Essential Passage by Theme: Rebellion

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CAPULET: But saying o'er what I have said before:

My child is yet a stranger in the world,

She hath not seen the change of fourteen years;

Let two more summers wither in their pride

Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride.

PARIS: Younger than she are happy mothers made.

CAPULET: And too soon marr'd are those so early made.

The earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she;

She is the hopeful lady of my earth.

But woo her, gentle Paris, get her heart;

My will to her consent is but a part.

An she agree, within her scope of choice

Lies my consent and fair according voice.

This night I hold an old accustom'd feast,

Whereto I have invited many a guest,

Such as I love; and you among the store,

One more, most welcome, makes my number more.

At my poor house look to behold this night

Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.

Such comfort as do lusty young men feel

When well-apparell'd April on the heel

Of limping Winter treads, even such delight

Among fresh female buds shall you this night

Inherit at my house. Hear all, all see,

And like her most whose merit most shall be;

Which, amongst view of many, mine, being one,

May stand in number, though in reck'ning none.

Come, go with me.

Act 1, Scene 2, Lines 7-34


Lord Capulet, Juliet’s father, is speaking to Paris. Paris is one of the Prince of Verona’s royal kinsmen, which means that he is related to the prince and therefore of royal lineage himself. Paris is interested in marrying Juliet and is quite smitten with her—so smitten, in fact, that he is trying to persuade Capulet to let him proceed with wedding plans, even though Juliet is not even fourteen years old yet (fourteen was the minimum age of consent in the Renaissance). Capulet wants to wait another two years. He feels that his daughter is still too young and naive. Paris is not ready to give up, however. He argues that many women, even younger than Juliet, make “happy mothers.”

Capulet remains adamant. He tries to explain to Paris the reasons why he feels postponing their nuptials is wise. First, he postulates that those who marry too young are often “marr’d”: they do not survive childbirth or are too young to make responsible, respectful wives. Next, Lord Capulet appeals to Paris’s sense of humanity. He tells Paris that Juliet is his only surviving child (“Earth has swallowed all my hopes but she”) and she alone can carry on his lineage. Because Juliet is his most treasured possession, Capulet urges Paris to win her heart; Paris already has his consent. Juliet, while she does have a voice in selecting her mate, still must agree to a match within “her scope of choice”—that is, men whom her father approves of as appropriate husbands.

Finally, Capulet invites Paris to a big party he is having at the Capulet estate. He tells Paris that the festivities will include a number of beautiful women. This is another attempt by Capulet to be sure Paris is certain that Juliet is his first and true choice.


The conversation between Capulet and Paris is a catalyst for the teenage rebellion of young Juliet. Here, her father and a man conspire to seal her fate. Paris wants her because she is beautiful. Capulet wants her married to a “good match” because Juliet will be the sole heir to his property and the only continuance of his family line. What neither man takes into account very much is the free will of Juliet herself.

Capulet’s underestimation of Juliet is compounded by a variety of other blunders on both her father and her mother’s part. Capulet sends an illiterate servant out into Verona to deliver invitations to the party. The servant, frustrated that he cannot perform his duty, happens upon Romeo and his friend, Benvolio. He asks them to read the names on the invitation. This happenstance encounter gives the bored (and recently dumped) Romeo and his pals a night of adventure with consequences none could foresee.

As the Capulet home prepares for the festivities, Juliet’s mother unwittingly sets the stage for her daughter’s defiance. In Juliet’s chambers, a nurse helps Juliet get ready. The ensuing conversation reveals, in part, why Lady Capulet does not have much pull with her daughter. Juliet’s nurse has been the “mother figure” in her life, having nursed the baby and thereafter acted as the girl’s constant companion. Renaissance etiquette would not favor such a long-term influence. It was thought, for instance, that milk carried not only nutrients to the baby but also the character of the person from whom it came. The nurse, though loving, is also crass and uneducated.

Further pushing Juliet into outright rebellion is the urging of both her mother and nurse to accept Paris as her husband. Lady Capulet argues along the same lines as Paris: many “ladies of esteem” are already mothers by Juliet’s age. She cites herself as an example, which could hardly be encouraging to Juliet because her mother and father do not appear to have a harmonious relationship. Her nurse also encourages the union. After all, Paris is quite a catch. “(W)hy, he’s a man of wax,” she argues, essentially saying that he is flawless. Badgered as she is, Juliet agrees that she will try to look favorably on Paris. Since her acquiescence is immediately forgotten once she meets Romeo, it is hard to believe Juliet’s heart was really in this promise.

The party creates a situation that is certainly not in the Capulets’ or Paris’s plans. The masquerade theme allows Romeo, the son of the family’s long-time enemies, the Montagues, access to the estate and to the fair Juliet.

A masked Romeo sees Juliet and instantly falls in love. His earlier melancholy laments about his lost love, Rosaline, are forgotten. Consumed by desire (the infatuation can hardly be called a “mature” love, as Romeo has only the most brief of conversations and a kiss with Juliet), Romeo acts in a way that is decidedly against all convention. Juliet, too, falls madly in love. The combination of hormones and rebellion will prove an intoxicating mix for the young lovers. After kissing, both discover that they are the children of their feuding families. The “forbidden fruit” element of their burgeoning relationship only adds attraction and a compelling sense of danger.

Romeo and Juliet find a sympathetic soul in Friar Laurence, who, with the help of the nurse, marries the pair in secret. Of course, this turn of events is kept from Lord Capulet, who, unaware of his daughter’s marriage and the fact that her now-husband is responsible for his nephew Tybalt’s slaying, presses ahead with his plans to wed Juliet to Paris. Not even this tragedy will keep the two lovers apart, and the pair conspires to once again rebel, defy parental wishes, reunite, and run away. Although nothing has gone well for the two, they remain in their state of intoxication and fail to see where this doomed relationship will eventually lead: to their deaths.

Essential Passage by Character: Friar Laurence

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FRIAR LAURENCE: I will be brief, for my short date of breath

Is not so long as is a tedious tale.

Romeo, there dead, was husband to that Juliet;

And she, there dead, that Romeo's faithful wife.

I married them; and their stol'n marriage day

Was Tybalt's doomsday, whose untimely death

Banish'd the new-made bridegroom from this city;

For whom, and not for Tybalt, Juliet pin'd.

You, to remove that siege of grief from her,

Betroth'd and would have married her perforce

To County Paris. Then comes she to me

And with wild looks bid me devise some mean

To rid her from this second marriage,

Or in my cell there would she kill herself.

Then gave I her (so tutored by my art)

A sleeping potion; which so took effect

As I intended, for it wrought on her

The form of death. Meantime I writ to Romeo

That he should hither come as this dire night

To help to take her from her borrowed grave,

Being the time the potion's force should cease.

But he which bore my letter, Friar John,

Was stay'd by accident, and yesternight

Return'd my letter back. Then all alone

At the prefixed hour of her waking

Came I to take her from her kindred's vault;

Meaning to keep her closely at my cell

Till I conveniently could send to Romeo.

But when I came, some minute ere the time

Of her awaking, here untimely lay

The noble Paris and true Romeo dead.

She wakes; and I entreated her come forth

And bear this work of heaven with patience;

But then a noise did scare me from the tomb,

And she, too desperate, would not go with me,

But, as it seems, did violence on herself.

All this I know, and to the marriage

Her nurse is privy; and if aught in this

Miscarried by my fault, let my old life

Be sacrific'd, some hour before his time,

Unto the rigour of severest law.

Act 5, Scene 3, Lines 240-280


Friar Laurence has the unpleasant task of telling the parents of Romeo and Juliet as well as the Prince of Verona how their children and Paris have died. The friar confesses that he had performed the ceremony that married Romeo and Juliet. He then reveals that their wedding day was the very day that Romeo and Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, got into a brawl. Tybalt fell under Romeo’s sword. He reminds everyone that Romeo’s punishment was banishment from Verona.

Trying to put the pieces together for them, the friar recounts the events that led to the tragedy. It began to go unravel, he says, when Juliet’s parents sped up her wedding to Paris. In a panic, Juliet came to him and begged for him to find a way out of the marriage to Paris, threatening to kill herself if he did not help her. Friar Laurence reveals his “sleeping potion” ruse, designed to make her family think she was dead, thus allowing Juliet and Romeo to escape the city together. The friar tells the families how he sent word to Romeo about the false death of Juliet and asked Romeo to come back at a certain time. Unfortunately, Romeo never received the message.

There is still more bad news. Laurence says that while he had intended to be at Juliet’s side when she awoke, Romeo came earlier than expected to the tomb. When the friar arrived at his appointed time, he found Juliet “desperate” and Romeo and Paris dead. He entreated the girl to leave with him, but she would not abandon her husband. He then heard a noise that frightened him and left the girl there, as she refused to leave. He surmises that she must have killed herself. He tells the families that Juliet’s nurse can verify the marriage, lest there be doubt about his truthfulness now in recounting the tale. Finally, he asks for the assembly to judge him for his fault in the tragedy, offering his own life in accordance with the judgment of the law.


As the tragedy concludes, the blame game begins. Despite his protests, the friar bears a good deal of the blame because he should have been the most reliable. Juliet essentially has no adult to turn to for sound advice. Her father has already proven himself rash and without real regard for his daughter’s happiness. Although he professes that Juliet will have ultimate say in whom she marries, his plans for her to wed Paris without her consent say otherwise. Juliet cannot turn to her mother either, she too having married at a young age. Juliet’s nurse is loving but incompetent. She lets Juliet manipulate her into doing what a rational adult would have objected to or at least counseled against in a more mature way. The only other adult she can turn to is the friar. He is the principle adult who could have steered the young couple in a proper direction.

At first, Friar Laurence seems like someone who should be trusted. He tries to warn Romeo of the temporary state of infatuation: “These violent states have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder” (2.6.9-10). But his words carry no weight, because his actions undermine them. He marries the couple anyway, despite the fact that he knows he is violating parental wishes, as well as wedding two people who have frequently demonstrated to him a blatant disregard of reason.

Of course, the friar’s final misdeed comes when he gives Juliet the vial that will make her appear to be dead. The scheme smacks of the occult, and is certainly not something that a man of the cloth should be dabbling in. But even if one could somehow dismiss this uncomfortable element, it is impossible to ignore the fact that Friar Laurence has been instrumental in bringing the crisis to a boil. One perhaps could argue that the friar was making a desperate bid to save Juliet’s life, because Juliet had threatened him with killing herself should he not bow to her wishes. Unlike Juliet’s nurse, however, the friar should have been grounded in morality and used his educated mind to reason with her, reason with her parents, or intervene on her behalf—just about anything other than adopting such an untenable scheme where so many things could potentially go wrong.

Any doubts about the friar’s integrity should be answered when he tries to save his own life and cast blame on nearly everyone else. He blames her parents, who, he reminds them, were pushing her to marry Paris. He blames Friar John, who is late delivering his message. He blames Romeo for coming early and for the subsequent death of Paris, and then blames Juliet for failing to leave the tomb with him. Finally, desperate for at least a co-conspirator in his guilt, Friar Laurence tells the families that the nurse knew of the wedding of their children.

Luckily for the friar, the prince finds the families more to blame for the death of their children than Laurence himself is. He cites the ongoing and ancient family feud, for whose hatred “(a)ll are punished.” Though it is too late for their children, the good that comes of the tragedy is that the Montagues and Capulets have at last come to their senses. They reconcile and decide to build a golden monument to the “star cross’d lovers” so that all who view it might be reminded of the tragedy.

Essential Passage by Character: Romeo

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FRIAR LAURENCE: Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art;

Thy tears are womanish, thy wild acts denote

The unreasonable fury of a beast.

Unseemly woman in a seeming man!

Or ill-beseeming beast in seeming both!

Thou hast amaz'd me. By my holy order,

I thought thy disposition better temper'd.

Hast thou slain Tybalt? Wilt thou slay thyself?

And slay thy lady that in thy life lives,

By doing damned hate upon thyself?

Why railest thou on thy birth, the heaven, and earth?

Since birth and heaven and earth, all three do meet

In thee at once; which thou at once wouldst lose.

Fie, fie, thou shamest thy shape, thy love, thy wit,

Which, like a usurer, abound'st in all,

And usest none in that true use indeed

Which should bedeck thy shape, thy love, thy wit.

Thy noble shape is but a form of wax

Digressing from the valour of a man;

Thy dear love sworn but hollow perjury,

Killing that love which thou hast vow'd to cherish;

Thy wit, that ornament to shape and love,

Misshapen in the conduct of them both,

Like powder in a skilless soldier's flask,

Is set afire by thine own ignorance,

And thou dismemb'red with thine own defence.

What, rouse thee, man! Thy Juliet is alive,

For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead.

There art thou happy. Tybalt would kill thee,

But thou slewest Tybalt. There art thou happy too.

The law, that threat'ned death, becomes thy friend

And turns it to exile. There art thou happy.

A pack of blessings light upon thy back;

Happiness courts thee in her best array;

But, like a misbhav'd and sullen wench,

Thou pout'st upon thy fortune and thy love.

Act 3, Scene 3, Lines 115-150


The day after Romeo marries Juliet with the help of Friar Laurence, Romeo encounters a quarrel in the Verona square between the Capulets and the Montagues. In this instance, it is Romeo’s friend Mercutio in conflict with Juliet’s beloved cousin Tybalt. Romeo, now having a foot in both families, feels obligated to stop the quarrel. He tries to reason with both Mercutio, as a friend, and Tybalt, as secret in-law, to make peace. Mercutio and Tybalt still fight, but Romeo, in placing himself between the two combatants, is the cause of Mercutio’s being hindered from protecting himself. Mercutio is dealt a fatal blow by Tybalt, a sword thrust under Romeo’s arm. Initially thinking that Mercutio, ever the joker, was exaggerating the wound, his fellows laugh. Cursing both houses, Mercutio dies.

Romeo, seeing his friend in death, forgets all his newfound loyalty to his wife’s family and attacks Tybalt, eventually killing him. Realizing that he has not only killed his wife’s kinsman but also broken Prince Escalus's edict against public brawls, Romeo flees the scene and seeks refuge in Friar Laurence’s cell.

Romeo, having experienced the greatest joy in his marriage to Juliet, now sinks into the despondency of knowing that he has lost it all—his life as well as his love. Indeed, it is the latter that seems to bother him the most. Feeling unworthy to be loved by a girl whose cousin he has killed and fearing that she will reject him as a murderer, Romeo wallows in his grief to a great degree, even contemplating suicide.

Friar Laurence has learned that the prince’s decree for Romeo is not death, because it was Tybalt who had first committed murder by killing Mercutio. Romeo's punishment instead is banishment from Verona. Even this, however, does not placate Romeo’s grief. In a fit of temper, Friar Laurence condemns Romeo's tantrum, especially his talk of suicide. Romeo’s excessive crying is unbecoming a married man, if man he is. It is true that Juliet will grieve for Tybalt, but does not Romeo think that she will grieve even more for Romeo, her husband? By killing himself, Romeo is condemning Juliet also to death—death from grief. Laurence points out that if Romeo had not have killed Tybalt, Tybalt would have killed him, thus still causing grief to Juliet.

The friar further chastises Romeo for ingratitude that his punishment is only banishment, not death. As long as he is alive, there is hope. In some way Juliet will be reunited with Romeo, but only as long as Romeo is alive. Knowing this, Romeo needs to put off his “womanish tears” and prepare for the contingency plans that can reverse this messy situation.


Romeo, always depicted as the ardent lover, is in reality the victim of his excessive emotions. It is in this passage that Friar Laurence exposes this fault to the greatest degree. Rather than being steady in his affections, Romeo changes them with seeming ease, as long as some new opportunity or situation comes along, for good or ill.

In the beginning of the play, Romeo could not live without Rosalind. His love was deeply affecting to his spirits, preventing him from carrying on his regular activities. He locks himself in his room, wanders about town, and forsakes his friends. Yet when Juliet enters the play, he quickly, without hesitation, transfers all of his affections to her. As deep as his love for Rosalind was, it immediately becomes as deep for Juliet. Juliet unwittingly analyzes Romeo correctly when she says in Act 2:

O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,

That monthly changes in her circled orb,

Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

Romeo is indeed inconstant as the moon. In fact, his undying love for Juliet lasted a matter of days. If death had not intervened in the course of his love, who is to say that, when another pretty girl came along, Romeo’s intense emotionality would not have left Juliet herself in its wake?

Romeo does not seem to think past the present moment. He thinks only of the here and now. What is before him is all there is: he is miserable; therefore, he wants to kill himself. He does not think from Juliet’s point of view, and he cannot conceive of the sorrow that she would feel at his death. He cannot see any other possible conclusions.

The climax of Romeo’s overdramatic emotions comes here in this passage. Without thought, without reason, he once again throws himself into an irreversible state. As he thinks only of love, now he thinks only of death, without giving thought to the long-term consequences of either. He has given up all his attention to Rosalind; he gives up his hand in an irrevocable marriage to Juliet; he wants to kill himself. This immaturity is more than Friar Laurence, who has long been a mentor to Romeo, can bear.

In plain terms, Friar Laurence tells Romeo to grow up. Though he is presumably only a teenager (even if that concept did not exist at the time of the Renaissance), Romeo has taken upon himself the role of a man, and therefore must act like one. What Romeo lacks is self-control. He cannot control his emotions, and he cannot control his actions. Although he is old enough to marry, he is seemingly not really old enough to be married. He must move past his self-absorption, exhibited by his willing enslavement to emotion. He is living for both himself and for Juliet. What happens to him will ultimately affect her as well. If he dies, she will die. Thus Friar Laurence, in the role of surrogate father, tries to move Romeo into the realm of responsible adulthood and out of the self-centered mindset of youth.

Essential Passage by Character: Juliet

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JULIET: Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?

Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name

When I, thy three-hours’ wife, have mangled it?

But wherefore, villain, didst thou kill my cousin?

That villain cousin would have kill'd my husband.

Back, foolish tears, back to your native spring!

Your tributary drops belong to woe,

Which you, mistaking, offer up to joy.

My husband lives, that Tybalt would have slain;

And Tybalt's dead, that would have slain my husband.

All this is comfort; wherefore weep I then?

Some word there was, worser than Tybalt's death,

That murdered me. I would forget it fain;

But O, it presses to my memory

Like damned guilty deeds to sinners’ minds!

‘Tybalt is dead, and Romeo banished.’

That ‘banished,’ that one word ‘banished,’

Hath slain ten thousand Tybalts. Tybalt's death

Was woe enough, if it had ended there;

Or, if sour woe delights in fellowship

And needly will be rank'd with other griefs,

Why followed not, when she said ‘Tybalt's dead,’

Thy father, or thy mother, nay, or both,

Which modern lamentation might have mov'd?

But with a rearward following Tybalt's death,

‘Romeo is banished’— to speak that word

Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet,

All slain, all dead. ‘Romeo is banished’—

Act 3, Scene 2, Lines 102-129


Romeo, in avenging Mercutio’s death, has killed Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, the day after he and Juliet were married. As a result, he has been banished by Prince Escalus. Though the prince had initially proclaimed a punishment of death on any of the Capulets or Montagues who engaged in public brawls, he converted Romeo’s punishment to banishment because Tybalt had initially instigated the fight and killed Mercutio. Romeo and Juliet’s future plans after their marriage were vague, but now it is clear that they will not be together as they wished.

Juliet has been waiting for her nurse, who was to bring news of Romeo’s instructions regarding their future. Instead, she brings news of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment. It is a time of great conflict for Juliet, torn between the love for her cousin and the love for her husband. She laments Romeo’s disgrace, shocked that he was able to commit such a deed. She ponders how such evil could reside in the heart of one who is so adored by her—“beautiful tyrant, a damnéd saint, an honorable villain.”

The nurse chastises her for even speaking of someone who murdered her kinsman. Yet Juliet retorts, how can she speak ill of her husband? She blames herself, his “three-hours' wife,” for bringing this evil on Romeo. She cannot choose on whom to shower the most grief—the husband who killed her beloved cousin, or the cousin who would have killed her beloved husband. She cannot choose, yet she knows what the choice should be.

This double grief forces her to contemplate which is the worse punishment: banishment or death. Both alike have ended her life as it was. If Tybalt alone had died, that enough would have caused grief, but to be coupled with Romeo’s banishment has pushed her to the edge of despair. Even the death of her parents would not have caused her more sorrow. Her life, she feels, is over.


In her double grief, Juliet is forced to make a choice of loyalty. On whose side must she stand—Romeo’s or Tybalt’s? The first is someone whom she has known less than one day. The latter she has known her entire life. Where does her duty lie?

As a female in the time of the Renaissance, Juliet’s opportunities are limited, even though she comes from the upper class. Her duty is to marry. If not, she remains under the authority of her father or, if he is gone, a male relative. The option of making her own choices is practically nonexistent. The all-important state of marriage was one usually not left up to mere emotions. It was a legal and financial matter, one that ensured the woman’s protection and provision as well as the perpetuation of the line of both families. More than just the husband and wife were involved. Therefore, it was the duty of parents to arrange such an important alignment.

Juliet, at thirteen, is of marriageable age, if not slightly past it. Her mother notes that she herself was a mother at Juliet’s age (1.3.75-77), which would oddly enough make her in her mid-twenties at the time. Yet the purpose of women is clear, and women must submit, if they are to have any kind of honorable existence. Beyond marriage, decent women had absolutely no other options other than entering the Church. Juliet, especially, is under a great deal of pressure because she is the only surviving child of the Capulets. With her, the line ends.

Juliet, however, has done the unthinkable—marriage by her own choice and without her parents’ consent. Despite her age, such a marriage, performed by the Church, was legal. Not only that, it was irrevocable. The union has been consummated. Juliet is thus not “useful” for any other marriage prospects. On top of that, she has married the enemy. Her position in her family is thus in jeopardy. Instead of Romeo being banished, she herself might suffer that fate, with Romeo facing death at the hands of one of her relatives. It is for this reason that Romeo and Juliet's marriage was performed in secret.

Yet, through it all, Juliet has shown some sense of reason, unlike Romeo. In a gender-role switch, it is she who is guided by reason, while Romeo is controlled by emotion. She is the one who wants to have the details of the plans. She is the one who thinks ahead into the future rather than just living in the moment. Her intelligence is evident, and it is has thus placed her in the difficult and painful position of having to choose between her husband and her cousin.

Where does her duty lie? The saying “blood is thicker than water” indicates that she must choose her blood relative, Tybalt, rather than Romeo, who is related only by the rites of the Church. In a situation such as she finds herself, where family is everything and is even the justification for violence and murder, the choice would be seemingly obvious. Upon marriage, however, the control of a woman passed from her father to her husband. Thus her primary duty is to Romeo.

Juliet, though, is torn by the obvious fact that she really does not know Romeo that well. She is also greatly disturbed that he has committed murder. Does her duty, even her love, compel her to overlook a crime? This man, or rather boy, she barely knows has killed one of her own, one whom she has loved deeply her entire life. He has knowingly gone against the laws of the state. Whom should she choose?

She chooses Romeo. She is well aware that this choice could cost her life, as indeed it does. Like Antigone in Sophocles’s play of that name, she chooses to stand by the one she loves against the dictates of the government. In a move that always—throughout literature and throughout history—leads to nobility through tragedy, Juliet chooses love over law.

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