A man of wax (1.3.70-79)

LADY CAPULET         Well, think of marriage now; younger than you,

                                    Here in Verona, ladies of esteem,

                                    Are made already mothers. By my count,

                                    I was your mother much upon these years

                                    That you are now a maid. Thus then in brief:

                                    The valiant Paris seeks you for his love.

NURSE                        A man, young lady! lady, such a man

                                    As all the world – Why, he’s a man of wax.

LADY CAPULET         Verona’s summer hath not such a flower.

NURSE                        Nay, he’s a flower, in faith, a very flower. (1.3.70-79)

Lady Capulet is business-like: you mightn’t have been thinking about marriage before, but now you need to. Like the Nurse, Lady Capulet herself thinks about marriage in terms of child-bearing, not least her own, and there’s potentially a note of both nostalgia and wistfulness in her I was your mother much upon these years | That you are now a maid, as well as the quibbling chiasmus of made mothers / mother maid. This echoes Capulet’s earlier exchange with Paris, when in response to Paris’s protestation that Younger than she are happy mothers made, Juliet’s father retorts that too soon marred are those so early made. The marker of class, ladies of esteem, is a striking one, and there’s an implicit comparison with the Nurse (who is probably much older than Lady Capulet – another reason why she might be played by an adult male): the social elite of Verona marry young (as tended to be the case in Elizabethan England, where the average age of marriage for both men and women was mid twenties, across all classes). There’s a balancing act, as both the Capulet parents recognise, between the benefits of marriage as a means of forging advantageous social and financial connections and the risks involved – primarily, as Capulet has earlier suggested, the risk of death of either mother or child, or both, in labour. And the ghost of the Nurse’s lost Susan, perhaps, returns.

It’s only after this foregrounding of maternity that Paris is named, valiant making him sound perversely dull and conventional (what does valour even look like in this city life?) He certainly hasn’t been particularly valiant in his first appearance in the play, and the audience is in the privileged position of being able to compare Lady Capulet’s description here with what they’ve seen of Paris already. (Baz L does this beautifully, although he’s perhaps a bit extreme and unfair to a character who is mostly honourable.) The Nurse is excited by the prospect, although perhaps just because he’s a man, any man? Potential for a laugh here. But there is at least the suggestion that Paris is a man of some reputation, and regarded as a bit of a catch, a man of wax, an ideal. And both Lady Capulet and the Nurse agree that he’s a flower, a pinnacle, an exemplary man. Verona’s summer is, as it were, the gathered field of eligible men, but it also underscores that it is, indeed, summer. And there’s the implicit contrast with the bud motif used elsewhere, of both Romeo and Juliet, and of their love. Paris is older (and his name is older too; if it glances at the infamous lover of the Trojan War then it’s surely ironic).

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