“For never was a story of more woe/ Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.” (5.3.315-316) Though many critics would argue that the woe is due only to the theme of fate, but many other factors significantly contributed to this tragedy. The theme of love does not exist only between the play’s namesakes, but it extends to the love that many other characters share for this couple. Often, personal flaws interfere with love, and ultimately cause the downfall of another person. Such is the case with Juliet. Though they had good intentions, the individual flaws of the Nurse and the Capulets lead to her downfall at the end of the play.
One of the most memorable characters in the play is the Nurse. Most prominently noted for her humor, the Nurse contributes a great deal to the play, though she appears in only twelve scenes. Once the climactic point of Mercutio’s death is reached, the humorous qualities of the Nurse quickly diminish, never to be seen in their entirety again. At this point, the Nurse’s main function as a messenger becomes apparent, which gives proof of her love and loyalty to her Lady. Her impact in the play is clear, the Nurse is the messenger of all news, good and bad, to Juliet regarding Romeo, until their tragic parting. Though the Nurse has nothing but good intentions for Juliet, her own personal flaws cause Juliet to lose full sight of situations. The Nurse has a somewhat questionable philosophy towards Juliet’s situation with Romeo. “Her interests are immediate and material. Her commitment is to eros, and therefore toward the physical union of the lovers” (Stevens). The Nurse feels that her loyalty for Juliet overrides her loyalty for Capulet and his wife, and therefore believes she is justified in her interference with the marriage of Juliet and Paris, and in her assistance in Juliet’s marriage to Romeo. Though her loyalty to Juliet strongly exists in one of the major scenes of the play, her ignorance and indistinct speech causes problems. In this scene, Juliet’s anxiety towards the forthcoming news is apparent as she anticipates the message of the Nurse. As the Nurse returns from her ‘jaunce’ to speak to Romeo regarding plans for the couple’s wedding night, her “consternation results from the delivery of her tidings” (Stevens). The Nurse is so forlorn over the death of Tybalt, that her ignorance to Juliet’s frantic pleas led Juliet to believe that her beloved Romeo is dead. The anticipation and inflated dread to the alarming news of her cousin’s death, cause her reaction to Romeo’s banishment to be even more intense. Because she is so upset over the murder of her cousin by her most beloved, she begins to curse him:
O serpent hear, hid with a flow’ring face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!
Dove-feather’s raven! Wolfish ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem’st,
A damned saint, an honorable villain! (3.2.75-81)
Quickly, the Nurse takes Juliet’s side, explaining that all men are liars, supporting Juliet’s curse toward Romeo, but Juliet will not accept the condemnation that the Nurse places on Romeo’s character. She stands up for her husband, damning the nurse for her unjust words regarding Romeo. Though this seems to prove her loyalty to Juliet, it actually proves only her loyalty to the current situation. The Nurse is a woman that feels a need to be liked and appreciated all the time. In order to achieve this sense of belonging, she places an emphasis on saying the ‘right’ thing at the ‘right’ time. This flaw extends further in the play as the Nurse proves her allegiance to the situation as Lady Capulet speaks to Juliet once again about her marriage to Paris. Only the night before, the nurse felt that true love was the most important thing in a marriage, yet in order to keep a feeling of contentment with Capulet and his Lady, she states:
I think it best you married with the County,
Romeo’s a dishclout to him. An eagle, madam,
Hath not to green, so quick, so fair in an eye
As Paris hath. Beshew my very heart,
I think you are happy with this second match (3.5.228-233).
The Nurse has good intentions for Juliet, yet her own selfishness leads Juliet to feel that she cannot always be trusted, and in the end this leaves Juliet to feel isolated, betrayed by her only confidante and left alone to complete her own tragic death.
The similar unfaithfulness towards Juliet can be seen by observing those closest to her, her parents. Though the Capulets have nothing but good intentions for their daughter, their own ideals of a husband seem to replace Juliet’s own ideals. She feels it is important to be in love with the one she will spend her life with, yet the Capulets feel that a worthy gentleman is all that is needed (3.5.149) though he has not even come to court her yet. Juliet tries to explain to her father that she is grateful for his thoughtfulness, but his gift of love is a gift of hate, yet Capulet does not listen, instead he reprimands and scorns her for being so thoughtless in not accepting his kind gift:
Hang thee, young baggage! Disobedient wretch!
I tell thee what: get thee to church o’ Thursday,
My fingers itch. Wife, we scarce thought us blest
That God has lent us this only child;
But now I see that this one is too much,
And that we have a curse in having her.
After the harsh words spoken by Capulet, Juliet’s looks to her mother for guidance, yet her mother refuses any assistance and leaves her to make her decision. The harshness of their decision, and their refusal to reconsider the plans causes Juliet to contemplate her only escape from this horrible situation. Now, after Juliet plans to escape this horrible situation by feigning her own death, her father chooses to move Juliet’s marriage to Paris forward one day. By doing this it forces Juliet to take the potion one day earlier, thereby not leaving enough time for the plans of the rescue to arrive to Romeo in Mantua (Shalvi). This ultimately causes her suicide, and her death is thereby laid upon the shoulders of her very own parents.
Though the Nurse and both of Juliet’s parents deeply loved and cared for Juliet, their own personal opinions, ideals, and personal flaws brought upon the finality of Juliet’s own actions. Her feelings of despair are brought upon by loneliness: Juliet is deserted by her father, her mother, and her Nurse, “until she is left only with the power to die, or to consign herself to the horrible vault” (Stauffer). The cause of the deaths however, is not laid solely upon the shoulders of others, it caused by love itself. Love conquers all, and it is necessary to keep in mind that although others contributed to the actions which led to Juliet’s death, it was her love for Romeo that brought her to her final decision.