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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act I, Scene 3
This scene is a purely domestic one set in Capulet’s house. Capulet informs his wife of Paris’ proposal for Juliet and instructs her to prepare Juliet accordingly. Lady Capulet goes off to find her daughter. The Nurse calls for Juliet at the top of her voice. As Juliet enters, Lady Capulet tells her that at age fourteen she is now old enough to marry. The Nurse interrupts and swears that Juliet will not be fourteen until August 1st, two weeks in future. Juliet then answers her mother by saying that she has not thought of marriage.
Her mother, in turn, instructs her to start thinking seriously about it, adding that many “ladies of esteem” in Verona were already mothers at her age. Next, she informs Juliet about Paris’ interest in marrying her. Lady Capulet also states her approval of this young nobleman of rank and wealth. Juliet replies that she will try to like Paris in order to win her mother’s approval. A servant enters and announces the arrival of the guests for the party. Lady Capulet bids Juliet to go at once to meet Count Paris.
This scene introduces Juliet as a seemingly innocent, submissive girl. First, the audience hears her parents talking about her; much like Romeo was discussed in the first scene before he was seen. Then, Juliet appears on the stage for the first time, a picture of beauty and politeness. Her youth is emphasized once again, with the nurse pointing out that she will not turn fourteen for another two weeks; Lady Capulet counters her youth by saying many young ladies of her age are already mothers. When her mother tells Juliet she should begin thinking about marriage, specifically to Count Paris, Juliet seems obedient. She says she will try to like him. If she were totally obedient and docile, however, she would willingly accept the marriage as a final arrangement with no thought or input. She does not give her full consent. Shakespeare is foreshadowing the rebelliousness in Juliet’s character that will clearly emerge when she marries Romeo, a Montague, without her parent’s knowledge or approval.
The idea of marriage is completely foreign to Juliet. Totally pure and innocent, she has never even been in love. The Nurse, however, is not so innocent, and, as always, speaks what is on her mind. She tells Juliet she would jump at the chance to go to bed with handsome Paris. Love and sex are one in the same to her, and she expresses that feeling clearly. Although she is often vulgar in her language, she never intends to be offensive; she only suffers from speaking before thinking, and her words are often very humorous. As a result, the down-to-earth Nurse, who genuinely cares for her charge Juliet, is truly one of the most clever and bawdy of all of Shakespeare’s characters. She delights the audience throughout the play and serves as a comic relief and contrast to the intense tragedy.
The audience also learns more about Paris and Lady Capulet in this Scene. She is still a young woman; probably not even thirty years of age, since young ladies tended to marry in their early teens. Her marriage, obviously arranged by her family and not by love, was to a much older gentleman. It is not surprising, therefore, that she finds Count Paris a very suitable match for her lovely young daughter. He is handsome, wealthy, and noble of birth; he is also young in age (if not in actions). It is no wonder that she encourages Juliet to go and find this gentleman at the feast.