365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

251. How Juliet changes throughout the course of the play

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Juliet is one of Shakespeare’s most famous female characters, and her line “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” may perhaps be one of the most frequently quoted of all the lines Shakespeare ever penned. She is known as the young, ill-fated lover of Romeo, and as the girl who died for love in a way most tragic. Her beauty bewitched Romeo upon first sight, and their passion has served as love’s inspiration for centuries.

But the thing that is rarely discussed about this young girl is her actual character arc throughout the play. We are aware of her actions – becoming betrothed to Paris, falling in love with Romeo, marrying Romeo, being the victim of an unfortunate miscommunication, and ultimately killing herself over the grief of losing her love – but it seems that we, as an audience, pay more attention to these than the way her actions change her.

She begins the play as an obedient daughter, willing to give Paris a chance if it pleases her parents. She certainly would have married him had she never met Romeo, and would perhaps have even been reasonably happy. When she meets  Romeo, however, she turns into a passionate lover, and her very language matures in the space of an hour or two in play-time. She suddenly has a very adult air about her, despite the arguably rash nature of her actions in the name of young love. It makes one wonder: if these characters were adults, would we judge them so harshly, or would we interpret their rashness as true love instead? It is really Juliet who forces that question, since she is the one who breaks an engagement in secret in favor of Romeo, who was single and free at the time.

Juliet’s turn includes the darkest, of course. She makes jokes here and there throughout the play, mostly with her loveable Nurse, but upon the death of Tybalt, she will joke no more. Her sense of humor is replaced by a sense of urgency, desperation to rejoin her husband and escape the pain of a broken family. Though the plan to fake her death and run away and attempt to be happy ever after may sound ludicrous to an outside observer, it is actually a fairly sound plan and would have worked well if not for the delivery of the incorrect message to Romeo and his poor timing. Her plan would have spared Paris the pain of knowing she did not love him and her family the humiliation of a disobedient daughter, since all would believe her dead and therefore incapable of such things.

Beneath the glossy surface of a lovely young girl in love, there are very mature emotions and rational decisions made by Juliet, and it is a disservice to her complex character to overlook them. Shakespeare took great care in creating a character that could be sympathetic despite the circumstances, and one who has a full and rich character arc throughout this beautiful tragedy.

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Written by Caroline Mincks

June 9, 2010 at 7:14 PM

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