Capulet losing it #4 (3.5.168-175)

NURSE                                    God in heaven bless her!

                        You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so.

CAPULET        And why, my Lady Wisdom? Hold your tongue,

                        Good Prudence, smatter with your gossips, go.

NURSE            I speak no treason.

CAPULET                                            O God-i-goden!

NURSE            May not one speak?

CAPULET                                            Peace, you mumbling fool!

                        Utter your gravity o’er a gossip’s bowl,

                        For here we need it not.

LADY CAPULET                     You are too hot.         (3.5.168-175)

The Nurse can’t believe that anyone would regard a child as a curse rather than a blessing (and, although we probably don’t remember in the heat of the moment, she too has buried at least one child, apparently her only child); it’s this cursing that finally prompts her to intervene, as if Juliet in this moment needs immediate protection, God’s blessing, against her father’s curse and rage. Unlike Lady Capulet, who has questioned Capulet’s sanity rather than his actions, the Nurse calls out his behaviour: you’re the one behaving badly here, it’s your fault, why are you being so awful and insulting? (She is treating him like a child: mind your manners. He is increasingly acting like one.) The Nurse means well but, unlike Juliet, she is taking completely the wrong approach to calming Capulet down. So now he turns his fire on her, sneering at her for getting above her station, for thinking that she’s got anything to contribute – my Lady Wisdom, good Prudence (suggesting that she’s neither prudent nor wise) and telling her to shut up and save her words for gossip and idle chat with other old women, her gossips. The Nurse persists – there’s a steely courage to her here, as she speaks out in Juliet’s defence: she’s picked up on the accusations of treason flying around and meets them; she wants to speak.

At least two things are apparent from Capulet’s responses here. One is the complete disappearance of his veneer of civility – the man who entered speaking of storm-tossed ships is long gone, and his language is much coarser, lower-status (O God-i-goden!) – again there’s a sense of the posh accent slipping, as he loses his self-control. And the other is how thoroughly misogynist he is, and how commonplace the tropes of his misogyny are. Young women who speak out are whores; old women who speak out are stupid, incoherent, given to drink. Women should just shut up. There are three women in this scene and one man, and he is the one ranting and trying to dominate, denying them agency, identity, voice.

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