In William Shakespeare’s “Romeo & Juliet”, the character of Juliet changes constantly throughout the play. In some scenes she is a calm and calculated adult, in others she is seen as a somewhat immature child and sometimes she is observed as a glorious mix between the two.
We first see Juliet when she is called for by her mother. Juliet is very curious towards her mother when she says ‘madam, I am here’. This shows her maturity and respect. She gives her mother what seems like very careful and measured answers. When she is asked what she thinks of marriage she replies that ‘it is an honour that I dream not of’. It’s as if she thought of who she was talking to and then thought of an appropriate answer for that person.
Then later in the play, when she first speaks with Romeo, Juliet speaks with the excitement of a child but also with the maturity and understanding of an adult. In their shared sonnet, Juliet is quietly confident and responds appropriately. When Romeo uses the imagery of ‘two blushing pilgrims’ she immediately picks up o his language and echoes it and calls him ‘good pilgrim’. When Romeo kisses her for the first time she replies with ‘you kiss by th’book’. This shows her child-like excitement but also in her excitement we can see the emotional maturity of an adult.
After the party is over and Juliet has retired to the balcony we see a less rational side of her when she asks for Romeo to ‘deny thy father and refuse thy name’. She knows this can never happen yet still whimsically says it as though there is no feud. But when she realises that Romeo is in the garden she quickly becomes more practical and a bit anxious. She knows that the garden will be Romeo’s ‘place of death… if any of [her] kinsmen find [him]’. She later asks Romeo that if he ‘dost love, pronounce it faithfully’. She is child-like in her excitement but not immature.
Later, when the Nurse is returning from her job of finding Romeo, Juliet uses a childish ‘insincere flattery technique’ by calling her ‘good, sweet Nurse’ and ‘sweet, sweet Nurse’, to get the information from the Nurse. Many children today use this when they want something. After the Nurse continually doesn’t give her the message she wants and asks where Lady Capulet is, Juliet snaps and becomes sharp and irritated like a spoilt child would. Her irritation is evident in her use of rhetorical questions.
‘Where is my mother? Why, she is within. Where should she be? How oddly thou repliest: “Your love says, like an honest gentleman, where is your mother?” ‘
After the Nurses fake annoyance of ‘do your messages yourself’ Juliet almost explodes in a fit of rage with ‘here’s such a coil! Come, what says Romeo?’ This shows the impatience and childishness of the teenage Juliet.
Juliet then anticipates Romeo’s arrival for their wedding night. She wishes for ancient Gods to ‘bring in cloudy night immediately’ as she is excited about her next encounter with Romeo. Again, she is excited like a child yet has the emotional maturity of a woman and is looking forward to a sexual relationship. Perhaps this sexual confidence comes from being brought up by the vivacious Nurse.
When the Nurse comes to tell Juliet of Tybalt’s death, Juliet quickly picks up on her mother’s body language and asks ‘why dost thou wring thy hands?’ showing her social understanding and growth.
After the Nurse has exclaimed ‘he’s dead, he’s dead’ Juliet immediately fears that she means Romeo. The Nurse continues to confuse and aggravate Juliet with the impreciseness of her message. Juliet quickly shifts between emotions, such as frustration (‘what devil art thou that dost torment me thus?’), complete sadness (‘O break, my heart, poor bankrout, break at once!’), confusion (‘what storm is this that blows so contrary?’) and utter disbelief (‘o God, did Romeo’s hand shed Tybalt’s blood?’).
Juliet tries to rationalise what has happened. By saying it aloud, she’s trying to clear the confusion in her head and when the Nurse says ‘shame come to Romeo’, Juliet immediately responds with loyalty ‘blistered be thy tongue for such a wish’. The Nurse asks Juliet ‘will you speak well of him that killed your cousin?’ to which she replies ‘shall I speak ill of him who is my husband?’ Juliet seems to have rationalised everything very quickly even through the emotional turbulence.
Finally Juliet and Romeo are reunited after the confusion. She is now rather fanciful and impractical when she says ‘it was the nightingale, not the lark’ and ‘yond light is not daylight, I know it’, implying that it is not time for Romeo to leave yet. This is very unrealistic of her because she knows that if he stays much longer the guards will find him and kill him. But then, almost like she has woken from a daze, she says ‘be gone, away! It is the lark that sings so out of tune’ when she finally realises the danger Romeo is in.
When holding a conversation with her mother about their feelings of Tybalt’s murder, Juliet is very cunning. She uses double meanings, enabling her to say how she really feels of Romeo while her mother thinks she means the opposite. ‘I never shall be satisfied with Romeo, till I behold him… O how my heart abhors to hear him named’.
We then see Juliet’s incredibly strong and powerful side when she is defiant in her father’s wishes for her to marry Paris. She repeats her mother’s words back in her own bark of ‘he shall not make me there a joyful bride’. This is very brave of her to defy her father in a patriarchal society. She later feels the wrath of Capulet when he rages at her with his yell of ‘is she not proud… that we have wrought so worthy a gentleman to be her bride?’. But even in the face of this fury she still tries to be mature and says ‘not proud you have, but thankful you have’ as if to calm her father down.
Eventually she is reduced to begging ‘on [her] knees’ but to no avail. Her mother and the Nurse cannot argue with Capulet and so are forced to abandon Juliet. It really shows Juliet’s overall courage in the face of this turmoil and crisis to pull herself together so quickly, even if it is in her own pact that ‘if all else fail, myself have power to die’. It takes an awful lot to be able to commit suicide, strength far beyond that of an immature child. Children fear death but Juliet has the maturity and experience now to see it as her final option if everything else she tries fails.
We can see from these varied sections of the play, that Juliet’s character is not solely child-like, passive, submissive and immature or mature, confident and assertive. The character, like all of us, is a wonderful combination of the two and constantly shifts between them, allowing different and appropriate responses depending on what the situation calls for.