Juliet in Romeo & Juliet

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William Shakespeare’s tales have stood the test of time through his critique of human nature. Certain primal relationships are addressed frequently in his works and a related popular role employed by him is that of the daughter. Arguably one of the most complex roles in Shakespeare, the daughter faces certain expectations while having to handle a set of higher stakes dealt to them by their families and in general, society. An accurate example of this unique dynamic is seen through the famous teenage lover, Juliet Capulet of The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo & Juliet. The character of Juliet as a daughter breaks down societal norms and ultimately rebels against her stiflingly distant parents and for this reason is drastically underestimated.

These norms pose great challenges to daughters like Juliet because of their importance in society. Expectations are demanded of Juliet by her parents reinforcing the lack of control she has over her own life. “In the fair city of Verona, where we lay our scene.” It is fairly a common social norm to become married and pregnant all in a young woman’s early teen years, roughly around twelve to fourteen. At the time of Shakespeare’s England, the average women did not marry until they were around the age of twenty one, yet in many other cultures this was normal practice. These expectations imposed by her parents, especially her mother, are the initial cause of Juliet’s distress. “Well, think of marriage now. Younger than you/Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, / are already made mother. By my count/ I was your mother much upon these years/ That you are now a maid.” (1.3.71-75) It is upsetting that she must marry at such a young age is also not aided well by the fact that the husband she must form a union with is fairly older than her. Although Romeo’s age is unknown, it is assumed that he is in his late teens and maybe even in his early twenties. Juliet’s original matched up significant other, Paris, also is thought to be of an older age. These customs bring a definite challenge to Juliet and her freedom.

The fact that her parents want to force a marriage upon her is a challenge against her personal freedom and wishes of self-fulfillment. When Juliet’s mother asks her if she is interested in Paris, Juliet expresses her lack of enthusiasm towards marriage and Paris. She talks of her lack of wanting to marry; “It is an honour that I dream not of.” (1.3.68) Then Juliet goes on to explain an ideology of love and her perception of love at first sight:”I’ll look to like, if looking liking move; / But no more deep will I endart mine eye/ Than make your consent to make it fly.” (1.3.99-100) Throughout the rest of the play she struggles with this internal conflict of finding the balance between her parents’ happiness and her own. This is the trouble with the prescribed role of daughter: it is the parents’ responsibility to make certain their daughter is taken good care of and will be supported by a financially stable husband. The sons of families during this time period were still guided to whom to marry, but it was ultimately the son’s choice. Juliet’s status as a daughter is comparatively low than to what Romeo’s is based just on gender. The challenge of gender discrimination a daughter faces is one they have no control over and this is an unfair disadvantage the men have of the age. This general impediment spanned across the board of female roles, like through wife or sister. Especially with daughters though, they had to succumb to their respected father figure’s ideals because of their complete dependence and relationship with them. The difficulty of these challenges faced by Juliet’s role as a daughter seems horridly daunting, but fortunately her strength of character lessens keeps her stable throughout her ordeal. The character of Juliet should not be so underestimated by Shakespeare scholars and enthusiasts as a ‘star-crossed lover’ but...
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