Audio, Romeo and Juliet

The storm begins to break… Juliet faces her father

Another clip and some context…

Shakespeare’s take on Romeo and Juliet has an extraordinary structure. It begins almost as rude comedy among the ruffians in the marketplace, strutting towards a fight. Then the narrative turns romantic as the couple meet, and almost into suspense as we wonder how they’ll manage to wed in secret. By the end of the third part the wheel of fortune has turned for the worse and brought the inexorable shift to tragedy with it.

Before the story closes we’ll almost step into the realm of horror with Juliet, seemingly dead, in the crypt. But here we’re back at the end of part three. Tybalt’s dead. Romeo’s banished for his murder. Paris, the man Juliet is being told to marry against her wishes, is becoming more and more impatient. As is Juliet’s father, increasingly incensed by her stalling. There’s a storm brewing in the Capulet household.

One of the recurring themes in this story is the gulf between young and old. How two generations fail to understand each other even when there’s love, real love, between them. Capulet, Juliet’s father, is easily seen as an ogre. He drinks too much. He’s quick to anger. But he’s also a prisoner of his time and the mores he’s inherited, conventions Juliet so dearly wishes to break. Capulet’s a merchant quietly envious of the class of an aristocrat like Paris. Being associated with nobility is, for him, as much a reason for the marriage with Juliet as their potential business ties. Which makes it all the more infuriating when his daughter dismisses them all. She’s not just spurning him. She’s rejecting Capulet’s very world.

She’s young, she’s rebellious, she’s intent on owning her life for herself not, at the age of sixteen, watching it given away to a man she loathes. She’s not head-in-the-air like Romeo. Juliet is a practical young woman who sees herself as a child of what we now call the Renaissance, fired by a new era of knowledge, art and exploration, desperate to see life beyond the walls of Verona. To her the idea of a forced marriage to a man like Paris is as good as a death sentence.

Capulet, on the other hand, sees his role as a traditional one. He’s the head of the family, the captain of the ship. Duty and obedience are expected of everyone, from wife and daughter as much as the servants he’ll whip if he thinks they need it. These are his responsibilities and, in his confused mind, his determination to enforce them represents a kind of love as well.

This scene is a turning point for Juliet. Everyone thinks she should marry Paris. Even Nurse who knows of her secret wedding to Romeo. Even her own mother who, when asked to take sides, backs her husband, not her child. This, she tells Juliet, is how the world works, what women do. Obey and know their place.

Juliet realises for the first time that, with Romeo gone, she’s virtually alone, with only the sympathetic ear of the seemingly powerless Friar Laurence to comfort her. The pressure is immense. It would be so easy to give in. Romeo’s a murderer, unable to return to Verona on pain of death. Paris may be loathsome but he’s rich and promising her a leisurely life.

Yet young and old do share the same blood, and Juliet surely carries a streak of her father’s stubbornness. Here, as he places the final ultimatum in front of her — marry Paris or else — the storm, long brewing, begins to break.