How does the role that women play in Romeo and Juliet have an impact upon the events of the tragedy?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The acquiescence and compliance of the women in Romeo and Juliet propel the events of the play to their tragic ends.


  • When Juliet first meets Romeo in Act I, Scene 5, without knowing that he is a Montague, she is yet cautious when he offers her "a tender kiss," cautioning him and urging him to uses his hand to touch her since "saint have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch." But, then she acquiesces and he kisses her; further, the Nurse encourages him by say that

I tell you, he that can lay hold of her 
Shall have the chinks.

  • Then, in Act II, Scene 2, after having learned Romeo's identity, Juliet remains infatuated with him, dreamily speaking his name, mitigating its significance so that she can yet love him,

What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called.

As she asks Romeo if he loves her, Juliet tells Romeo she will act as he directs her, a submission that encourages Romeo's romantic pursuit,

...if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
I'll frown and be perverse and say thee nay.

  • That this submission is against her own better judgment is evinced shortly thereafter as she cautions Romeo not to swear his love by the moon, and she worries that their "contract" to love one another is "too rash, too unadvised, too sudden." Yet, Juliet acts as a catalyst of fate as she still declares her love for Romeo,

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love is deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have....

  • Despite her misgivings, Juliet assents to Romeo's marriage proposal, and in so doing, she propels herself toward her tragic end because this marriage causes Romeo to speak as he does to Tybalt in Act III, igniting Tybalt's anger and precipitous actions against Mercutio, which then effect Romeo's furious response.


  • The Nurse, a subservient relative who waits upon Juliet, does the bidding of this youth and, in so doing, contributes to the tragic events, even compounding some. Her complicity in Juliet's clandestine meetings with Romeo certainly contribute to the tragic end as she could have averted Juliet's marriage by informing Lord and Lady Capulet about Juliet and Romeo's secrets. Further, she could inform Lady Capulet that Juliet is already married when Lady Capulet informs Juliet that she must obey her father and marry Paris, but she does not. Instead, in Act IV, Scene 5, she treats the subject of Juliet's marriage to Paris with ironic lightness, encouraging Juliet to go ahead and marry Paris, telling her that Romeo is as good as dead, so she may as well take Paris as a husband,

I think you are happy in this second match,
For it excels your first: or if it did not,
Your first is dead,; or 'twere as good he were,
As living her and you no use of him.

  • This callous compliance of the Nurse devastates Juliet and propels her to Friar Laurence's where she obtains the vial to make her appear dead in the hope that her parents will appreciate having her when she awakens and allow her to remain with Romeo.


  • In addition to the Nurse, Lady Capulet is compliant with Lord Capulet's wishes as she supports her husband's decision that Juliet marry and speaks harsh little to her daughter in Act IV. In fact, she only asks Juliet if she needs help planning her attire for the wedding, "What are you busy, ho? need you my help?"

Thus, throughout the drama, none of the women rail against the forces of fate; instead, they are its catalysts as they are complaisant and even complicit throughout the play, propelling the tragic actions.

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Romeo and Juliet

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