Romeo and Juliet

by: William Shakespeare

Youth

1
My child is yet a stranger in the world;
She hath not seen the change of fourteen years. (1,2.)

Capulet begins the play by denying Paris’s request to marry Juliet, on the grounds that she is too young. Juliet is thirteen, but the word “thirteen” never appears in Romeo and Juliet. Instead we are repeatedly told that she is not yet fourteen. The fact that Juliet’s father is looking forward to a birthday she will never reach emphasizes that Juliet’s life is cut very short. Capulet’s description of Juliet as “a stranger in the world” introduces us to an important aspect of her character. Her father means that she is inexperienced, which she is, but Juliet is also a “stranger in the world” because she prefers the transcendent experience she shares with Romeo to the compromises and practicalities of everyday life, even to the extent of choosing to die rather than live in a world without Romeo.

2
Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen.
Susan and she, God rest all Christian souls
Were of an age (1.3.)

The Nurse recalls that her own daughter, Susan, was the same age as Juliet, as she reminds us that Juliet is not yet fourteen. Susan died as a baby, and the Nurse’s grief foreshadows the grief Capulet and Lady Capulet will feel at the end of the play, when they too lose their young daughter. The Nurse identifies Juliet’s birthday as Lammas Eve. Lammas Eve was celebrated at the beginning of August, and we know that the play takes place in summer, so Juliet is a month or two from her birthday. This creates a dramatic irony: the Nurse and the Capulets are counting down to Juliet’s fourteenth birthday, while the audience is counting down to her death.

3
So tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them (3.2.)

Here Juliet expresses her impatience for her wedding night. By comparing herself to a child, Juliet reminds us that she is almost a child herself. Her metaphor also points to an important aspect of Juliet’s character. Throughout the play, Juliet is impatient to grow up. As soon as she meets Romeo she wants to marry him. She gets married even though her father thinks she is at least two years too young, and she can hardly contain her impatience for her wedding night. To the audience, Juliet’s hurry to grow up is tragic, because we know she will die only a few days after her marriage.


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