capulet counters her youth by saying many young ladies of her age are already mothers. When her mother tells Juliet she should begin thinking about marriage, specifically to Count Paris, Juliet seems obedient. She says she will try to like him. If she were totally obedient and docile, however, she would willingly accept the marriage as a final arrangement with no thought or input. She does not give her full consent. Shakespeare is foreshadowing the rebelliousness in Juliet’s character that will clearly emerge when she marries Romeo, a Montague, without her parent’s knowledge or approval.
The idea of marriage is completely foreign to Juliet. Totally pure and innocent, she has never even been in love. The Nurse, however, is not so innocent, and, as always, speaks what is on her mind. She tells Juliet she would jump at the chance to go to bed with handsome Paris. Love and sex are one in the same to her, and she expresses that feeling clearly. Although she is often vulgar in her language, she never intends to be offensive; she only suffers from speaking before thinking, and her words are often very humorous. As a result, the down-to-earth Nurse, who genuinely cares for her charge Juliet, is truly one of the most clever and bawdy of all of Shakespeare’s characters. She delights the audience throughout the play and serves as a comic relief and contrast to the intense tragedy.
The audience also learns more about Paris and Lady Capulet in this Scene.
She is still a young woman; probably not even thirty years of age, since
young ladies tended to marry in their early teens. Her marriage, obviously
arranged by her family and not by love, was to a much older gentleman.
It is not surprising, therefore, that she finds Count Paris a very suitable
match for her lovely young daughter. He is handsome, wealthy, and noble
of birth; he is also young in age (if not in actions). It is no wonder
that she encourages Juliet to go and find this gentleman at the feast.
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