Katherine Mayberry on Lady Capulet, her character in Romeo and Juliet.
The role of Lady Capulet is one that unfortunately can slip too easily from the audience’s notice in the midst of the central tragic love story in Romeo and Juliet. For many audience members, Lady Capulet’s most notable moment in Romeo and Juliet is when she disowns her daughter. In Act 3, scene 5, after Juliet refuses to marry Paris and Lord Capulet threatens to throw her out into the street, Lady Capulet exits after telling her daughter “Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word./Do what thou wilt, for I have done with thee.” By itself, this line makes Lady Capulet seem like a cold and unfeeling mother, but in the earlier portions of the play, she is actually trying desperately to find some common ground with her teenage daughter, who has a closer relationship with the Nurse than she does with her own mother.
Lady Capulet’s first significant scene in the play is Act 1, scene 3, in which she first broaches the subject of marriage with Juliet. She at first tries to have a private conversation with her daughter, dismissing the Nurse so that she and Juliet may “talk in secret.” Immediately, she calls the Nurse back again, as if simply being alone with Juliet is an awkward and uncomfortable moment. Lady Capulet is so excited about Paris as a possible suitor — “Verona’s summer hath not such a flower” — that Juliet’s non-committal answers about this potential marriage make her mother seem like some one who is trying too hard. Lady Capulet even tries to find common ground with Juliet by saying, “By my count,/I was your mother much upon these years/That you are now a maid,” but Juliet doesn’t share her enthusiasm for marriage and motherhood.
Lady Capulet spends a large portion of the play mourning, and not just for Juliet. She is distraught over Tybalt’s death, and remarkably angry at the Montagues. She actually expresses more desire for vengeance than her husband does, demanding of the Prince “I beg for justice, which thou prince must give./Romeo slew Tybalt. Romeo must not live.” When Juliet “dies” for the first time, Lady Capulet’s reaction completely belies her earlier coldness to her daughter. Weeping over Juliet’s body, she says “My child, my only life,/Revive, look up, or I will die with thee.” At this moment, she must desperately regret having said the cruel things that she did in Act 3, scene 5, as all parents regret the things they have said in anger.
I hope that our production does a good job of showing the complexity that Shakespeare has written into the role of Lady Capulet, and into the parent-child relationship between Juliet and her mother. Although her involvement in the play’s central plot is tangential, Lady Capulet’s reactions to the play’s event give the audience a perspective on Juliet’s family life, and on how the families’ feud and tragic deaths of the lovers affect the other individuals who surround the title characters.