What are the mixed emotions that Juliet feels when she learns of Tybalt’s death?

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droxonian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In act 3, scene 2, Juliet is forced to process a number of competing powerful emotions in a short space of time. At first, when the Nurse arrives to tell Juliet what has happened, she is so muddled by her grief that Juliet does not grasp the situation with any accuracy. As the Nurse says only "he's dead," Juliet at first thinks that Romeo has been killed. Naturally, she reacts to this news with distress—"O, break my heart!" Her distress is only compounded when the Nurse begins to bemoan Tybalt—"O, Tybalt!" Juliet now thinks that her "dear-loved cousin" and "my dearer lord" are both gone, leaving her feeling a sense of "general doom."

However, when the Nurse clarifies the situation, and Juliet understands that "Romeo's hand shed Tybalt's blood," Juliet truly begins to experience emotional conflict. The simple grief of a moment before must appear to her almost easy by comparison to what she must now process. She uses a number of oxymorons to describe Romeo: "Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical!" "A damned saint, an honorable villain!" This emphasizes the extent of her difficulty in determining how she feels about Romeo and the complexity of the situation in which she finds herself. The Capulet part of Juliet wants to hate Romeo for what he has done to Tybalt, but the part of her that is Romeo's wife still feels love for him. When the Nurse declares "shame" upon him, Juliet cries that Romeo "was not born to shame."

She sets out the difficulty of her situation when she laments,

But, wherefore, villain, didst thou kill my cousin?

That villain cousin would have kill'd my husband.

Juliet is devastated at the loss of Tybalt and thinks Romeo a "villain" for causing it, but on the other hand, the thought of Tybalt attempting to kill Romeo makes him equally a "villain" in her eyes. Juliet emphasizes her familial ties to both men in this speech, defining each man as "cousin" and "husband." She is caught between the two warring families and feels immobilized by it.

troutmiller eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At first she feels deceived by Romeo. Her first words in reaction to the news of him killing Tybalt is

“O serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!/ Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?/ Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!"

Then the Nurse joins in on blaming Romeo, and Juliet jumps to Romeo's defense.  After all, that is her husband.  She immediately feels ashamed for having called him those names and she scold the nurse for her negative comments about Romeo. 

“Blister’d be thy tongue/ For such a wish! He was not born to shame. / Upon his brow shame is asham’d to sit"

So Juliet's first reaction was to feel betrayed by her husband.  She felt grief for the loss of her cousin.  However, after hearing another person say negative things about him, she felt guilt for badmouthing him, too.  Her emotions are all over the place because she has to take in many different emotions all at once.  She lost her cousin.  Her secret husband is to blame, and then he will have to run from the law, which will add more complexity to the situation.  This poor, young (child) girl has to go through many emotions in a short period of time.