Discuss the roles and relationships between parents and children, specifically the Capulets and Montagues.
Juliet has a strained relationship with her parents, who are depicted as callous and unsympathetic to their daughter's feelings. Juliet's mother is portrayed as a distant parent, who does not understand her daughter well. Juliet confides in her nurse more than she does her mother. Although Lord Capulet has Juliet's best interests in mind, he is rather controlling and immediately chastises his daughter when she refuses to marry Paris. Lord Capulet even threatens to disown Juliet for disobeying his wishes in act three:
"Lay hand on heart, advise. An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend. An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, For, by my soul, I’ll ne'er acknowledge thee, Nor what is mine shall never do thee good. Trust to ’t, bethink you. I’ll not be forsworn" (Shakespeare, 3.5.191-196).
However, Lord Capulet changes his attitude immediately once he learns that Juliet has agreed to marry Paris. After Juliet is presumed dead, Lord Capulet demonstrates his love for Juliet by openly lamenting her death.
Throughout the play, Romeo independently roams the streets of Verona with his friends. He is not under the supervision of his parents like Juliet. However, Romeo's mother and father are depicted as loving parents. The Montagues are both concerned about Romeo's melancholy behavior at the beginning of the play, and Lord Montague begs the Prince to exile Romeo instead of killing him. When they discover that their son is dead, Lord Montague demonstrates his love for his son by grieving for Romeo.
In Romeo and Juliet, the children, particularly the daughters, are hardly more than their fathers’ assets or losses. The daughters are either signed over at their fathers’ will, or kept as possessions. Only to the extent that the daughters are willing to forfeit familial bonds and shirk the interests of their fathers, are they free to make their own decisions. As far as Romeo, the parents are depicted as loving, and they mourn his loss when he is dead. They do not, however, figure greatly into the play while he is alive, aside from expressing their disappointment in his involvement with the Capulets, as that is contrary to their family name. It is something akin to a competing brand.
Juliet is torn between her love for Romeo and allegiance to her family bond, and that love is crossed by the simple fact of their names. “’Tis but thy name that is my enemy.” (II.2.38). Juliet recognizes that in order to exercise her free will in matters of love, she must be willing to “deny [her] father and refuse [her] name.” (II.2.33) Juliet questions not just what, but how, names mean – not only surnames, but names by which all things are known, and what use, if any, a name has: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” (II.2.43-44) And when Capulet answers Paris on his queries about Juliet’s hand in marriage, “My will to her consent is but a part / An she agree, within her scope of choice / Lies my consent and fair according voice,” (I.2.17-19) Capulet is essentially putting the ability to choose her own husband in her hands, no matter what his name is. But he affords this “privilege” to Juliet before her love to Romeo is known, and in light of her love interest being named Montague, her consent is null and void, once it conflicts with her father’s. His consent turns into a “desperate tender of [his] child’s love” to Paris, and the assumption that Juliet “will be ruled / In all respects by [him]’ nay more, [he doubts] it not.” (III.4.12-14) She will, Capulet insists, do what he says, no matter what. He then delivers an ultimatum to her, stripping her of any choice in the matter:
An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend;
An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,
For, by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee,
Nor what is mine shall never do thee good. (III.5.193-4)
He insists that if she is his daughter, she will marry Paris, and if she is not his daughter, she is no longer a Capulet, will not be recognized as such, and will be denied her room and board. So though it appeared Capulet was an understanding father initially, giving her the benefit of the doubt, this was because Juliet had not yet held a position contrary to her father’s in any matter, especially a matter that could besmirch the family name.
The play demonstrates that children do not have much of value to say in their own affairs, unless they are saying the same thing their fathers are saying. The breaches of daughterly conduct spring from a longing for a separate identity, denied by their fathers’ unwillingness to remove their claims.