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

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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!

Greg

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