In tragedies, characters tend to become isolated. In Romeo and Juliet, this is especially true for Juliet who is abandoned by her parents, her Nurse and the Friar, Analyze how these characters force Juliet into isolation. Be sure to use specific examples to support your answer. Finally, in your conclusion, discuss how even Romeo abandons Juliet in the end.
It is not uncommon for tragic characters to become isolated through circumstances, through their own actions or through the actions or attitudes of other characters. Romeo and Juliet, it could be argued, are isolated from the moment they fall in love at the Capulet party, because they come from the prominent feuding families of the Montagues and the Capulets. As the play proceeds we see the spectacle of the characters whom Juliet should trust the most gradually abandon her and isolate her until, by the final scene of the play, with the dead body of her husband by her side, she faces the ultimate isolation of death, isolated by everyone.
Her parents do not seem very close at all to Juliet and are not sympathetic from the very start of the play. Even before the Capulet party where she meets and falls in love with Romeo, her parents have been considering marrying her off. Both seem to see marriage as a business arrangement, although initially Juliet’s father seems slightly more protective of her and feels that Juliet is too young to marry. He says to Paris:
Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride. (Act 1, scene 2, lines 10-11)
Her mother is much more keen to see Juliet married and tells her in Act One, scene three that girls younger than her have got married in Verona. Her father’s attitude changes completely after the death of Tybalt and in the end he angrily orders her to get married to Paris or he will disown her as his daughter. This isolates Juliet even further.
Juliet’s nurse is initially very supportive of Juliet in her relationship with Romeo. She acts as a messenger between the two and it could be argued that without her help and assistance, Romeo and Juliet would never have been able to make the arrangement to get married. In the early part of the play Shakespeare establishes the emotional closeness between the Nurse and Juliet (after all, the Nurse had clearly been Juliet’s wet nurse when she was a baby), and their emotional closeness (as well as the Nurse’s garrulous tendency to talk openly about sexual matters) is a distinct contrast to the distance that seems to exist between Juliet and her own mother. Having helped arrange the marriage she looks forward to it and its consummation with undisguised and excited anticipation:
Hie you to church; I must another way
To fetch a ladder, by the which your love
Must climb a bird’s nest soon when it is dark.
I am the drudge and toil in your delight;
But you shall bear the burden soon at night. (Act 2, scene 5 lines 72-76)
However, Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment to Mantua show the nurse in her true colors and, even though she has arranged for the marriage to be consummated, once Lord Capulet has decided that Juliet should marry Paris, the Nurse’s reaction serves to isolate Juliet. Ignoring the fact that Juliet is already married she says to Juliet:
I think it best you married with the County!
O, he’s a lovely gentleman!
Romeo’s a dishclout to him.... (Act 3, scene 5 lines 218-220)
The nurse’s inconsistency is of no practical use to Juliet and she proves useless to Juliet at this point in the play, when Juliet needs her most.
The Friar, Juliet’s own priest and confessor, is initially sceptical about the young lovers’ marriage, but agrees to perform the ceremony for the best of reasons: he sees it as a way to end, once and for all, the violent feud between the Montagues and the Capulets. He is loyal almost to the end, but eventually, through a mixture of circumstance and his own cowardice, he leaves Juliet isolated as we shall see. The Friar is well aware of the strength of Romeo’s passion, but has good motives in agreeing to marry the young lovers, as he makes clear to Romeo
For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households’ rancour to pure love. (Act 2, scene 3 lines 91-92)
The Friar prevents Romeo from killing himself when Romeo hears the news that he is banished to Mantua, comes up with the plan to fake Juliet’s death and sends a messenger to Mantua. It is simply bad luck that the message to Romeo does not reach him. Where the Friar shows his disloyalty is towards the end of the play. In the tomb he realizes Romeo is dead and tries to get Juliet to leave, but he is not very persistent and is frightened of the consequences for himself:
Stay not to question, for the watch is coming;
Come, go, good Juliet. I dare no longer stay. (Act 5, scene 3 lines 158-159)
Had he stayed then he might have prevented Juliet’s own suicide, but he is too cowardly.
It is probably important at this point to remind ourselves that Juliet is only fourteen. In the play which spans just a few days she is transformed from a young girl to a married woman. A key turning point in the plot is the death of her cousin Tybalt. However, the decisions of her parents and the lack of support from the Nurse, lead her to fake her own death. When Romeo arrives from Mantua, not having received the message that Friar Laurence sent to him, he believes his wife is dead. His decision to poison himself is not a spontaneous one: he had bought the poison in Mantua before returning to Verona. It could be said that Romeo, like the others this essay has analyzed, isolates Juliet even more, but he is surely less culpable than the Nurse and the Friar – who both act as they do in full knowledge of the facts. Romeo acts consistently throughout the play: his behaviour is always rash and impetuous; his suicide, given his extreme love for Juliet, and his ignorance of the truth is presented by Shakespeare as part of the tragedy, part of the tragic inevitability of the play. The Nurse and the Friar could have done much more to avert the tragedy, but no blame should be attached to Romeo, and Juliet’s reaction too is presentd by Shakespeare as frightening and pitiful, but also as an inevitable part of the tragedy.