How is Juliet presented in this extract and elsewhere in the play?
Both in the extract and throughout the rest of Shakespeare’s tragedy, Juliet is presented as a complex, multi-faceted young girl, with a disposition containing a mixture of youthful enthusiasm combined with pragmatic sensibility. Shakespeare presents varying levels of filial obedience throughout the play, and Juliet’s loyalty towards her parents is eventually superseded by her duty to her husband. Shakespeare also uses the otherworldly qualities of Juliet’s beauty and character to foreshadow up her premature death at the conclusion of the play; she is presented as isolated and different from the outset, which leads to her ill-fated tragic demise.
Shakespeare first introduces Juliet through her father, Lord Capulet. He describes his daughter as “the hopeful lady of [his] earth”, which helps to intensify the tragedy for the audience, as she is his only offspring. Initially, Juliet is presented as subservient to her parents as she says “Madam, I am here. What is your will?”. Shakespeare also writes that Juliet will “Look to like, if looking liking move”, which conveys the idea that Juliet conforms and acts perfectly and properly for a girl of her age and class, doing exactly what is expected of her. This presents not only a sharp contrast with her later, passionate love for Romeo, but also with her actions nearer to the end of the play, when she is dishonest to her father, asserting duplicitously and expediently that she has repented the “sin of disobedient opposition”. By isolating and alienating Juliet from those around her, Shakespeare presents the psychologically convincing development of Juliet throughout the course of the play, despite the short time frame. Owing to circumstance and necessity, Juliet becomes an emotionally mature (and arguably pragmatically manipulative) character.
The audience is prepared for Juliet’s spellbinding beauty before she is presented, when her main confidante, the Nurse, describes her as “the prettiest babe that e’er [she] nursed”, creating the idea of Juliet’s immense beauty and therefore preparing the audience for Romeo’s reaction towards her. In the extract, Shakespeare’s writes that “Juliet is the sun”, and this metaphor, aligning Juliet with a celestial body, evokes a feeling of warmth and light, which contrasts against the starry night in Verona in which the action in the love scene unfolds. Romeo, using hyperbole in keeping with the Petrarchan tradition, also remarks that Juliet is capable of overshadowing “the envious moon”. The moon has connotations of chastity and virginity, which conveys not only Juliet’s natural, otherworldly beauty but evokes connotations of innocence and purity. As this speech develops however, the idea of casting off the vestal identity gives an indication of Juliet’s capacity for sensuality and physical love. Shakespeare yet again shows a repeated use of apostrophe to help convey Romeo’s wonder and amazement in response to Juliet, and aligns her with the heaven, showing the lovers’ angelic and idealistic passion.
Whereas Romeo arguably still represents the Petrarchan, eloquent courtly lover, who is caught up in his emotions and wishes to exchange vows on the very night he meets Juliet, Shakespeare uses Juliet to help present a rather more considered and practical approach to love. Juliet’s inadvertent declaration of love to Romeo, shows the sheer sincerity and depth of her feeling, but her vulnerability as a result of this is demonstrated as she asks Romeo “Dost thou love me?”, and offers to act more like Petrarch’s Laura; she understands that she has gone against the Elizabethan convention of feminine reserve and not showing interest in a man immediately.
Juliet also is portrayed as a mixture of teenage enthusiasm and mature consideration. Shakespeare uses foreshadowing when Juliet says that her love for Romeo is “Too rash, too unadvis’d”, and this is a dire portent early on in the romance of the “star cross’d lovers”. Here she is presented as very self-aware and considered, in contrast to hyperbolic Romeo who proclaims that “love’s light wings” allowed him to gain entry to the Capulet garden in the middle of the night. Later in the play, Shakespeare uses a metaphor to compare Juliet to an “impatient child” which evokes a feeling of irony, as Juliet is but thirteen years old herself, and is arguably little more than a child. Her character demonstrates all of the enthusiastic excitement of a young lover, demonstrated by her impatience waiting to hear news from the Nurse, creating for the audience tension but also comic relief from the inevitable tragedy and pervasive conflict of the feud.
Shakespeare presents Juliet as both isolated from the rest of society and as precious through use of imagery. Romeo’s metaphor that “the brightness of her cheek would shame those stars” again emphasises Juliet’s natural beauty through use of hyperbole, and conveys a sense of the cosmic scale of their love. The sibilance of “shame those stars” almost mimics a whisper, and therefore reminds the audience of the intimacy of the scene and the closeness of the lovers despite their short romance, the effect of which is heighten by Romeo’s use of the intimate address “thou” when talking to Juliet. Shakespeare also uses the simile “As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear”, to affiliate Juliet with light and brightness again, but also to present her as of an extreme value to Romeo.
In conclusion, Shakespeare presents Juliet as a complex young lover who has different loyalties, and has an ethereal quality to her appearance and demeanour. She falls in love with Romeo instantly, and whilst she is careful not to move too quickly at first, the passion of her emotion means that her life is over tragically quickly , “like the lightning, which doth cease to be//Ere one can say ‘It lightens’”.