How can one interpret act 1, scene 2 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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The scene is important because it lays bare the enormous hurdles that Romeo and Juliet will need to overcome if they're to be together. In Verona at that time, arranged marriages were very much the norm among noble families. Marriage was seen primarily as a means of establishing strategic political...

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The scene is important because it lays bare the enormous hurdles that Romeo and Juliet will need to overcome if they're to be together. In Verona at that time, arranged marriages were very much the norm among noble families. Marriage was seen primarily as a means of establishing strategic political alliances between prominent families such as the Montagues and the Capulets; love didn't really enter the equation at all. Even if their respective warring clans weren't constantly at each other's throats, it would still be virtually impossible for Romeo and Juliet to get married.

In act 1, scene 2, Lord Capulet is clearly very impressed with Paris, the dashing young nobleman. He is just the kind of man Capulet thinks would be a perfect husband for his young daughter. Capulet comes across in this scene as a loving father but still very much a man of his time and class. Although he claims to defer to Juliet's choice of a future husband, in reality he's as subject to prevailing norms and social structures as she is. We sense, therefore, that when push comes to shove, Capulet will insist on his daughter's getting married to Paris, irrespective of her wishes.

The scene demonstrates to what extent meaningful choices in this society are restricted by the imposition of inherited standards of conduct on often reluctant individuals. This is precisely what happens to Romeo and Juliet, and it is a significant factor in their tragic demise.

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Scene 2 of Act 1 is actually a pretty enlightening and important scene, especially in terms of characterization. While we can interpret the scene to learn a little bit about Paris's character, we learn quite a lot about Lord Capulet's character.

One of the important things we learn about Capulet's character from this scene is that he genuinely cares about Juliet's well-being, wants, and needs. We learn this about Capulet through his response to Paris's request to marry Juliet. Capulet believes that Juliet is far too young right now to be married, as we see in his lines, "My child is yet a stranger in the world, / She hath not seen the change of fourteen years" (I.ii.8-9). Plus, she is his only child, and he most likely wants to enjoy her company as his child a bit longer, as he implies in the lines, "The earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she; / She is the hopeful lady of my earth" (14-15). Therefore, Capulet does not want to do Juliet any disservices by having her married too young. We also see just how important Juliet's own opinions, wants, and needs are to Capulet when he tells Paris that his own consent to the marriage is only part of what Paris will need to marry Juliet. Capulet believes that Juliet must also approve of the match; he does not want to marry her to anyone she does not like.

We learn less about Paris than we do about Capulet in this scene. But one thing we do learn for sure is that Paris is very obviously deeply in love with Juliet. This is evident from the fact that this is apparently not the first time that he has asked Capulet for Juliet's hand in marriage. We also learn that Paris is a very respectful gentleman, which we can glean from the fact that he refers to both Capulet and Montague as men "[o]f honourable reckoning" (4).

Therefore, while this scene seems to be of lesser importance, we can use it to interpret great deal about the characterization of both Capulet and Paris.

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