Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
Lord Montague’s social position in Verona is the same as that of the Lord Capulet, but he, his son Romeo, and his nephew Benvolio, are far from being eager to fight their enemies. Lord Montague is a foil to Lord Capulet. He is self-controlled, quiet, and dignified. He loves his son dearly and grieves over his strange behavior and his secretiveness. His first words spoken in the play, “The villain Capulet! Hold me not, let me go,” are dramatically intended to inform the audience, at the outset, of the relations between the two houses. Even in this exclamation, the reader can see his mildness and self-control. He does not want to be involved in a fight with the Capulets.
Lord Montague’s role in the play is limited. In the opening scene, he begs Benvolio to find out what is wrong with Romeo. In Act III, Scene 1, he pleads with the Prince to consider that Romeo, in killing Tybalt, has only done what the law otherwise would have done. In the closing scene, he announces that he was grieved over Romeo’s exile; now he has to face his son’s death. He accepts Capulet’s hand but is too much overcome with grief to speak about forgetting the past enmity. He does, however, propose to raise a golden statue of Juliet for her everlasting remembrance.
Lady Montague’s character is not much developed in the play. She speaks only once, stating her happiness that Romeo was not involved in the street fight in the opening scene. She is present with her husband in Act III, Scene 1, but says nothing, apparently overcome by the sentence of banishment of Romeo. In the closing scene, her husband reveals that she died in grief over Romeo’s exile.
Lady Montague is cast in a more suave and womanly manner than Lady Capulet is. She says nothing but restrains her husband from fighting by throwing her arms around him. She loves him and does not want him to be hurt or to engage in a fray forbidden by the Prince. She is more interested in her son’s welfare than in the cause of the fight. She is devoted to her husband and her son and in the end dies a sad death.
Prince Escalus is the absolute ruler of an independent Italian city-state. He is a type rather than a personality. He stands as a supreme power over the welfare of the city. He appears at the opening of the play as a director, in the middle as a watchful observer, and at the close as a judge. However much he may chide the heads of the two houses to keep peace in his city, a power still higher, Fate, takes control and brings about the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet and subsequent peace that Escalus had demanded.
In Act III, Scene 1, the Prince appears when his night’s sleep is disturbed by the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. When he learns how the deaths have occurred, he gives his judgment of exile for Romeo. The Capulets are punished in the death of their nephew and the Montagues lose their son Romeo to exile. The Prince’s judgment is free from personal vengeance. Both houses are heavily fined for fostering enmity against his orders. He pays no attention to the ravings of Lady Capulet, yet listens to Montague’s plea for Romeo.
In his third appearance in the closing scene, Escalus represents a higher power and feels partially responsible for the tragedy. He at once takes control of the situation, examines the witnesses patiently, and gives his decision immediately, suppressing all indication of his personal loss in the series of tragic events.
In speech, the Prince is formal and pompous. In action, he is quick and decisive. In judgment, he is fair in his examination of witnesses before pronouncing his verdict. He prides himself on not allowing the deaths of his two near relations to influence him in the investigation. He attempts to treat all his subjects alike, rich or lowly. Though he is the absolute ruler of Verona, he lacks insight into character and practical sense, for his instructions do not quell the feuding and violence in the city.
Count Paris is a close relative of the Prince and, therefore, is not involved in the enmity between the Capulets and Montagues. Very handsome himself, he is attracted to the beauty of Juliet and asks Lord Capulet for her hand in marriage. As always, he is formal and proper in making his request. Paris’s first meeting with Juliet is at the Capulet dance, where he compares her to the other Verona beauties; he reassures Capulet that she is the girl he wants to marry. When he meets her at the Friar’s cell, Paris is courteous and complimentary to Juliet, but is somewhat perplexed by her behavior. His feelings on seeing Juliet dead are deep and real, making him much more human than he has appeared before. He is shocked over the disruption of his plans and grieved over Juliet’s death. He shows no desire to fight with Romeo at the tomb, but his self-respect compels him to arrest the man who, he thinks, is responsible for Juliet’s sorrow and death. He draws his sword when Romeo refuses to be arrested; in the duel with Romeo Paris is killed.
Count Paris stands as a contrast to Romeo’s character. He is purely conventional and unromantic about love and marriage, offering his rank in exchange for Juliet’s beauty. He knows he is worthy of Juliet, for he is a man of good birth, culture, and uprightness in life.
The Nurse is a triumphant and complete achievement of comic personality. She stands four-square, and lives and breathes in her own right from the moment she appears in the play. The Capulet family has employed her since the birth of Juliet, and the young girl’s upbringing has been left entirely in her hands. She is fondly attached to Juliet, whom she calls as her lamb and her ladybird. She also praises Juliet’s beauty as “the prettiest babe that ever I loved.” She is so faithful to Juliet that she follows her wishes even when she knows that they are not in the family’s interest.
The Nurse displays the workings of an uneducated mind. The humor lies in the fact that she tries to affect the language and manners of educated people. In conversation, she rambles off from one thought to another. She does not know when to be silent and introduces matters that should not be revealed
The chief characteristic of the Nurse is her ignorance. This ignorance, combined with her pompous manners and self-importance, make her a really humorous character. She struts about the street followed by her page Peter. She orders him about whenever she meets strangers and puts on airs with her fan. Her talkativeness and love of gossip are found throughout the play and are usually filled with humor. In fact, the Nurse is the liveliest character in the play and one of Shakespeare’s most memorable humorous characters.
In spite of her good points, the Nurse is weak of will. She is unable to decide who is the better husband for Juliet: Paris or Romeo. She calls Romeo, a most excellent young man, courteous, kind and handsome, virtuous and she will do everything in her power to bring about their marriage. When Romeo is exiled, she feels Paris is a better husband for Juliet. To Juliet she says, “Paris is a lovely gentleman! Romeo’s a dis-clout to him!” She is vulgar and coarse, frequently displaying her lowly origin. Her dishonesty and disloyalty are found in her acceptance of a bribe from Romeo and deserting him in favor of Paris. For all her upbringing of Juliet, she is unable to understand her true feelings and fails to read her intentions when she apparently accepts Paris.
In spite of her shortcomings, the Nurse strives to be a good caretaker for Juliet. She believes that all that she does is in the best interests of her mistress. She carries out Juliet’s plan faithfully for her marriage with Romeo. She is the most deeply grieved of all over Juliet’s supposed death, losing her power of speech on the news. The Nurse, for all her vanity and pretentiousness, is trusty faithful and sincere at heart.