Explore the ways in which Shakespeare presents the theme of parental conflict in the play of Romeo and Juliet Parental conflict, between the parent and the child is a major issue within our society; it has been a major issue for centuries, not just a recent problem. There are a variety of reasons for parental conflict, such as misunderstandings between parents and children, and parent’s failing to recognize how mature their children really are. Other reasons maybe that parents have too much control over their children, and disapprove of their friends, and arranged marriages.
In Shakespeare’s time arranged marriages were common in rich families because they wanted to make sure that their children would have a safe and secure future. This would also insure that their large and extended family would also be able to survive. Love marriages were not considered to be successful; they were a newly arising concept to the sixteenth century. Parental conflict was common because parents did not allow children to explore love and relationships.
The parents would have their interests in the power and financial position of the person that would marry their child and if the child was to fall in love with another person, then this would result to conflict. The major families of the sixteenth century were extremely large and wealthy; the richest person was expected to support the poorer members of the family and in order to do this they had to marry their children to the right people for the sakes of the family. In the case of Lord Capulet, we as the reader see him as a violent and horrific figure, but in fact he is fulfilling his duty to continue to support his family.
The families of modern western times are much smaller than the extended families of the sixteenth century known as nuclear families. This is because everyone revolves and depends on one male person and in the case of the Capulet family, this person was Lord Capulet. The relationship between Juliet and her parents is not like one of modern times; it is a distant and very formal relationship. Juliet refers to her mother as “madam”; this is usually used to have a formal conversation with a person who is not well known. This shows that Juliet does not know her mother very well because she does not spend much time with her.
The rich families did not look after their own children so they employed nurses. Juliet’s family was extremely wealthy and powerful so her parents did not have time to look after her, so naturally they had a nurse who had raised Juliet since she was a newly born child. Juliet’s relationship with the nurse was like a modern day mother -daughter relationship. The amount of time that Juliet and her mother have spent together is shown when Lady Capulet discuses Juliet’s age with the nurse: “Even or odd, of all the days in the year, Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen. ”
The nurse has corrected Lady Capulet when she could not remember when Juliet was born. In modern times both of the parents are expected to know when their child was born, especially the mother. The nurse knew exactly when Juliet was born and her real mother did not. This is of importance because it shows that Juliet was not close to her parents. When called, Juliet asks her mother, “What is your will? ” This shows that Juliet is very obedient and respectful. A further example of Juliet’s obedience and dependence on her mother is in Act 1 Scene 3 when her mother asks her whether she likes Paris, she says:
“I’ll look to like, if looking liking move; But no more deep will I endart mine eye. than your consent gives strength to make it fly. ” Juliet will look at Paris to see whether she likes him, but the relationship will not develop without the permission of her mother. This also tells us that Juliet is naive and inexperienced about relationships. Lord Capulet tells Paris to win Juliet over and that his consent is only a part of the process. This conveys a relaxed and progressive attitude towards Juliet’s marriage, he his not being a typical sixteenth century father and taking full control of the marriage process.
He is letting Paris have a chance to make Juliet fall in love with him; this shows that he cares for Juliet and her married life, although nothing can go ahead without his consent. Juliet addresses her father as “father” and “lord”, she sees her father as a figure of authority. This is very typical of a sixteenth century father and daughter relationship. The daughter was usually seen as property belonging to her father or brother, but when she would get married she would become the property of her husband because as it states in the sermon of the state matrimony from the Elizabethan church book of homilies:
“Let women be the subject of the their husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the women as Christ is head of the Church” Juliet’s father tries to hold on to her because she is very close to him because she is his only remaining unmarried child. “The earth hath swallow’d all my hopes but she, She is the hopeful lady of my earth:” This reflects the tragic death of Lord Capulet’s children, but also shows us how close Lord Capulet is to his daughter compared to Lady Capulet. Lord and Lady Capulet have expectations of Juliet just like the majority of the Italian families of the sixteenth century.
Lord Capulet has a duty of a father to arrange a marriage for his daughter at the age of twelve. Lord Capulet talks to Paris in Act 1 Scene 2 and he says: “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years; Let two more summers wither their Pride, Ere we may think she be ripe to be a bride” Juliet’s father is saying to Paris that Juliet is not fourteen and she is not mature enough to get married to him, in two years she will be ready to marry. This displays that Lord Capulet is a reasonable and forward thinking father who does not fit our expectations of a typical 16th century father.
When Juliet’s parents arrange her marriage to Paris, in two days time, Lady Capulet says: “… now I’ll tell the joyful tidings, girl … thou hast a careful father, child, One who, to put thee from thy heaviness, Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy” The words “joyful tidings” describes how happy Lord Capulet is about the marriage and he is sympathetic towards Juliet’s feelings and he wants her to be happy and the word “careful father” means that Juliet has a relaxed and easy father who does not rush or force things.
By using the words “put thee from thy heaviness”, Lady Capulet is saying that her father has taken the weight off her shoulders and by saying “hath sorted a sudden day of joy”. Later on in the play, Lord Capulet’s expectational attitude changes when Juliet refuses to marry Paris and he says: “my fingers itch” “And you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets, for by my soul, I’ll ne’er acknowledge thee” This is when he wants to hit her because she has not met Lord Capulet expectations and society’s expectations of an obedient daughter. Then Lord Capulet gives up and threatens to disown her.
This is typical of a sixteenth century father who sees his daughter as his property. Lord Capulet is also contradicting himself because at the start of the play, he was sympathetic and caring for a sixteenth century father. After this Lord Capulet’s intentional attitude towards Juliet begins to change, when he says: “… my care hath been to have her matched” This displays that Lord Capulet’s main concern and intention has been to have Juliet married and again this makes him very typical of a sixteenth century father. This change takes place because, in the sixteenth century it was considered very shameful for your child to disobey you.
Seeing that this is his only concern, and that and he is not prepared to listen to anything else sets up the parental conflict between Juliet and her father. Lady Capulet’s shifting attitude leads to Juliet distancing herself from her parents and taking drastic actions. However, this is only slightly typical of a sixteenth century father, then he becomes completely like a sixteenth century typical father; this happens when he says “you’ll be mine”. This displays ownership and it makes Juliet seem like the property of Lord Capulet, just as a typical sixteenth century father would think.
Lady Capulet has expectations of her own and she would like Juliet to be like her. She explains this to Juliet in Act 1 Scene 3. “Well, think of marriage now; younger than you, Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, Are made in already mothers: by my court, these years That you are now a maid” Lady Capulet is telling Juliet to start thinking about marriage because she was married when she was Juliet’s age. She also expresses her expectation for Juliet to become a mother. This is significant because in the sixteenth century most young girls were married and had children.
This also shows us that Lady Capulet is a typical sixteenth century mother. she remains “typical” throughout the play. Through this the idea is put across that Juliet completely reliant her mother and that she is naive when it comes to the subject of relationships. After a day she decides to get married and arranges and plans her marriage in a matter of minutes. She goes from a girl to a fully capable and responsible woman who is able to make her own decisions. A major independent decision that Juliet makes is when she continues to see Romeo after she knows that he is the enemy.
“His name is Romeo, and a Montague; The only son of your great enemy” The nurse has told Juliet that Romeo is from the side of the enemy. Juliet realises that this will cause problems and she says: “My only love sprung from my only hate! ” The explanation mark after the word hate expresses the surprise in Juliet’s speech; this shows us that a problem has arisen and that Juliet cannot be in love with the enemy. After this, in Act 2 Scene 3 Juliet decides to arrange her marriage despite known that Romeo is the enemy and that her family will never agree if they knew.
“Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow,” Juliet makes her first and most independent decision in the play when she decides to marry Romeo and affects the rest of her life. We see this independence grow throughout the play when she decides to separate herself from the nurse. “Go, counsellor ! Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain” The language highlights the separation because she calls the nurse counsellor, this sounds like an outside figure. A further example is when she says: “If all else fail, myself have power to die”
The break up between Juliet and the nurse happened because of the nurse supporting the view of her parents. One of the reasons for this break up is because of parental conflict, the nurse witnessed Juliet’s father in a furious state and being abusive. This would have made her frightened and therefore side the parents, for her own safety. The nurse is the person that Juliet loved most and when she is separating herself from the nurse this is a major separation in Juliet’s life and the fact that she is able to do this highlights the final stage of her growth to independence.
This inevitably leads to Juliet’s independence from her family, but also suicide. I have explored the ways in which Shakespeare has presented the theme of parental conflict and I believe that he has shown that the main root cause for all types of parental conflict was a lack of understanding and communication between the child and the parents. Some parents have certain expectations of their children and it would cause them distress if these were not fulfilled. Juliet fell in love with Romeo because she was unaware of her parent’s expectations; this was due to a lack of communication and understanding.
Once Juliet had fallen in love with Romeo, conflict was inevitable. When she had found out about her parents wishes, it was too late for anything to be done because she was already madly in love with him. However Juliet continues to plan her own wedding, when she was in full knowledge and understanding of the situation. Then she deliberately goes ahead with the wedding without the consent of her parents, this is Juliet’s fault and when her parents find out, there is parental conflict. Both of her parents had expectations and they cared for her because they thought that she would fulfil these expectations.
When Juliet went against these expectations, she shattered her parent’s hopes and dreams. This caused a change in attitude from her parents. Another factor that caused the parental conflict was that Juliet was growing throughout the play and once she had fallen in love with Romeo, she wanted to be able to make decisions by herself. This cause of conflict is no unique to the sixteenth century, there are parallels in today’s society, certain religions and cultures expect arranged marriages to take place.