It’s funny to apply a modern construct such as “mindset” or “positive thinking” to Shakespeare. Yet there are some vivid examples of it in Romeo and Juliet. The way Romeo and Juliet view their circumstances dramatically changes their feelings about their situation. Even when Romeo learns that he has been banished by the Prince, there is still a whisper of hope.
At the crisis point in Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo has killed Tybalt and then been banished, the couple despairs. For the moment, they are isolated from each other and each suffering great anxiety about their fates with Romeo’s impending exile.
In these dire straits, Juliet and Romeo complain to their confidants, the Nurse and Friar Laurence respectively, expressing their sense of desperation. All hope is lost, the marriage is doomed and Romeo exiled. Yet when they change their perspective on the matter, they feel a sense of renewed hope.
Romeo expresses his grief to the Friar when he learns of his fate after killing Tybalt:
“Ha, banishment? Be merciful, say “death”;
For exile hath more terror in his look,
Much more than death. Do not say “banishment.”(Act III, Scene III, lines 15-17, p.141).
Friar Laurence represents age and wisdom, contrasted with Romeo’s rashness, passion and youth (Bloom I283). It is Friar Laurence, with his indefatigable spirit, who spurs Romeo on to look at the bright side. Not only that, he spurs Romeo to action by communicating his plan. The Friar remonstrates with Romeo, telling him to be a man. After hearing Romeo lament his situation, the Friar instructs him:
“Thou fond mad man, hear me a little speak”(Act III, Scene III, lines 55-56, p. 143).
Romeo doubts that the Friar can console him, and instead once again focuses on that odious word, “banishment.” What the Friar offers Romeo is “Adversity’s sweet milk, philosophy” (Act III, Scene III, line 60, p.143). At the moment, Romeo is in no mood to listen to philosophy. But what the Friar means is not a discourse on philosophy per se, but rather a philosophical approach for Romeo to regard his problems:
“What, rouse thee, man! Thy Juliet is alive,
For whose dear sake thou wast but lately dead.
There art thou happy. Tybalt would kill thee,
But thou slewest Tybalt. There art thou happy.
The law, that threatened death, becomes thy friend
And turns it to exile. There art thou happy.”(Act III, Scene III, lines 152- 157, pg. 149)
Romeo has a sea change in his attitude about his situation. Now he can see a way out of the darkness and hopelessness. In fact, he expresses enthusiasm for the Friar’s plan, and can hardly wait to get started.
The Nurses Teases Juliet
The Nurse seems to enjoy drawing things out when she has news for Juliet– good or bad news. Apparently she likes the attention and sense of importance. For her part, Juliet’s response ranges from annoyed to exasperated
In her dialogue with the nurse, Juliet initially expresses a similar lack of hope and forlornness as Romeo. Learning that her new husband has killed Tybalt, her cousin, Juliet for the first time has “a moment of doubt” and hesitation about Romeo (Bloom 281). Yet in this case it is not the Nurse who helps Juliet feel better. Rather, Juliet spontaneously begins to view the situation of Tybalt’s death and Romeo’s banishment through new eyes, and recovers her resoluteness. No longer is Romeo an assassin, but now he is the victim of circumstances beyond his control–her hapless lover.
The Nurse teases out the news of Romeo’s banishment. For some reason, she leads Juliet on to believe that it was Romeo who died instead of Tybalt. She simply repeats “he’s dead, he’s killed” without explaining to whom she’s referring. One can’t help but suspect the Nurse is leaving this ambivalent intentionally; again, because she rather enjoys the attention from Juliet.
Juliet assumes that the nurse is referring to Romeo, because after all, that’s the person she’s waiting to hear news about. Then the Nurse repeats Romeo’s name, which is meant to express her disbelief that Romeo killed Tybalt. But of course Juliet interprets this as to mean that Romeo is dead.
Similar to when the Nurse teases out the news that Romeo wants to marry Juliet, the Nurse enjoys the attention of having Juliet on edge and pleading for her to get to the point. She finally does:
“Tybalt is gone and Romeo is banished;
Romeo that killed him, he is banished.” (Act II, Scene II, line 75-76 p.135)
At first, Juliet flies into a rage towards Romeo:
“O serpent heart, hid with a flow’ring face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
Dove-feathered raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!”(Act III, Scene II, lines 79-82, pg. 135)
The Nurse is happy to agree with her, and ups the ante by considering that all men are liars. Yet the Nurse apparently goes a little too far for Juliet when she wishes, “Shame come to Romeo.” Here Juliet stops her in her tracks, does an about-face, and begins defending the very Romeo whom she just condemned. Juliet issues a spirited defense of her newly betrothed husband:
“Blistered be thy tongue
For such a wish! He was not born to shame.
Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit;”(Act III, Scene II, lines 98-100, p.135)
Juliet then explains her reasoning for this change of heart. Yes, Romeo killed Tybalt, but wasn’t Tybalt after all going to kill Romeo? It was nothing more than self-defense. “Wherefore weep I then?” she asks herself. She then shifts her nervous energy away from Romeo’s wrongdoings, from her subsequent defense of Romeo (as though arguing with herself), to focus on the tragedy of Romeo’s sentence: “Romeo is banished.”
In the case of Romeo’s meeting with Friar Laurence, it is Friar Laurence who gives Romeo such a positive spin on events. After the crisis of Romeo’s killing of Tybalt and his subsequent banishment, Romeo is distraught, and literally collapses on the floor. After his pep talk from the Friar, he has (apparently) a new lease on life.
For Juliet, the Nurse is no great help in helping her mindset towards Romeo’s banishment. Juliet finds her Nurse’s counsel less and less relevant. It is Juliet’s own thinking on the matter which shifts. It is as though her love for Romeo shines through and dominates her resentment. Through her circuitous feminine logic, she has again found her way back to her Romeo.
Follow me on Twitter
Sign up to be informed about new posts: