How does Shakespeare present conflict between Juliet and her father in Romeo and Juliet?

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coachingcorner | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

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In the play Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare introduces the conflict between Juliet and her father fairly gradually. Her father is shown as loving and protective at first, seeming to be looking out for her interests first and foremost and wanting the very best for her. He presumes he is always the one best placed to know what that is, and makes no allowances for the fact that a developing young person may have ideas of their own and may be searching for their own identity and voice. In Shakespeare's time this would have been a very novel idea as parents were mostly seen as the best architects of their children's future to the extent that this included arranged marriages and dowries. Indeed it is only when Juliet kicks back against this idea in Act 3, Scene 5, defying her father in his plan for her marriage, that Lord Capulet shows his true controlling nature.

He wants her to marry the County Paris for reasons of family prosperity and future allegiance rather than for love. He does not seem to truly give her a hearing or to be interested in her feelings or ideas. It seems as if his love is conditional. He will only love her and protect her if she is a useful pawn in his power games, and gives up her own free will by bending it to his needs and ends.

Shakespeare shows us that this is the case by having her return to her father appearing compliant and sorry for what she has done and saying she has changed her mind about accepting his choice of husband for her. Her father, Lord Capulet, suddenly becomes very caring again which may suggest to the audience that he is manipulative rather than understanding and unselfish. He changes from threatening angry behaviour to sentimental and flattering behaviour. It is clear that he regards her more as a steward of the family's prosperity and status than as a much loved and cherished daughter loved for being just as she is. The image of the "hopeful lady of my earth" suggests that she exists only in terms of what he has built in terms of material wealth. Although these ideas may have been seen to have validity by audiences of that time, Shakespeare is also subtly constructing a counter narrative where the audience are drawn along to love the two young people for being themselves. Sadly, at the end of the play we learn that neither family could allow the youngsters this unconditional love and the townspeople (and any theater goers who remain unconvinced) are reprimanded by the town official (and Shakespeare) for the rigid unenlightened ways which have resulted in the destruction of two beautiful young lives. The conflict between Juliet and her father illustrates the flawed thinking that drove centuries of senseless feuding.

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