In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, what do Juliet's actions/character traits reveal about mankind in that time period?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One type of Juliet's actions that say much about both her character traits and mankind are her actions with respect to her religion. When she first meets Romeo, she is determined to adhere to the rules of moral social conduct that she has been taught through her religion, showing us that faith and morality are two of her strongest character traits. For instance, in the famous balcony scene, when Juliet is about to say goodnight for the first time and Romeo asks, "O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?," Juliet responds by saying, "What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?" (II.ii.131-132). In asking this, Juliet thinks Romeo is asking her for premarital sexual relations, which Juliet disdains. Juliet next steers the conversation towards marriage, telling Romeo to contact her tomorrow if his intentions truly are "honourable, meaning pure, and if he is truly "propos[ing] marriage" (149-150). Hence, we see through the balcony scene that Juliet is determined to act with respect to her religion and to save all sexual relations for her wedding bed. Juliet's actions towards marriage and religion teach us that, in her time period, mankind had a very high regard for both religion and what they considered to be the holy union of marriage.

A second action of Juliet's that tells us a great deal about her character is her threat before Friar Laurence to commit suicide. Her threat says a lot about her character because it actually contradicts her religious fervor that we see in the earlier scenes. We see Juliet threaten to take her own life when we see Juliet beg Friar Laurence for help, declaring,

If in thy wisdom thou canst give no help,
Do thou but call my resolution wise
And with this knife I'll help it presently. (IV.i.53-55)

Taking one's own life is considered a very grave sin by the Catholic Church because it is seen as an effort to take God's power into one's own hands. However, Juliet is young and sees taking her own life as the only solution to prevent committing another sin, the sin of polygamy. Juliet's action of threatening to commit suicide shows us that, due to her youth, another one of Juliet's character traits is a tendency towards violent emotionalism. Her action also shows us that  in her time period, humanity was often caught between its religious ideals and morals and its more violent emotions, the same emotions that later developed into the literature of the Romantic movement introduced by Wordsworth and Coleridge.

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Romeo and Juliet

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