Capulet thinks Paris is hot (and is still losing it) (3.5.176-188)

CAPULET        God’s bread, it makes me mad! Day, night, work, play,

                        Alone, in company, still my care hath been

                        To have her matched; and having now provided

                        A gentleman of noble parentage,

                        Of fair demesnes, youthful and nobly ligned,

                        Stuffed, as they say, with honourable parts,

                        Proportioned as one’s thoughts would wish a man,

                        And then to have a wretched puling fool,

                        A whining mammet, in her fortune’s tender,

                        To answer ‘I’ll not wed, I cannot love;

                        I am too young, I pray you pardon me’.

                        But and you will not wed, I’ll pardon you:

                        Graze where you will, you shall not house with me. (3.5.176-188)

The flippant response here is, well, if you think Paris is so hot, marry him yourself, dad. But it’s gone well beyond flippancy. Still, Capulet’s specific anxieties and complaints here are fascinating in terms of thinking about gender politics and homosociality, and indeed how the latter can shade into the homoerotic. He’s exaggerating, of course – there’s been no evidence that finding Juliet a good husband, an advantageous match has been anything like the sole concern he paints it as here, imagining himself slogging away, 24/7, to get her married off well. (In the office, on the golf-course, on the internet, in the street…) Almost everything that makes Paris attractive as a husband also makes him (more) attractive as a son-in-law, as a family alliance: he’s well-born (so may well raise the Capulets’ status), he’s going to inherit land, he’s got a title. (When John Ford draws on Romeo and Juliet for his Tis Pity She’s a Whore in the 1630s, he makes it explicit that the favoured suitor, Soranzo, is a relatively impoverished aristocrat, whereas Annabella’s father Florio is a wealthy merchant who wants his daughter to marry a title.) It’s all about the alliance. But then there’s that slightly queasy swerve into praising Paris’s parts, his qualities, and even his body – he is proportioned as one’s thoughts would wish a man – although this is probably just Capulet imagining that this is the thing that Juliet will most care about, that Paris is good-looking. A moment of reverie: but Paris is a dreamboat. (There might be a laugh.) Then back to mocking Juliet, ironically in terms that reference her youth, calling her puling fool, whining mammet – a whiny doll, a cry-baby, and then presumably mimicking her, putting words into her mouth. (But he’s the one acting like a child, obviously.) It’s all about Capulet, his ego, his relationships with other men (here, Paris), his insecurity. But his threat, now, is a real one: you shall not house with me, I’ll throw you out. A reminder again: there are three women in this scene, and none of them has any power.

View 2 comments on “Capulet thinks Paris is hot (and is still losing it) (3.5.176-188)

  1. This scene reminds me very much of Lear disowning Cordelia. I find it harder to find Lear ridiculous as he is so obviously out of his depth with the twin evils of Regan and Goneril. Lear moves from offering Cordelia as a prize beyond rubies to France and Burgundy to monstering her ( to quote France) in the same way as Capulet does to Juliet. Both young women are punished for challenging daddy’s authority and knowing/speaking their own minds. Both fathers wanted to believe they had a daddy’s girl (sic) and are torn apart by jealousy, wounded pride and fear when she wants to act like a woman and won’t do as she is told.

    1. I think that’s a really useful comparison. The sense of losing face with other men is there in Lear too? and we might think about what happens in plays written in between R&J and Lear – Polonius wanting to control Ophelia, because he’s worried about people thinking that she’s getting above herself in encouraging a relationship with the prince (and, perhaps about her getting hurt). Desdemona, obviously, who even articulates (as Cordelia does) the ‘divided duty’ of the married woman. And – in a ‘comedy’ – Portia’s dead father in Merchant setting up a kind of lottery, which she has to abide by, or else subvert. In The Tempest, we perhaps have the best example of a father trying to work through all his conflicted emotions in this regard? (I’m not wildly keen on Prospero, but he does at least acknowledge that he’s messed up…) Thanks for getting in touch, Kate!

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