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In Act I, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, the conversation between Juliet and the nurse reveals significantly different attitudes toward marriage. Among those different attitudes are the following:
- The nurse, in discussing Juliet’s fall in her infancy, repeatedly associates marriage with sexual intercourse. Juliet, in contrast, says nothing about this; perhaps she is embarrassed by such talk, especially since it is taking place in front of her mother. In any case, Juliet places no particular emphasis on sexual intercourse when it comes time for her to discuss marriage.
- Juliet’s very first reference to marriage suggests that she regards marriage as an “honor.” The nurse commends Juliet for this lofty comment, but she ironically does so in language that is hilariously physical and frank:
NURSE. An [honor]! were not I thine only nurse,
I would say thou had’st sucked wisdom from thy teat.
Once again, Juliet does not respond to this somewhat crude phrasing.
- When Lady Capulet mentions that Paris is interested in marrying Juliet, the nurse immediately focuses on Paris’s handsome appearance, once again suggesting her interest in physical things. Once more, however, Juliet does not respond. All that she has said so far about marriage is to emphasize the “honor” it involves.
- The nurse’s final comment about marriage emphasizes, yet again, the fact that she associates marriage with sexual intercourse, but now she also stresses reproduction: “women grow by men” (that is, they grow in size after being impregnated).
- Juliet’s own comments on marriage, which consist simply of four lines altogether, suggest that her ideas about marriage involve ethical values rather than the physical emphasis that preoccupies the nurse. Thus, Juliet says, near the very end of the scene,
I’ll look to like, if looking liking move;
But no more deep will I endart mine eye
Than your [that is, her mother’s] consent gives strength to make [it] fly.
In other words, she will try to be open to Paris as a potential husband, but she will also show respect for her mother’s judgment and approval. Her phrasing, ironically, is full of references to looking and to eyes, but such phrasing (in her case) implies such moral values as self-restraint and obedience to one’s parents. Juliet’s concern with proper behavior contrasts strongly with the nurse’s emphasis on the merely physical aspects of marriage.
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