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How far do you think Shakespeare presents Lord Capulet as a good father ?

At the beginning of the extract, Lord Capulet is discussing the terms of marriage with his daughter’s suitor Paris. After seeing the violence in the first scene, this dialogue is an important revelation about Capulet. He clearly has a deep love for his only heir, and is prepared to take her view into account. He uses the phrase “ she’s the hopeful lady of my earth” on a number of levels, literally Juliet will be the inheritor of the Capulet household, but also perhaps metaphorically she is his only child and therefore his whole world. The adjective “hopeful” also had connotations of optimism and promise, showing the faith Lord Capulet has in his daughter. 

Shakespeare also presents Capulet as initially protective of his daughter, repeating “ what [he has] said before”, that Juliet is too young to marry. There is almost a feeling of possessiveness, as he feels that if Juliet is married and taken away from him, she will be “marred.” The possessiveness is probably an outcome of the fact that “ earth has swallowed all [his] hopes but she,”, creating a sense of foreboding which foreshadows the end of the play.  He sees Juliet as having unique qualities, being “a stranger in the world”, having connotations of not only innocence but arguably viewing his daughter as something other-worldly and even immortal. The end couplet “ May two more summers wither in their bride/ Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride” has a sense of finality to it – his decision has been made to protect Juliet for a little while longer before handing her over to Paris. Although Paris attempts to argue further, Capulet’s speed of response is shown by the way he twists Paris’s argument to show his blunt disagreement, with the verb “made” at the end of each character’s line to highlight the contrast between them. His swiftness to defend his daughter also indicates a protective nature. The endstop after “made.” also shows Capulet’s decision to call the debate to an end.

Despite his protectiveness, Capulet is prepared to allow Juliet the choice as to whether she will marry Paris or not. His willingness to take her view into account is also evidence of his love and cherishment of Juliet. In the Elizabethan period, Capulet would be allowing Juliet a great amount of liberty in letting her have a say in marrying Paris. Instead of merely finding a husband for her, it is revealed later on in the play that he has worked tirelessly to “have her matched” well. Shakespeare uses cumulative effect in “ day, night, work, play, alone, in company,” showing the intensity of Capulet’s labour and care to find a good husband for her. His dedicated determination to finding her a husband portrays him as an excellent father in the Elizabethan period, fulfilling his role in finding a good match and taking the care to ensure his daughter is happy in her new marriage.

Capulet is also aware of Juliet’s feelings and is keen to try and comfort her after Tybalt’s death. His decision to bring the wedding forward is an attempt to alleviate Juliet’s supposed grief for Tybalt. He compares her grief to the natural world, using sympathetic background to create an atmosphere of grief. The adjective “ little” to describe her shows he views her as vulnerable and in need of protection, allowing him to take on a stereotypically fatherly role. The consonance in “ tempest-tossed body” also shows his concern for her – he feels her sadness is detrimental to her, also shown by his use of hyperbole and verb choice such as “ raging with thy tears,” having connotations of violent and damaging grief. Lady Capulet describes him as a “ careful father”, the adjective having connotations of his sympathy and good intentions. His language, although indelicate, is a well-intentioned metaphor to try and comfort her. Hence Capulet can be presented by Shakespeare as a caring father once more, being able to appreciate his child’s emotion and recognising what he sees as a solution to her grief. 

However, as the patriarch of the Capulet household, Lord Capulet can also be presented as domineering and commanding – his  authority is obviously important to him in order to maintain his “honourable reckoning”. His rebuke of Tybalt at the ball, the derogatory terms to insult the Nurse, and his almost constant overruling of his wife show his imperious nature, and his expectations of being obeyed. His view of Juliet is that “ she will be ruled in all respects by [him],” showing his expectations of unquestioning loyalty and obedience. Hence when Juliet refuses to marry Pairs, his authority and position as head of the house is immediately undermined. In contrast to his earlier decision of giving Juliet a choice, he is outraged by her rejection of the suitor he has picked out for her. Her answer in which she displays intelligent wordplay and a calmly dignified paradox infuriates him. His inability to understand something that Juliet can intelligently create leaves him feeling outmanoeuvred and his authority challenged. He turns immediately to rebuke, taking her terms and overruling them such as “ thank me no thankings, nor proud me no prouds.”  The language of choice is disregarded as he addresses her with the triple of “ Speak not, reply not, do not answer me.” Her silent acquiescence is all that now matters to him. Therefore although Shakespeare portrays Capulet as having the capacity to be considerate and measured, his almost desperate desire to maintain his impression as the unquestionable head of the household can lead to him being violent and abusive towards his only child and the rest of the house. 

Another measure of Capulet’s portrayal as a potentially violent father is through his unseemly and extreme display of anger at Juliet’s refusal. His threat to “drag [Juliet] on a hurdle” to the church, a hurdle being a wooden frame upon which traitors were dragged to execution, has connotations of treason and treachery – this shows his feelings that Juliet has betrayed him. Shakespeare  reveals his fury through use of exclamation marks and triple of insults for emphasis, one of these being his reference to Juliet as “ green-sickness carrion,” perhaps implying that the Juliet Capulet thought he knew is dead to him. Exclamations such as “ Hang thee !” and “ Beg, starve, die in the streets!” display that his role as protector within the patriarchal framework of society has been disregarded – he is prepared to abandon her physically as well as psychologically. Capulet is even prepared to use physical violence, saying that his “fingers itch” to strike Juliet despite playing her role of filial obedience on her knees . In some places, the meter of the blank verse is interrupted, showing his loss of control. His view of her as “ the hopeful lady of his earth” has changed to “ a curse in having her.” Both the Nurse and his wife try to calm him, suggesting that even in Elizabethan times his behaviour may have been excessive and immoderate. Hence his presentation as a good father is undermined by his violence and extreme anger. 

True to Elizabethan convention, Capulet also ultimately views Juliet as his property. His order of “ You be mine, I’ll give you to my friend,” shows his possessiveness and control over Juliet. His insult of “ tallow-face !” also insults her appearance – despite being described as having other-worldly beauty elsewhere in the play, Juliet’s worth has been diminished as she will not obey him. Throughout his speech of anger, Juliet is objectified, the phrase “ fettle your fine joints” creating horse imagery and dehumanising her. The insult of “baggage” also objectifies her, showing her to be a material object. Although a modern audience would see this as unacceptable, the audience at the time may have seen this as appropriate behaviour, as Juliet would be considered the property of her father and then her husband after marriage – so in this respect Lord Capulet could be presented as merely obeying the rules of convention.

Despite his initial fury, Capulet does reconcile with Juliet before her apparent death. He addresses her as “ my headstrong” which has a more affectionate tone. When Juliet puts on a façade of obeying him, Capulet is instantly overjoyed, his “heart is wondrous light”. The wedding is obviously of extreme importance to him, as he brings the date forward and will “spare not the cost.” The verb “ reclaimed” to describe Juliet however, is still marking her as a possession despite his good intentions. 

Upon Juliet’s apparent death, Capulet shows his true feelings for her, as he is distraught at the loss of his only child. His conceit of  “ death lies upon her like an untimely frost upon the sweetest flower of all the field” again compares her to the natural world. The superlative adjective “sweetest” emphasises her dearness to him and the simile “ like an untimely frost” suggests her death was too soon and unnatural. The metaphor “ flower as she was” has connotations of a fresh and natural beauty and vibrancy, sharply contrasted by his repetition of personifying “ Death” to convey the impact of her death upon him.  Capulet uses the cumulative effect of the list of verbs to also show the intensity of his grief “ Despis’d, distressed, hated, matyr’d, kill’d !”, the plosives of “d” in the past participles emphasising the devastation.   The repetition of apostrophe used in   “ O child, O child !” emphasises his emotion and sorrow for her youth. He refers to her as “ my soul and not my child !” and similarly the phrase “ all is Death’s” could be a reference to Juliet – she was everything to him. The rhyming couplet and endstop  in “ Alack, my child is dead, and with my child my joys are buried.” show  the feeling of finality and the lasting, almost hyperbolic impact her death will have on him. Despite his earlier fury and threats to disown and even leave her to die, this is contrasted by his reaction to what he perceives as her actual death. Shakespeare suggests that the ultimatum before may have been merely bluster, an attempt to ensure her obedience .

Therefore, Lord Capulet as a father is presented in a variety of ways . He has the capacity to be a good and considerate father to his cherished daughter, but also shows himself capable of inappropriate anger and violence when he is disobeyed. The contrast between his choice to give her free will and his fury at her disobedience shows his commanding nature, as he will only allow her free will when it is appropriate for him. Throughout the play, Shakespeare generally presents Capulet as well-intentioned, but too emotionally limited to understand his daughter fully. His attempts to comfort her use artificial and indelicate imagery, and so fail to achieve their purpose. His decision to give her a choice in her marriage is ultimately overruled by his own desire to find what he perceives to be an excellent match. There is an argument that his extreme reaction to her refusal was almost one of panic – after working tirelessly to secure a good marriage, her rejection threatens her own future as well as his position as the authoritative father. His limited frame of reference, referring to transaction and objects instead of romance, also shows his emotional limitations when trying to deal with the emotionally superior Juliet.  Juliet, since she is already “ star-cross’d” is predestined for death instead of a marriage to Paris anyway. Capulet’s fury, reconciliation and grief are all futile – even though pretending to obey him, Juliet escapes the rules of convention, does not marry Paris, and she eventually dies in spite of his desire to protect her. Hence despite his attempts to fulfil his role of the patriarch that will secure Juliet’s future, her destiny  has already been decided by fate, and Lord Capulet is unable to shape her future as the stereotypical Elizabethan father, as he himself is overruled by a higher power . 


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