Study Guide

Romeo and Juliet Family

By William Shakespeare

Family

Prologue

                                  Enter Chorus
Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean. (Prologue.1-4)

In the Prologue, the Chorus tells us that Romeo and Juliet is a play about domestic conflict. "Two households" (that would be the Montagues and the Capulets), "both alike in dignity" (of the same social standing) are going to be involved in a rather messy, and uncivil family feud. Keep reading…

CHORUS
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whole misadventured piteous overthrows
Do with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which, if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend. (Prologue.5-14)

Here's a little more background for us: children from the feuding families are going to meet and fall in love, putting an end to their families' strife—in the most tragic way remotely possible.

Act 2, Scene 2
Juliet

JULIET
How camest thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
And the place death, considering who thou art,
If any of my kinsmen find thee here. (2.2.67-70)

When Juliet learns that Romeo has climbed the orchard walls to see her, she worries that her "kinsmen" will break Romeo's legs for sneaking onto the property. Now, we know that this is probably true of Tybalt, Juliet's testosterone-driven cousin who has already threatened to beat up Romeo for showing up at the Capulet ball. But we have to wonder if Juliet's dad would be as angry as Juliet seems to think. (Except that we're pretty sure he wouldn't want a boy sneaking into his daughter's bedroom no matter what.) Earlier, when Tybalt wanted to fight Romeo (1.5), Lord Capulet stopped him and pointed out that Romeo is a pretty good kid. In fact, "Verona brags of him / To be a virtuous and well-governed youth" (1.5.67-68).

JULIET
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
(2.2.36-39)

Juliet struggles with the conflict between her feelings for Romeo and her knowledge that he is an enemy of her family. She tries to separate Romeo from his identity as a Montague, and contemplates deserting her family for him. She does not imagine that their love and their families' opposition can be reconciled.

Pro tip: When Juliet asks "wherefore art thou Romeo," she's not wondering about Romeo's physical location. "Wherefore" means "why" so, Juliet is basically asking why the love of her life has to be Romeo Montague, the son of her family's enemy.

Act 2, Scene 4
The Nurse

NURSE
Pray
you, sir, a word. And as I told you, my young lady
bade me inquire you out. What she bade me say, I will
keep to myself. But first let me tell you, if you
should lead her into a fool's paradise, as they say, it
were a very gross kind of behavior, as they say. For
the gentlewoman is young; and therefore, if you
should deal double with her, truly it were an ill
thing to be offered to any gentlewoman, and very
weak dealing. (2.4.165-174)

Because Romeo and Juliet are convinced that their feuding families will never understand them, they turn to their mentors (Juliet's Nurse and Friar Laurence) for help. Here, the Nurse makes arrangements that help facilitate the young lovers' union. Nice, right? Yes—until Romeo is banished from Verona, and the Nurse tells her to get over it and move on.

Act 3, Scene 1
Romeo

ROMEO
Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee
Doth much excuse the appertaining rage
To such a greeting. Villain am I none.
Therefore farewell. I see thou know'st me not.
TYBALT
Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries
That thou hast done me. Therefore turn and draw.
ROMEO
I do protest I never injured thee
But love thee better than thou canst devise
Till thou shalt know the reason of my love.
And so, good Capulet, which name I tender
As dearly as my own, be satisfied. (3.1.63-73)

When Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel, Romeo refuses to fight because he's secretly married to Tybalt's cousin, Juliet. Here, it seems that Romeo's love for his new wife is the most important thing to him. But, after Tybalt kills Romeo's best friend later in the scene, all bets are off.

ROMEO
I do protest I never injured thee
But love thee better than thou canst devise
Till thou shalt know the reason of my love.
And so, good Capulet, which name I tender
As dearly as my own, be satisfied.
(3.1.69-73)

When Tybalt challenges Romeo to a duel, Romeo refuses to fight because he's secretly married to Tybalt's cousin, Juliet. Here, it seems that Romeo's love for his new wife is the most important thing to him—right up until Tybalt kills Romeo's best friend. Then, the ties of birth family seems to be stronger.

Act 3, Scene 2
Juliet

JULIET
Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?
Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy
   name
When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?
But wherefore, villain, didst thou kill my cousin?
That villain cousin would have killed my husband.
Back, foolish tears, back to your native spring;
Your tributary drops belong to woe,
Which you, mistaking, offer up to joy.
My husband lives, that Tybalt would have slain,
And Tybalt's dead, that would have slain my
   husband
All this is comfort.
(3.2.106-118)

After (briefly) rejecting Romeo for killing her cousin, Juliet is caught between her loyalty to her family and her loyalty to her new husband. She eventually chooses Romeo and confesses that she's relieved her husband wasn't killed in the duel. (Well, duh. She can't have her wedding night with Tybalt, after all.)

The Nurse

NURSE
Shame come to Romeo!
JULIET
                                       Blistered be thy tongue
For such a wish! He was not born to shame.
Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit,
For 'tis a throne where honor may be crowned
Sole monarch of the universal Earth.
O, what a beast was I to chide at him!
NURSE
Will you speak well of him that killed your cousin?
JULIET
Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband?
Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy
   name,
When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?
But wherefore, villain, didst thou kill my cousin?
That villain cousin would have killed my husband.
Back, foolish tears, back to your native spring;
Your tributary drops belong to woe,
Which you, mistaking, offer up to joy.
My husband lives, that Tybalt would have slain,
And Tybalt's dead, that would have slain my
   husband.
All this is comfort.
(3.2.98-118)

After (initially) rejecting Romeo for killing her cousin, Juliet is caught between her loyalty to her family and her loyalty to her new husband. She eventually chooses Romeo and confesses that she's relieved her husband wasn't killed in the duel. If Romeo hadn't killed Tybalt, Tybalt surely would have killed Romeo.

Act 3, Scene 5
Lord Capulet

CAPULET
But, an you will not wed, I'll pardon you!
Graze where you will you shall not house with me.
Look to 't; think on 't. I do not use to jest.
Thursday is near. Lay hand on heart; advise.
An you be mine, I'll give you to my friend.
An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,
For, by my soul, I'll ne'er acknowledge thee,
Nor what is mine shall never do thee good.
Trust to 't; bethink you. I'll not be forsworn.
(3.5.199-207)

According to Lord Capulet, obedience to the head of the household is a prerequisite for even remaining part of the family. In fact, obeying Lord Capulet is pretty much the definition of being a Capulet—think about the Capulet servants, who are part of the family as long as they swear loyalty to him. This is more Family than family.

CAPULET
Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church o' Thursday,
Or never after look me in the face.
Speak not; reply not; do not answer me.
My fingers itch.—Wife, we scarce thought us
   blessed
That God had lent us but this only child,
But now I see this one is one too much,
And that we have a curse in having her.
Out on her, hilding!
(3.5.166-175)

Hey, family values! Here, Capulet is freaking out because Juliet is disobeying him. Not only does he call her such delightful names as "young baggage" and "disobedient wretch," he tells her that if she doesn't get herself married on Thursday then he's kicking her out of the house. And, trust us: there are no homeless teen outreach programs in fictional sixteenth-century Verona.

CAPULET
God's bread! it makes me mad.
Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play,
Alone, in company, still my care hath been
To have her matched. And having now provided
A gentleman of noble parentage,
Of fair demesnes, youthful, and nobly ligned,
Stuffed, as they say, with honorable parts,
Proportioned as one's thought would wish a man—
And then to have a wretched puling fool,
A whining mammet, in her fortune's tender,
To answer 'I'll not wed. I cannot love.
I am too young. I pray you, pardon me.'
But, as you will not wed, I'll pardon you!
Graze where you will you shall not house with me.
Look to 't; think on 't. I do not use to jest.
Thursday is near. Lay hand on heart, advise.
An you be mine, I'll give you to my friend.
And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets,
For, by my soul, I'll ne'er acknowledge thee,
Nor what is mine shall never do thee good.
Trust to 't; bethink you. I'll not be forsworn.
(3.5.187-207)

According to Lord Capulet, obedience to the head of the household is a prerequisite for even remaining part of the family.

Act 4, Scene 2
Lord Capulet

CAPULET
How now, my headstrong, where have you been
   gadding?

JULIET
Where I have learned me to repent the sin
Of disobedient opposition
To you and your behests, and am enjoined
By holy Laurence to fall prostrate here              Kneeling.
And beg your pardon. Pardon, I beseech you.
Henceforward I am ever ruled by you.
(4.2.16-23)

Juliet tells her father what he wants to hear: that she will be obedient and do what he wants her to do. She even lies that she's been off at Friar Laurence's cell, confessing her sins (being a disobedient daughter). The thing is, Juliet now has a new master: her husband. She's obeying her husband by disobeying her father, which is exactly what she should be doing.