Analysis of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”

romeoandjulietAnother paper that I wrote in college for a Shakespeare literature class I took. I really love reading Shakespeare and thoroughly enjoyed this class, although it was rather tough at times. I analyzed Romeo and Juliet about how Juliet’s wet nurse and Friar Lawrence acted as parents to the lovestruck teens.

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Throughout Romeo and Juliet, the Friar Lawrence and Juliet’s wet nurse acted as surrogate parents for the young lovers. However the role that the two played as surrogates led to the deaths of the two youths from their unrealized crossing of class boundaries. Romeo and Juliet’s parents were not major characters in the play and therefore the Friar and the Nurse helped the couple through their problems and also acted as the bridge between the two. Aside from passing messages along, Friar Lawrence and the Nurse also took on a lot of responsibilities that Romeo and Juliet were not mature enough to handle. Although they were not major characters, they acted as the stronger characters while the two main characters were usually weaker and more desperate.

Friar Lawrence was seen as the surrogate father for Romeo since the Montague parents were hardly in the play and there was hardly any connection between them and their son. When Romeo’s parents were mentioned in the beginning of the play, they had no idea where their son even was, creating their roles as irrelevant parent characters.

O, where is Romeo? Saw you him today?

Right glad I am he was not at this fray (lines 116-117)

(Shakespeare 1106).

The parents were only in the first and the last scene of the entire play, not really adding much to the storyline. Replacing the parents in the scenes were Romeo’s friends; instead of being with family, he was always found with his friends. They gave him advice when the Friar could not be there for him, although that was rare. Romeo should have confided more in his friends than in the Friar because they would have been staying within their boundaries while also giving him sound advice.

Friar Lawrence could be thought of as Romeo’s spiritual surrogate father as well because of his job. He is “one trained in a particular discipline, yet free to think and act on his feet” (Glover 168). Friars at the time were able to perform wedding ceremonies, perform funerals, and were also herbalists. At the time, the friars had two books that they followed: the bible and the book of nature, the Doctrine of Signatures. This was the theory that everything on earth was marked by God with a sign that described its purpose. There was also a similarity between Friar Lawrence’s role in the play and the general story of Christian religion. The Christian story is one of reconciliation with God through Love and similarly Friar Lawrence made himself into a Christ-like savior between the two families. His trying to marry the two youths was also an attempt to try and fix the feuding between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s. “The Romeo/Juliet union is not the impossible objective one might suppose, but a way to bridge the rift between the feuding Montague’s and Capulet’s” (Glover 168). However, the Friar could not imagine the problems that would be encountered from his simple planning; instead of helping the situation, Lawrence instead led toward Romeo’s death.

The Friar was Romeo’s right-hand man with giving advice and being the level head that Romeo needed when he started to stress out. Romeo had been characterized from the beginning as the perfect example of the Petrarchan lover. Romeo was effeminized by the two women he loved in the play because he placed them on a pedestal and took the role of the frustrated lover.

O sweet Juliet,

Thy beauty hath made me effeminate,

And in my temper soft’ned valor’s steel! (lines 112-115)

(Shakespeare 1122)

Romeo blamed Juliet for making him a weaker character as he fell neatly into the Petrarchian male role. When he faced trouble, Romeo was usually at a loss of what to do and depended on his father figure to help him out. For example, when Romeo was exiled from Verona for murdering Tybalt, he was unable to figure out what to do while he acted dramatically and threatened to stab himself. Friar Lawrence had to scold him and give him reasons of why he should want to live and why it would be unfair for him to kill himself. He is relieved that Romeo was merely banished, yet unhappy with the situation. “He is understanding but furious at Romeo’s lack of gratitude to the Duke for his clemency” (Glover 171). The Friar also had to devise a plan for Romeo and Juliet because Romeo was unable to calm himself for long enough to think of anything to do.

Ascend her chamber, hence and comfort her.

But look thou stay not till the watch be set,

For then thou canst not pass to Mantua,

Where thou shalt live till we can find a time

To blaze your marriage, reconcile your friends,

Beg pardon of the Prince, and call thee back

With twenty hundred thousand times more joy

Than thou went’st forth in lamentation (lines 147-154)

(Shakespeare 1126).

While being the person to calm Romeo and make him more levelheaded, the Friar also had to give him step-by-step instructions of what he should do during his exile. “[Friar Lawrence is] practical again, facing the alternatives, finding and promoting the only possible solution” (Glover 171). The Friar was his friend when he should have taken a more adult role in the boy’s life; he should have scolded the boy and showed more discipline instead of giving him options to further plunge deeper into the situation.

Juliet also went to the Friar for help and he aided her in a similar way when she was in a hysterical state. She went to Friar Lawrence after finding out that she had to marry Paris or face family exile, and she started to weep and lose control of herself. Juliet also threatened to kill herself, however she did not face the scolding that Friar Lawrence gave Romeo for the same threat. Friar Lawrence would not scold Juliet because he was not her surrogate parent; the Friar was there for Romeo in his time of need like the Nurse was for Juliet. The Friar or the Nurse would not give the other child similar treatment, but would instead treat them like a friend seeking advice. It was not the place of a parent to scold their child’s friend the way they would reprimand their child, so they keep with that sort of tradition. Friar Lawrence, however, did give Juliet instructions of what to do when she could not think for herself because of her desperation.

To-morrow night look that thou lie alone,

Let not the nurse lie with thee in thy chamber.

Take thou this vial, being then in bed,

And this distilling liquor drink thou off,

When presently through all thy veins shall run

A cold and drowsy humor; for no pulse

Shall keep his native progress, but surcease;

No warmth, no [breath] shall testify thou livest;

The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade

To [wanny] ashes, thy eyes’ windows fall,

Like death when he shuts up the day of life (lines 91-101)

(Shakespeare 1130).

Friar Lawrence had helped both children in similar instances when they were unable to come up with a plan of action for themselves instead of just staying out of their problems. While giving them comfort and helping them to regain their level heads, he also had to plan out exactly what they should do. Even as the main characters they were unable to devise their plans for themselves and instead needed to rely on the Friar for such things.

By the end of the play, all of Friar Lawrence’s hard work with helping Romeo and Juliet was basically useless; the deaths and problems that arose could not have even been foreseen. “It is not until the forward impetus of his plans is thwarted by that wretched plague that Lawrence suddenly perceives the enormity of what he’s done” (Glover 175). Friar Lawrence could hardly handle what he saw when he entered the tomb to wait for Juliet to awaken.

Romeo, O pale! Who else? What, Paris too?

And steep’d in blood? Ah, what an unkind hour

Is guilty of this lamentable chance! (lines 144-146) (Shakespeare 1137)

Friar Lawrence witnessed the boy who was like a son to him dead, with another man dead, and knew that Juliet was going to want to kill herself as well. “He recognizes the impossibility of the situation, and his own guilt overwhelms him” (Glover 175). His final speech to the Capulets, the Montagues, and the Prince was his way of releasing all his guilt because now “the man is dead inside” (Glover 176). The Friar told the entire story to the listeners; he told about his involvement and the Nurse’s, and at the end of his speech he put the blame entirely on his shoulders, saying he deserved punishment by law.

And if aught in this

Miscarried by my fault, let my old life

Be sacrific’d some hour before his time,

Unto the rigor of severest law (lines 266-269) (Shakespeare 1138).

Although the Prince excused him with no punishment, Friar Lawrence had to suffer for the rest of his life since his help led to the death of three innocent people; “the most significant emotional upheaval of his life” (Glover 174). Friar Lawrence felt that he deserved some sort of punishment for what his help had led to, but instead he was denied that luxury. Having a punishment would at least help him to recover from the tragedy, but instead he had to live with guilt and lack of punishment.

The wet nurse was Juliet’s surrogate mother in the play; she weaned the child and she also helped her by giving guidance as she grew older. “She is in fact the Mother, the person in whom Juliet lays her trust and confides her secret love” (Bruce 91). In the Act 1, Scene 3 the Nurse appeared for the first time involved in a conversation about marriage between Lady Capulet and Juliet. The Nurse gave a short speech about taking care of Juliet and some events that happened while she was growing up that her parents were absent for. William Toole concentrates on this speech and how it foreshadowed certain parts of Juliet’s life.

And then my husband- God be with his soul!

‘A was a merry man- took up the child.

“Yea” quoth he, “dost thou fall upon thy face?

Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit,

Wilt thou not, Jule?” and by my holidam,

The pretty wretch left crying and said, “Ay” (lines 39-44)

(Shakespeare 1109).

Toole remarked that these lines represented the relationship between Juliet falling down and the sexual awakening that was in her future. It was an inevitable thing, and the act of Juliet falling down made the Nurse’s husband think of Juliet’s future sex life. The “innocent ‘Ay’ of infancy” is related to Juliet’s sexual awakening and how she might not have been ready for it. However, the casual manner the Nurse and her husband mentioned sex in caused Juliet to maintain a similar disposition for when she “acquires ‘more wit’” (21-22).

Juliet’s parents were also rarely seen in the play except for when money was concerned. In the beginning of the play, Lady Capulet approached Juliet to ask her about her desire to marry Paris. However when she does approach her daughter, she asked her questions that she would know the answer to, were she closer to her daughter. Lady Capulet needed to ask her if she would be able to love Paris because she would not know otherwise since she rarely interacted with her daughter. Similarly when Capulet talks to Paris he assumed how his daughter felt about having to marry him without actually knowing. When Juliet was opposed to the marriage, Capulet was enraged because he was wrong about his daughter and also because he might not get the money he was expecting. It was just another instance similar to how Romeo’s parents were displayed, in which the parents of the protagonists do not know their children at all. They make assumptions about their children or just flat out show their ignorance of how to appeal to them.

Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender

Of my child’s love. I think she will [be] rul’d

In all respects by me; nay more, I doubt it not (lines 12-14)

(Shakespeare 1126).

The Capulets were driven by their love for money, and therefore Juliet was pressured into a second marriage with Paris. Although a woman at the time was allowed to deny her father’s wish of who she was to marry, Juliet was threatened with exile because her father did not want to miss this opportunity. The girl was left with no choice and had to comply. Even at the end of the play when their daughter is dead, all the Capulets would concentrate on was competing with the Montagues about erecting a larger statue of the other deceased child. Instead of involving themselves with their daughter, Capulet and Lady Capulet were too obsessed with money and their image to look more powerful than the Montagues.

The Nurse was a comic relief for Juliet when she had a troublesome time, but she was also there to cater to her every whim. If the Nurse had just stayed in her role as a wet nurse and not acted as Juliet’s friend, then Juliet’s death could have been avoided. However since the Nurse had lost her daughter, she used Juliet as a replacement and therefore did whatever the girl wanted. At the party where Juliet and Romeo first met, Juliet went to her Nurse to ask her questions about the stranger she danced with briefly.

Come hither, nurse. What is yond gentleman? (line 128)

What’s he that now is going out of door? (line 130)

What’s he that follows here, that would not dance? (line 132)

Go ask his name.- If he be married,

My grave is like to be my wedding-bed (lines 134-135)

(Shakespeare 1113).

Juliet relied on her Nurse for answers, similar to how a child would rely on a parent for answers that they would not otherwise know. The Nurse gave the girl the answers she sought, and even helped her out in other ways. She looked for Romeo to warn him not to hurt her ‘daughter,’ for the simple reason that Juliet asked her to find out more about him. “The only interest in her life is Juliet and Juliet’s happiness” (Bruce 93), and she would go out of her way to help her.

My young lady bid me inquire you out; what she bid me say, I will keep

to myself. But first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her in a fool’s

paradise, as they say; for the gentlewoman is young; and

therefore, if you should deal double with her, truly it were an

ill thing to be off’red to any gentlewoman, and very weak

dealing (lines 163-170) (Shakespeare 1119).

The Nurse’s words of warning were similar to how a parent would warn a new boyfriend about hurting or disrespecting their daughter. Bruce compares her interview with Romeo to how Capulet talks with Paris when he became a choice as Juliet’s future husband (97). The Nurse took on this mother-like role with open arms since she had been there for the girl her entire life. Bruce brings up how even after her services as Juliet’s wet-nurse were finished, she was further employed as a servant for the Capulets. She taught Juliet how to walk after weaning her, and was also the keeper of the household (96). She did not have to cater to Juliet any further, but felt it necessary to maintain the bond that was already instilled.

In two instances the Nurse had certain valuable information for Juliet that she decided to build up suspension for to have brief moments of power. When she returned from meeting with Romeo and giving him her warnings about how he should treat Juliet, the girl was found waiting anxiously. Although the Nurse knew what Juliet wanted to hear, she complained about her backaches and headaches.

Lord, how my head aches! What a head have I!

It beats as it would fall in twenty pieces.

My back a’ t’ other side- ah, my back, my back!

Beshrew your heart for sending me about

To catch my death with jauncing up and down! (lines 48-52)

(Shakespeare 1120)

All Juliet wanted was to hear what Romeo had to say about her when the Nurse went to speak with him. She built up unnecessary suspense to have a moment of power since she rarely had them. Also when the Nurse brought the news of Tybalt’s death, she made it seem as if Romeo had died. When Juliet questioned her to clarify if Romeo was dead, the Nurse did not give a straight answer right away. The Nurse had to do everything for the Capulets since she was the servant, and there were rarely any moments when she was in control of a situation. Although she wanted to help Juliet, she teased her by not giving her the information she wanted immediately to hold onto the moment for as long as possible.

Upon hearing about Romeo’s banishment, the couple fell to pieces, leaving their surrogate parents to take care of them. The Nurse comforted Juliet after finally telling her the news about Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s exile. The girl wept, thinking that it was the end of their romance. However the Nurse knew how to comfort Juliet: “she takes the desperate child in her arms, [and] she promises to find Romeo and help them consummate their marriage” (Bruce 98).

Hie to your chamber. I’ll find Romeo

To comfort you, I wot well where he is.

Hark ye, your Romeo will be here at night.

I’ll to him, he is hid at Lawrence’ cell (lines 137-141)

(Shakespeare 1124).

The Nurse told Juliet what to do and took it upon herself to help find Romeo to further comfort her. She created these responsibilities for herself to make Juliet as happy as possible, even when things did not look good. Soon after, the Nurse found Romeo in a similar state because he was equally as desperate. However she delivered the message and Friar Lawrence devised his plan to help the young couple. In their most desperate moment, the couple was unable to act for themselves and needed the aid of their parent figures to help in every way. They did not form any plans; they only wept and complained about their bad luck. The love of their surrogate parents was what saved them from earlier suicides, but also what got them into the complicated relationship they found themselves in the first place.

In her final scene of the power, the Nurse recommended moving onto Paris for Juliet to make her loss not seem as bad.

I think you are happy in this second match,

For it excels your first; or if it did not,

Your first is dead, or ‘twere as good he were

As living here and you no use of him (lines 222-225)

(Shakespeare 1129).

Although the Nurse did not agree with these words and knew that they were probably useless to the girl, she said them with her heart in the right place. If Juliet did not succumb to her father’s wish to marry Paris, then she faced family exile. “Parental control and approval and marriage were the only possibilities for a woman” (Bruce 100). The Nurse had Juliet’s best interests in mind even though she knew the girl was already married and to marry again would be sinful. The next day when she went to awaken the girl, she found her dead, and “when Juliet is dead, there is no Nurse” (Bruce 96). With Juliet supposedly gone from the play, there was no more purpose for the Nurse to be around, and therefore she faded from the play.

The Friar and the Nurse were both supposed to be characters of a more servant-like role, however when they crossed their class boundaries and acted more as friends to the couple, they helped lead to their deaths. Lawrence and the Nurse should have left Romeo and Juliet alone; it was not their place to give them advice or help them when they were in a tough situation. They had the hearts to reach out to the children in need, thinking that they could only help them. As soon as the Nurse crossed her boundary from servant to friend, Juliet was doomed. She talked back to Capulet when he scolded Juliet and did certain favors for Juliet that were beyond her job. Her loyalty to Juliet only made the situation worse, which was a message that people should not leave their roles in society even to help a desperate person. Friar Lawrence helped the two negatively by secretly marrying them and helping them in private. He went out of his way as a friar to help them and went behind the backs of their parents who had control over him in society. Both surrogate parents went behind the backs of the actual parents and by cheating them in that way, they only led the children to death quicker. If they had stayed in their lower positions in society, the couple would not have lied to their families or got caught up in the complicated romance. The second they crossed into the friend sphere with the two, they helped them attain a brief happiness and an early death.

The Nurse and Friar Lawrence were both surrogate parents for Romeo and Juliet. They aided the couple when they needed guidance or helped them devise plans when they were unable to think straight. Both parent figures helped the other child as well, usually for the sake of helping their own child though. Friar Lawrence planned out what Romeo should do during exile, and the Nurse ran around to meet with Romeo on multiple occasions despite her weak back. In the end, the Nurse was gone from the play once Juliet was apparently dead, and the Friar was left with a lifetime of guilt when he discovered the three dead bodies.

Works Cited

  • Bruce, Brenda. Players of Shakespeare: Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. Cambridge:

          Cambridge University Press, 1985. 91-101.

  • Glover, Julia. Players of Shakespeare 4: Friar Lawrence in Romeo and Juliet.

          Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. 165-176.

  • Shakespeare, William. The Riverside Shakespeare. 2nd. Massachusetts: Houghton

          Mifflin Company, 1997. 1104-1139.

  • Toole, William B. “The Nurse’s “Vast Irrelevance”: Thematic Foreshadowing in “Romeo

           and Juliet”. South Atlantic Bulletin 45(1980): 21-30.

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