Romeo and Juliet

by: William Shakespeare

Nurse

The Nurse’s main role in the play is that of a secondary mother figure for Juliet. The Nurse clearly enjoys a closer relationship with Juliet than Lady Capulet does. This isn’t surprising, given the amount of responsibility she had in caring for Juliet since her birth. The Nurse’s affection for Juliet stems from the fact that she had a daughter named Susan who was the same age as Juliet, but who died young. Thus, just as the Nurse is a surrogate mother for Juliet, so too is Juliet a surrogate daughter for the Nurse. The Nurse demonstrates her affection for Juliet frequently. For instance, when Juliet sets out for the Capulet ball, the Nurse bids her farewell, saying: “Go girl; seek happy nights to happy days” (I.iii.107). The Nurse is one of the few characters in the play who explicitly wish for Juliet’s happiness. In addition to being emotionally supportive, the Nurse also works actively to ensure Juliet’s good fortune, as when she serves as the go-between that enables Juliet’s secret courtship with Romeo. The Nurse remains Juliet’s ally to the end, and suffers greatly when she, along with the rest of the Capulet household, believes Juliet dead.

The Nurse is also a comic figure. She’s extremely talkative, and one of her commonest verbal tics is that she constantly makes interjections and interrupts herself. She also frequently makes bawdy remarks. Often these two aspects come together, as when the Nurse tells Lady Capulet: “Now, by my maidenhead at twelve year old, / I bade [Juliet] come” (I.iii.2–3). The Nurse only needs to say she’s called for Juliet, but she interjects a strange oath, in which she swears by the “maidenhood” that she still had when she was twelve years old, further implying that she lost her virginity at thirteen. This non sequitur has nothing at all to do with the conversation at hand. The Nurse also often takes others’ words literally, which results in humorous misunderstandings. For instance, she fails to understand the rhetorical sense of Lady Capulet’s declaration, “Thou knowest my daughter’s of a pretty age” (I.iii.). Whereas Lady Capulet simply means that Juliet is at a marriageable age, the Nurse answers earnestly, saying she knows Juliet’s exact age: “Faith, I can tell her age unto an hour” (I.iii.). These examples of humor come somewhat at the Nurse’s expense, since they showcase her lower-class upbringing.