A stranger in the world (1.2.1-13)

Enter CAPULET, COUNTY PARIS, and the Clown [SERVANT to Capulet]

CAPULET        But Montague is bound as well as I,

                        In penalty alike, and ’tis not hard, I think,

                        For men so old as we to keep the peace.

PARIS              Of honourable reckoning are you both,

                        And pity ’tis, you lived at odds so long.

                        But now, my lord, what say you to my suit?

CAPULET        But saying o’er what I have said before:

                        My child is yet a stranger in the world,

                        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.

PARIS              Younger than she are happy mothers made.

CAPULET        And too soon marred are those so early made. (1.2.1-13)


This is, dramaturgically, a repetition of the beginning of 1.1: two male characters entering in conversation, the But a classic marker of the conversation already in progress. What’s Paris been saying? Suggesting that Capulet has been harshly treated, that the Prince has been unreasonable? Acting aggrieved on behalf of his possible-future-father-in-law? Mollification is Paris’s modus operandi; he doesn’t want to fall out with anyone; if in a hypothetical entrance line he’s been taking Capulet’s part, he’s at pains to stay on side with both – Of honourable reckoning are you both – as well as looking towards the moral high ground – And pity ’tis, you lived at odds so long. (The status games are nicely calibrated.) Capulet here is the reasonable one, and that’s an important note for his character, given his quick temper and unreasonableness later in the play. His reminder of his age (men so old as we) is also about reinforcing the play’s generational divide, given that he will go on to emphasise Juliet’s extreme youth. The unnamed Juliet is being talked about before she’s seen, as Romeo was. The striking formulation a stranger in the world emphasises her innocence (although in many respects she will prove to be more worldly than Romeo); it also, perhaps, just, anticipates Romeo’s disguise as a pilgrim when they meet: ‘stranger and sojourner’ in the Psalter translation of Psalm 38 translate ‘advena … et peregrinus’, the latter sometimes translated as ‘pilgrim’. (You think that’s tenuous? in the balcony scene, Juliet will wish for a ‘falconer’s voice’, although she will term Romeo a tassel-gentle rather than a peregrine…) But, whatever, for Juliet to be a stranger alienates her, places her in the same slightly outsider position as Romeo, up early and hanging around the city walls. There’s a prescient inversion of the natural order when wither precedes ripe, and it thus continues the conceit established in the previous scene by the bud bit with an envious worm, a natural process interrupted, not allowed to come to fruition. The summers will wither, but Juliet will not ripen. (Not going to get into Juliet’s age. Young, is what matters.) The made/marred/maid quibble is conventional, if a bit distasteful; happy can also suggest fortunate, so this is perhaps Paris implying that he really is a great catch as son-in-law and sire-of-first-grandchild material.

Capulet’s concerned for his daughter, but this exchange is also setting up Capulet’s later, violent interest in protecting his investments. If Juliet is marred by early marriage – if she and her child die in childbirth, all too often the fate of heiresses married too young – then the alliance with Paris and the secure intergenerational transfer of capital could be jeopardised. (So there is anticipated here a more hard-nosed version of Romeo’s lamenting that Rosaline has taken her beauty out of circulation, out of the marketplace.)

The form here is interesting. As well as recapitulating the opening of 1.1, it’s got a sonnet-y quality, especially in its final couplet. But it’s 13 lines long; it divides not into units of 4 lines, but 3+3+5+2. That Paris is introduced into the play with this not-quite-a-sonnet could be one of the things that sets up the way in which Romeo and Juliet meet. Paris raises a question at the end of the sort-of sestet, but Capulet doesn’t really give a straight answer, and the answer he gives, he’ll go on to modify. So it’s formal, controlled (mostly end-stopped), but just a bit unsettled and unsettling. Polite power-play.



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