Romeo and Juliet: Explore the presentation of Juliet in Act 4 Scene 3 and elsewhere in the play.

Shakespeare presents Juliet in Romeo and Juliet deliberately in a multitude of ways. In Juliet’s soliloquy in Act 4 Scene 3 she appears to be scared, defiant and determined. Earlier in the play, however, she was shown to be naïve, innocent, while also intelligent. Shakespeare shows how important love is to her through the development of her character and the way she will do anything to be with Romeo, despite only meeting him three days earlier, but ultimately the prologue emphasises that she will be a victim of death. 

In Act 4 Scene 3 Juliet is absolutely determined to fulfil her pact with Friar Laurence to take the poison (sleeping draught), despite how scared she feels about the impact on her. Her soliloquy reveals a plethora of emotions which reflect her conflicting state of mind, after all she is about to take a substance, which may end her life. She fears treachery from the Friar “Subtly hath ministered to have me dead,” showing that she is terrified that when she takes the potion, it will in fact render her dead. The thoughts running through her mind could be; Friar Laurence will lose respect in society for marrying me against the will of the church; Friar Laurence cannot be trusted as he is working with Romeo; or Friar Laurence is fearful that his position in society is in jeopardy. Any of these reasons are possible, however Juliet is the one taking the risk, so it is understandable that she is reticent and fearful of Friar Laurence’s reasoning. Furthermore, she is defiant as she will go through with it, despite this going against her fathers wishes. Patriarchy dictates that she should marry Paris, but she is strong willed and subverts her fathers wishes by agreeing to this, while knowing that she will be pretending in order to fulfil her burning desire to be with Romeo. While this seems impetuous, actually it could be said that she is behaving like a stereotypical teenager, a term that wouldn’t have been used at the time, but which helps make sense of the rash behaviour and quick decisions she makes. She rejects this way of thinking due to her belief in the church “tried a holy man.” Suggesting she is not completely sure that he would do this, as she beliefs in the righteousness of the church. Furthermore, Juliet shows fear of being suffocated in the tomb “stifled in the vault” which is a reasonable fear as the vault is the place where her dead relatives are, as well as the recently deceased (and probably decaying) Tybalt lies “bloody Tybalt, yet green in the earth” shows that she is aware of this terrifying thought. However, she also shows sheer determination and a bloody-minded resolve to take the poison against all her better instincts when she speaks to the poison “Come vial” in the introduction of the soliloquy. Then at the end Juliet repeats Romeo’s name showing that he is her ultimate reasoning, making him more important than any other consideration, even madness “hearing them, run mad”; fear of Romeo not coming to her in the tomb “ere my Romeo comes”; or any of the other crazy thoughts that have enveloped her mind in the lead up to her drinking the poison. Her final determination is shown in the way she quickly takes the poison as if she is toasting her love for Romeo with a normal drink “Here’s drink. I drink to thee” implying with the short sharp repetition in the sentences that she needs to do it quickly or it may not get done at all and that links to her initial question of whether she would “be married then tomorrow morning?” a fate that she wants to avoid. An audience is aware that this fate will not come to fruition, as they were aware from the prologue of the fate of Juliet and Romeo “two star cross’d lovers take their lives”, so at this point the audience may wonder if this is indeed the end for Juliet. Shakespeare may have intended to show that events can happen in the space of very little time as this is only the second day of the story unfolding, but that this is due to human error and possibly divine intervention, something that is destined to be and cannot be changed, a message that may have helped his audience as life for many was extremely difficult and the idea that there is someone looking out for you could have been comforting. Although, in the circumstances detailed by Shakespeare this fate is very bleak and could act as a warning to enjoy life as you don’t know what might happen!

Although Juliet, by Act 4 scene 3, is defiant and determined, she has shown these personality traits previously. In Act 2 Scene 2, when Romeo asks her “O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?” she is firm in her resolve that he can’t have the satisfaction that he craves, until they are married. This is important as she would have been considered a ‘fallen woman’ had she been unmarried and not a virgin, something that she is aware of, although this is not defiant, it does show her determination. She has spent a considerable amount of time being flattered by Romeo in this scene and yet she has not succumbed to his desire, yet. Romeo appears to see her as a heavenly figure “bright angel” and “winged messenger” with the celestial imagery repeated frequently perhaps to show that Juliet is young and beautiful. Although the audience would see this visually the fact that she would have been played by a young man might be why Shakespeare put this emphasis on her great beauty. Juliet also appears to be naïve in the ways of the world, as she seems to think that she is too young to be married “are made already mothers” is stated by Lady Capulet in her rhetoric when she wants Juliet to consider marrying Paris. Her naivety is shown when she says to her mother “Than your consent gives strength to make it fly” suggesting that she will be obedient and fulfil her duty as a good daughter, although this is dramatic irony as we are aware that she will never consider Paris as a suitable love interest as her fate is set in the prologue “take their lives”. Her innocence is also shown in how quickly she falls in love with Romeo, although it could be argued that this is not love but rather infatuation, as they don’t yet really know each other. Furthermore, the sonnet they speak to one another, mirroring each other with “saints” and “pilgrims” is a deliberate construct by Shakespeare to show how easily she has fallen for Romeo. The way this sonnet is presented shows the two flirting with each other before Romeo is directed in the stage directions “kisses her”.  She shows a very romantic side “You kiss by the book” to describe this first kiss with Romeo, showing that idealised version of love that teenagers often have. Perhaps, Shakespeare was buying into the age-old adage from Virgil of ‘love conquers all’, as Juliet at this point clearly believes that she and Romeo are destined to be together. Also, teenagers often feel a depth of emotion that sweeps them away, which could be hormonal, or the brain developing, so this instantaneous attraction and feeling of falling deeply in love would be familiar to an audience in Shakespearean times, but still holds true today for a contemporary audience. Love is clearly something that matters to Juliet. 

Love for not just Romeo is shown in the way that Juliet behaves. In Act 4 Scene 3 she is pulled by her love for her family and the Nurse, not to go through with her and Friar Laurence’s plan, but her love for Romeo overruled this. The same can be said of her love towards Tybalt. She is devastated when she unwittingly thinks Romeo is dead, but then feels guilt when she realises that it is Tybalt that has died, because she recognises the disloyalty that she shows to him “Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?” is her quick response mirroring the Nurse’s despair at the death of Tybalt. However, while she loves Tybalt she is utterly relieved and devastated that Romeo lives but is “banished”. Again, the strength of feeling she has for Romeo outweighs her previous loyalty to her family. This could be seen as slightly callous on her part, as she rejects everything she has known for a man who murdered her cousin, although she recognises that both are “villians” in her conflicted speech to the nurse when she is trying to process the news of the death and banishment. In this way, we can recognise that Juliet is not a one-dimensional character, who is willingly pliable or open to suggestion, she is intelligent in her processing of how she feels about these complex events. Eventually, she opts to forfeit her Capulet responsibility to pledge loyalty to her husband Romeo. They are married in name at this point, but are yet to consummate the marriage, so Shakespeare could have avoided the tragic ending by annulling the marriage at this point in the play, however this would have not allowed a moral judgement to be made at the end of the play or for the families to resolve their “ancient grudge”.

 

Shakespeare also presents Juliet’s love for Romeo through the way she subverts the patriarchy. When Lord Capulet, her father, is angry with her she is unwilling to back down, however many suggest this is normal teenage behaviour. Her father throws scathing insults at her “Hang thee; young baggage”, “tallow-face” and “drag thee on a hurdle thither” to show how furious he is at her. Capulet is at the height of his irritation with her and she would feel upset, scared and righteous in her response to him: upset, because the father who earlier showed love, care and concern for her wellbeing when she was in tears is now shouting derogatory remarks at her; scared as Capulet’s temper is monumental; finally, righteous as she is convinced that she is entitled to reject Paris and because she knows that she is unable to marry him in the eyes of God, as she is already married. Her love for the Nurse and the Nurse’s mutual love for her is reflected in the help that the Nurse gives to Juliet to marry Paris. Juliet here shows that she is loyal to the woman who has brought her up, but it also shows that the Nurse, who would be a servant, has a duty to Juliet, which she goes over and above to help her fulfil her burning desire to be with Romeo. Although, Juliet loves the Nurse and this much is evident throughout their interactions, she also does take advantage of the love the Nurse has for her, shown in the endearments she uses “what lamb! what ladybird!”.  Juliet in this instance is presented as young and innocent again, especially through the biblical reference to the “lamb” suggesting that she will be easily led and perhaps even sacrificed. Interestingly, she does sacrifice her life at the end, but of her own choice, unless you consider that she had no other choice at this point. 

In the final act she is presented as a victim of death. In the dramatic irony of Romeo’s soliloquy there are multiple hints to show that she is alive “is crimson in thy lips and in thy cheeks” and “death’s pale flag has is not advanced there” implying what the audience knows, but cleverly masked from Romeo. Even in death she is presented as a great beauty. However, her final presentation is grief-stricken and decisive. As soon as she sees Romeo dead beside her she discusses his death briefly with Friar Laurence, hears a noise and kills herself “Yea, noise? Then I’ll be brief. O happy dagger, This is thy sheath. There rust and let me die.” Using Romeo’s dagger could be a sexual innuendo from Shakespeare, but it certainly shows that she is certain of her own mind and quick to come to a decision. It could be suggested that she takes on some of Romeo’s impetuous personality traits by the end of the play, as at the start he was the rash, hasty and quick decision maker, while she was more sensible and considered. Perhaps, this was Shakespeare’s point: love makes you do things you wouldn’t otherwise consider wise. The quick succession of death fits with the genre of the play as it is of course a tragedy, but the tragic end feels unsavoury as Juliet’s death is so quick and sudden and could have been avoided had Romeo been less impatient to join her in death. 

 

Shakespeare has presented Juliet in the multitude of ways mentioned. Furthermore, Juliet is a complex character;  who is not one dimensional; who teaches us to stop and think before taking action; who explores the typical impatient and rash decisions that teenagers make; and who shows us that a character and humans can be and are emotionally conflicted. Perhaps, it is best to conclude with Shakespeare himself “For never was there a tale of more woe, than of Juliet and her Romeo” with the sadness of Juliet’s death apparently taking precedence over Romeo’s as she is mentioned first, in this finale, she also appears to subvert the patriarchy and Romeo becomes “hers”. 

BACK