In Romeo and Juliet, is Juliet too young to marry?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think the real question is: Why did Shakespeare make Juliet thirteen years old when he could easily have made her at least fifteen or sixteen--or just left her age unspecified? No doubt he would have done just that if he had been able to use a real girl to play the role rather than a boy. Juliet is an extremely important role in the play. She is more important than most of the others, and just as important as Romeo. Shakespeare probably did not have a wide range of actors to choose from for this part. He needed a boy who was talented enough to carry the demanding role from beginning to end, and one who could be considered exceptionally beautiful. Shakespeare himself seems to be apologizing for making his Juliet so young. He has her father himself protesting that she is too young to marry. Even in Shakespeare's time it must have seemed like a bad idea for a girl to be getting married when she was only thirteen. Childbirth in those days was dangerous enough for any women; it must have been infinitely more dangerous for a girl just entering adolescence. One wonders, as well, what these passionate young men, Romeo and Paris, would see in such an immature girl. The casting of Juliet for his play must have been one of Shakespeare's biggest problems. It would still be a problem today, whether casting for a stage play or a movie, even though there would be no problem with getting a real female to play the part. No doubt the director would totally ignore the fact that Juliet was supposed to be thirteen years old (about the age of Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz) and would choose a beautiful ingenue who was at least eighteen.

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Shakespeare himself must have felt that thirteen was pretty young for a girl to get married. Otherwise, he would not have spent so much space seemingly apologizing for Juliet's tender age. She herself says she feels to young to think about getting married to Paris. Juliet's mother seems to think it is okay for her daughter to get married, especially since Paris is such a good catch. Juliet's zany nurse assures Juliet that it will be just fine for her to get married at thirteen. Juliet's father tells Paris that he thinks his daughter is too young. Paris argues that lots of girls Juliet's age are already married and have even become mothers. This sounds like Shakespeare's argument and justification. He must have had some reason for making Juliet thirteen when he could have made her fifteen or sixteen with just the stroke of a quill. I suspect it had something to do with the boy-actor who was going to play Juliet. He may have been only twelve or thirteen himself. If it was so common for thirteen-year-old girls to get married in older times, then why did Shakespeare make such a big issue of it? Why did he even specify Juliet's age at all?

William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't know this for sure, but I suspect that Shakespeare had a practical reason for making Juliet so young and also for writing the dialogue that would establish her age as precisely thirteen. As is well known, female roles were played by boys. No doubt Shakespeare had a particular boy in mind to play Juliet, and the boy was very young. The play is about young love. Shakespeare needed a boy who could pass for a young girl. This suggests that he was obliged to choose a boy who was a good actor/actress as well as still having a soprano voice. Otherwise, I see no reason why Shakespeare with a stroke of the quill could not have made Juliet fifteen or sixteen. Thirteen seems awfully young for any era, not just because we don't like to think of girls that age having babies, but because it is hard to believe that a thirteen-year-old girl could be so passionate, headstrong, and devious as Juliet.

gbeatty eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I'd say so, but the real question is, who is asking, and who is answering? She's 13, and by modern standards, that's very young. It also seems young to Juliet's father. However, as Paris points out in Act I, girls younger than 13 are already mothers (and according to him, happy about it). And Paris is right, at least historically; people married much younger in that period.

But look at her emotional ups and downs! She's so young!


emtheawesome | Student

In this time, yes, since she is only 13. However, in that time period, you would usually marry at that age because people didn't live as long as people do now. So for that time period, she is actually at the perfect age to marry.

crystaltu001 | Student

I think she is too young to marry but Romeo and Juliet was about back in the day. Back in the day it was normal for girls to marry to guys at a young age but now it is like illegal in some places because girls are way too young to get married.

jess1999 | Student

. Juliet was not too young to marry during that time , in fact she married at a later age compared to most girls . Apparently Lady Capulet ( Juliet's mother ) married at a really young age herself and had Juliet when she was thirteen almost fourteen . . . 

Wiggin42 | Student

Certainly she is young. Even though it is justified fine for that time period. Just taking into consideration of the age or the maturity of the individual  is also important. The novelist uses this kind of things to increase the charm to the subject. It helps the author to create vibe in  a story where the society is most probably questions and debates about it.

kath555554444 | Student

In "Romeo and Juliet", it was written about at the end of the 16th century. During this time, it was very common for girls to marry at a very young age. So no, Juliet is not too young to marry. For guys, it didn't matter as much, so it wouldn't matter the age difference. It was viewed as pitiful if a woman was married at an "old age" or not married at all. People either assumed that the woman is poor or not attractive.

justinyu | Student

back in the old days, being married before 15 was common, and many people were mothers already. although in the play, people fell that she is a bit young, its accepted. still id say shes too young

Not for her time, she may have even been a bit old . People lived shorter time spans so had to marry young . Her father did something a bit out of the ordinary, too . Instead of forcing her daughter to marry someone, he told Paris that Juliet had to love him back.

cheeko101 | Student

No in the old days!!!

revolution | Student

Yes. Thirteen years old is way too young to go into marriage according to our modern standards, in the late twenties would be more acceptable.

The fact was also greatly supported by the Elizabethan England period, when women typically wed in their late teens or early twenties. But, in Pari's point of view, she felt that 13-year olds are already mothers in that age, which contradict to the traditions that everybody follows.

beccasmith | Student

No she's not, in modern day terms its similar to someone who has only just turned 16 getting married, it is very close to being unacceptableand there would still be some stigma in society about it. Whether she is mature enough to get married is another matter which is more personal. She is shown as very young in her submissions to her father; however it could be argued that this is just another historical trait of the play, so I guess you'll just have to make up your own mind about that!

PS I'm from England so i don't know if my year at school's right but i don't suppose that matters really :)

youthinkilikeyou | Student

In my opinion? Yes. In the opinion of the Elizabethian audience it would have been a different matter. In the time of this play, every father would find a good suitor whom was rich and willing to marry his daughter as soon as she became a teenager.

Why? Because the parents of a daughter were worried about their daughters' hormones running wild and urging her to go about the town and trying different things out; thus becoming pregnant without being married. This was frowned upon and would bring shame to any household.

Thus, the daughters were to marry at an early age so as if they became pregnant, they had a good man who would look after her and the baby.

luvthekingofsc | Student

Back then, (when they lived short-lives) she was considered old. Paris points out that women who were younger than her were already mothers. Nowadays, though, yes. Far too young.