Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Juliet in Romeo and Juliet is the tender age of 13 during the play.  In the first scene of the play, Nurse tells us Juliet’s age is almost fourteen.  Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet, also tells Paris that she “hath not seen the change of fourteen years.”  This is a shocking age for many modern readers of the play because we are not used to such young people getting married and falling so desperately in love like Romeo and Juliet do.  However, back in the Elizabethan times when Shakespeare wrote the play, people did marry earlier than they do now.  Boys were allowed to marry at 14, girls at 12.  Marriages were often arranged between families like we see with Juliet and Paris before Juliet meets Romeo. 

The age of Romeo (16?) and Juliet also demonstrates the intensity of young love and how passionate it can be.  Their inexperience causes them to do drastic things, like kill themselves, something a more mature person might not do.  Even though the idea of marrying at 13 is a little shocking to us today, it was not unusual during the time of Shakespeare.  However, Shakespeare's choice of “star-struck” young lovers as the main protagonists also adds to the tragedy of the play.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Juliet is 13 years old. We know this because it is mentioned at several points in the play. For example, here is an exchange between Lady Capulet and the nurse:

LADY CAPULET

This is the matter.—Nurse, give leave awhile,
We must talk in secret.—Nurse, come back again.
I have remembered me. Thou’s hear our counsel.
Thou know’st my daughter’s of a pretty age.
 
NURSE
Faith, I can tell her age unto an hour.
 
LADY CAPULET
She’s not fourteen.
 
NURSE
I’ll lay fourteen of my teeth—and yet, to my teen be it spoken, I have but four—she is not fourteen. How long is it now to Lammastide?
 
LADY CAPULET
A fortnight and odd days.
 
Lammas was an ancient festival that celebrated the annual wheat harvest. There is a clear link here between the ripeness of the harvest and Juliet's being on the cusp of womanhood.
 
It is interesting to note that in the original poem on which Shakespeare based his play Juliet is actually sixteen. It is not entirely clear what Shakespeare's motive was in making her younger. However, we must never forget that, as well as being a playwright, Shakespeare was an actor manager and man of the theater. At the time that Shakespeare wrote "Romeo and Juliet" the theatrical convention was that the roles of young women would be played by prepubescent boys. So perhaps Shakespeare was thinking about how the character would look on stage.
Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial