The Tragedy Lies in the Parenting
A Brief Commentary on Shakespeare’s, “Romeo and Juliet”
In his classic romantic tragedy, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare illustrates the forbidden love between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet. While Romeo and Juliet’s impulsivity contributed to their eventual demise, several other significant characters contributed to the tragic fate of these two protagonists. Although Friar Lawrence originally advised the couple to run away together, Friar Lawrence’s actions were less significant in the tragic outcome of Romeo and Juliet than Lord Capulet’s actions. Lord Capulet, Juliet’s father, is most responsible for the protagonists’ deaths through his ignorant decision-making and gross negligence as a parent.
The first factor that contributes to the deaths of Juliet and Romeo is the long-standing feud between the Capulet and Montague families. The Capulet family constantly emulates their animosity toward the Montague family with taunts, “I will push Montague’s men from the wall and / thrust his maids to the wall” (1.1.18–1.1.19). This hatred is fueled throughout the play by Lord Capulet, who is considered the leader or “head” of the Capulet family. Lord Capulet encourages this feud by frequently antagonizing the Montague family, “My sword, I say. Old Montague is come / and flourishes his blade in spite of me” (1.1.79–1.1.80). The introduction of Lord Capulet’s character with this phrase demonstrates the potency of his loathing toward the Montague family. This continuous, unrelenting conflict between the two families, fueled largely by Lord Capulet, makes Romeo and Juliet keep their love (and all the actions that result from their love) a secret.
Secondly, Lord Capulet can be interpreted as a controlling, tyrannical, and violent parent long before the main conflicts unfold. Lord Capulet’s controlling tendencies are exemplified in his conversation with Count Paris where he discusses the arrangement of her marriage and claims that he wants the marriage to be for “love” yet does not consult Juliet on her feelings. “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years. / Let two more summers wither in their pride / ere we may think her ripe to be a bride” (1.2.9–1.2.11). This passage demonstrates his control of her life and allows his daughter to be objectified as he compares her to ripe fruit. As the play’s action continues rising, Lord Capulet demonstrates his authoritarian nature in the encounter with Juliet, who says that she is unable to marry Count Paris. Without listening to her reasoning or considering her emotional state, he insults Juliet, “Doth she not count her blessed, / unworthy as she is, that we have wrought / so worthy a gentleman to be her bride?” (3.5.148–3.5.150). Lord Capulet continues berating her by calling her names such as “green-sickness carrion”, “baggage”, and “tallow face” (3.5.161–3.5.162). Juliet begs him (literally on her knees) to listen to her, “Good father, I beseech you on my knees, / hear me with patience but to speak a word” (3.5.164–3.5.165). Instead of listening to Juliet, he continues to call her names, “Hang thee, young baggage, disobedient wretch!” (3.5.166). This interaction clearly illustrates Lord Capulet’s tyrannical nature through his inability to be challenged and the way he lashes out at his own daughter. The final characterizing trait of Lord Capulet is his violent behavior. He insinuates that Juliet should be “hanged” and states that “his fingers itch” — a clear reference to his desire to physically harm his own child (3.5.166–3.5.170). Following the dialogue above, Lord Capulet rants and directly threatens to disown his daughter:
“And then to have a wretched puling fool, / a whining mammet, in her fortune’s tender…/ Graze where you will, you shall not house with me. / Look to ‘t; think on ‘t. I do not use jest… / 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.” (3.5.195–3.5.207).
This passage clearly shows Lord Capulet’s disregard of Juliet’s well-being and his complete neglect as a parent.
In a final act that causes the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet, Lord Capulet misinterprets Juliet’s emotional state and decides to arrange her marriage with Paris only two days after Tybalt’s death. Lord Capulet assumes that Juliet’s grief is the result of Tybalt’s death when in reality, it is the result of Romeo’s banishment. That evening of Tybalt’s death, Paris visits the Capulets but he foregoes wooing Juliet that evening out of respect for her grieving process, “These times of woe afford no times to woo” (3.4.8). Contrastingly, Lord Capulet decides that he knows what’s best for his daughter, casts aside caution, and hastily proposes that Paris and Juliet get married in two days. Lord Capulet makes this decision so spontaneously that he’s unsure of the day, “But soft, what day is this? / Monday, my Lord” (3.4.20–3.4.21). The difference between Paris’s respect for Juliet and Capulet’s respect for his daughter is humorously juxtaposed. Lord Capulet’s reasoning for rushing the marriage is that he hopes something as “joyous” as marrying Paris will “distract” her from the grief of losing her cousin. Beyond the speculation of Lord Capulet as a relative of Tybalt, Juliet’s grief should give Lord Capulet cause to wait significantly longer than two days. As a direct result of Lord Capulet’s misunderstanding, Juliet and Friar Lawrence feel forced to act quickly in order to prevent the bigamy of Juliet’s impending marriage to Paris and her existing marriage to Romeo. Lord Capulet is far more responsible for the consequences of this tragedy than Friar Lawrence.
As evidenced by Lord Capulet’s feuding nature, poor parenting, and rash decision-making, the audience can infer that Lord Capulet contributes more to his daughter’s death than any other character. The combination of his actions throughout Romeo and Juliet directly lead to the young couple’s escape and their deaths at the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy.