In Capulet’s house, just before the feast is to begin, Lady Capulet calls to the Nurse, needing help to find her daughter. Juliet enters, and Lady Capulet dismisses the Nurse so that she might speak with her daughter alone. She immediately changes her mind, however, and asks the Nurse to remain and add her counsel. Before Lady Capulet can begin to speak, the Nurse launches into a long story about how, as a child, an uncomprehending Juliet became an innocent accomplice to a sexual joke. Lady Capulet tries unsuccessfully to stop the wildly amused Nurse. An embarrassed Juliet forcefully commands that the Nurse stop.
Lady Capulet asks Juliet what she thinks about getting married. Juliet replies that she has not given it any thought. Lady Capulet observes that she gave birth to Juliet when she was almost Juliet’s current age. She excitedly continues that Juliet must begin to think about marriage because the “valiant Paris” has expressed an interest in her (1.3.76). Juliet dutifully replies that she will look upon Paris at the feast to see if she might love him. A servingman enters to announce the beginning of the feast.Read a translation of Act 1, scene 3 →
Three scenes into the play, the audience finally meets the second title character. Thematically, this scene continues to develop the issue of parental influence, particularly the strength of that influence over girls. Lady Capulet, herself a woman who married at a young age, offers complete support for her husband’s plan for their daughter, and puts pressure on Juliet to think about Paris as a husband before Juliet has begun to think about marriage at all. Juliet admits just how powerful the influence of her parents is when she says of Paris: “I’ll look to like, looking liking move; / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly” (1.3.100–101). In effect, Juliet is saying that she will follow her mother’s advice exactly in thinking about Paris.
While providing a humorous moment, the Nurse’s silly anecdote about Juliet as a baby also helps to portray the inevitability of Juliet’s situation. The Nurse’s husband’s comment about Juliet falling on her back when she comes of age is a reference to Juliet one day engaging in the act of sex. His comment, therefore, shows that Juliet has been viewed as a potential object of sexuality and marriage since she was a toddler. In broad terms, Juliet’s fate to someday be given away in marriage has been set since birth.
Beyond thematic development, this scene provides magnificent insight into the three main female characters. Lady Capulet is a flighty, ineffectual mother: she dismisses the Nurse, seeking to speak alone with her daughter, but as soon as the Nurse begins to depart, Lady Capulet becomes nervous and calls the Nurse back. The Nurse, in her hilarious inability to stop telling the story about her husband’s innuendo about Juliet’s sexual development, shows a vulgar streak, but also a familiarity with Juliet that implies that it was she, and not Lady Capulet, who raised the girl. Indeed, it was the Nurse, and not Lady Capulet, who suckled Juliet as a baby (1.3.70).
Juliet herself is revealed in this scene as a rather naïve young girl who is obedient to her mother and the Nurse. But there are glimpses of a strength and intelligence in Juliet that are wholly absent in her mother. Where Lady Capulet cannot get the Nurse to cease with her story, Juliet stops it with a word. We noted already that Juliet’s phrase “But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly” seems to imply a complete acquiescence to her mother’s control. But the phrase can also be interpreted as illustrating an effort on Juliet’s part to use vague language as a means of asserting some control over her situation. In this phrase, while agreeing to see if she might be able to love Paris, she is at the same time saying that she will put no more enthusiasm into this effort than her mother demands. The phrase can therefore be interpreted as a sort of passive resistance.