How does Shakespeare categorize the women who are secondary characters in Romeo and Juliet?

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Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The categorizations that the three secondary women characters in Romeo and Juliet share is that they are all three mothers and they each give advice of one sort or another. In addition to that, they are each in a subordinate position, in one way or another and with one outcome or another, to a man. The three secondary women characters are Nurse, Lady Capulet and Lady Montague. Nurse is a mother but her baby died. In her jumbled, sometimes nonsensical way, Nurse advises Juliet all throughout the play. For instance, after Romeo is banished, Nurse advises Juliet to marry Paris under the assumption that the private ceremony with the Friar is now null and void and in the expectation that Juliet will never see Romeo again. Lady Capulet of course is Juliet's mother and though they do not speak together the way Juliet and Nurse do, Lady Capulet still advises Juliet in her decisions and upon the course her life will take. For instance, early in the play, Lady Capulet advises Juliet to prepare herself for marriage because Lord Capulet has begun negotiations with Paris for Juliet's hand in marriage. Lady Montague is the one least heard from in the play but she is Romeo's mother. Lady Montague is the chief example of an advice giver. She successfully advises her husband not to go in anger and join the fray after Tybalt challenges Benvolio to a duel and thereby extend the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.

Each of the women is subject to a man. Nurse is subject to Lord Capulet as she is employed by him. Her behavior within her subservient state is one of courage and integrity. When Lord Capulet is viciously yelling at Juliet, Nurse stands up to him telling him is wrong and not backing down even after he commences yelling at her too. Lady Capulet is also subject to Lord Capulet since she is his wife. Her behavior within her subservient state mirrors his behavior. For instance, when he is angry with Juliet for not accepting Paris and turns against her, Lady Capulet mirrors that anger and turns against Juliet as well. Lady Montague is subject to Lord Montague. Her behavior within her subservient state is one of forthright independence and wisdom, thus Shakespeare makes her the example of right-mindedness and right behavior. When Lord Montague is moved to throw aside restraint and the Prince's commands for peace in Act I scene i, Lady Montague advises him against it, as all ready seen, and goes so far as to hold him back (a chain of restraint Lord Montague could have broken free from as easily as from a dew drop chain if he hadn't respected and honored her) and physically prevent him from attacking his foe.

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