The Nurse is presented in act I, scene 3 as a bawdy, talkative, repetitive woman who is coarser than either Juliet or her mother. From the Nurse's speech, we learn that her own daughter died at birth, at which point she was brought in as a wet nurse to the...
The Nurse is presented in act I, scene 3 as a bawdy, talkative, repetitive woman who is coarser than either Juliet or her mother. From the Nurse's speech, we learn that her own daughter died at birth, at which point she was brought in as a wet nurse to the newborn Juliet. A wet nurse is a woman whom an upper-class woman like Lady Capulet would hire to nurse her baby for her, freeing the upper-class woman from having to breastfeed.
The Nurse has been with Juliet ever since birth, so their relationship is long-lasting and intimate. In fact, Lady Capulet at first tries to send the Nurse away so that she can talk to Juliet privately about the possibility of her marrying Paris. She remembers that there is no need to keep any secrets from the Nurse, so she is eventually included in the conversation.
It's clear that while the Nurse is close to Juliet, she is also an irritant. Her coarse humor gets on both Juliet and her mother's nerves, and they both ask her to stop talking.
The Nurse repeats a story from when Juliet was about two, when the little girl fell forward and bumped her head. The Nurse's husband made an off-color joke then about Juliet falling backwards later in life—a reference to having sex—and the innocent child agreed that at some later date she would fall backwards, to the amusement of her caretakers:
“Yea,” quoth he, “Dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit,
Wilt thou not, Jule?” and, by my holy dame,
The pretty wretch left [stopped] crying and said “ay.”
Juliet is not thrilled with this story, which makes an off-color joke at her expense. Repeating this joke characterizes the Nurse as a worldly but not terribly sensitive character. These are traits that the Nurse will continue to exhibit throughout the play. It will be ironic when the Nurse takes offense at being the butt of Mercutio
's bawdy humor, for she has just done the same to Juliet. However, the Nurse is not the kind of thinker who is likely to make that connection.
In sum, the Nurse and Juliet have a very close but also somewhat antagonistic relationship, as Juliet has a much more sensitive personality.