From Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, when Nurse says that Paris is a flower, what does she mean by this metaphor?

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tinicraw eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In act 1, scene 3 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, Juliet's mother tells Juliet that the County Paris has been asking for her hand in marriage. Both Juliet's mother and the nurse are excited because he is handsome and wealthy. The nurse says the following to Juliet about him:

"A man, young lady, lady, such a man

As all the world--why, he's a man of wax.

. . . he's a flower, in faith a very flower" (I.iii.77-78, 80).

Juliet's nurse first mentions that he is a "man of wax," which is to say that he is perfectly sculpted. His appearance is handsome and it would seem that he has no flaw to speak of. Juliet's mother says, "Verona's summer hath not such a flower" (I.iii.79) which means that there is no one in Verona to rival Paris as far as appearance and quality of character are concerned. The nurse's comment immediately thereafter, however, is somewhat sarcastic. When the nurse says that Paris is "a very flower" she is suggesting that he is also experienced and more mature. Paris is older than Juliet. Juliet might be considered a flowering bud compared to Paris's age and experience, for example. Thus, referring to flowers (and the birds and the bees) the "very flower" comment could also be connected to Paris's sexual experience as well as his age and unique position in the community.

davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The nurse appears to have a fairly superficial understanding of what's attractive in a man. It's also clear that she hasn't really given much thought to how Paris should be described; her gushing descriptions of him appear rather forced and spontaneous. As far as she's concerned, Paris is just an incredibly good-looking young man, the kind of man that Juliet should be falling over herself to marry. So the nurse describes Paris in terms that would suggest absolute physical perfection. He is not just "a man of wax," but also "a very flower."

It's ironic that the nurse's ideal of a suitor is somewhat less mature, less sophisticated than that of Juliet. Despite being much older, the nurse still seems pretty shallow when it comes to the business of choosing a mate. And despite the best efforts of the nurse and Lady Capulet to sell her on Paris' evident charms, Juliet cannot promise that she'll like Paris. She'll take a good look at him during the feast, but even then she can only promise that she'll try to like him:

I’ll look to like if looking liking move.
But no more deep will I endart mine eye
Than your consent gives strength to make it fly. (Act I Scene III).
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Romeo and Juliet

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