Happy, happy, joy, joy? (3.5.104-115)

LADY CAPULET         But now I’ll tell thee joyful tidings, girl.

JULIET                                    And joy comes well in such a needy time.

                                    What are they, beseech your ladyship?

LADY CAPULET         Well, well, thou hast a careful father, child,

                                    One who, to put thee from thy heaviness,

                                    Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy,

                                    That thou expects not, nor I looked not for.

JULIET                                    Madam, in happy time, what day is that?

LADY CAPULET         Marry, my child, early next Thursday morn,

                                    The gallant, young, and noble gentleman,

                                    The County Paris, at Saint Peter’s Church,

                                    Shall happily make thee there a joyful bride. (3.5.104-115)

Well this is awkward. And even though she’s mostly preoccupied with murderous scheming, Lady Capulet seems to have an inkling that this isn’t going to be straightforward. Certain words stick out: joyfuljoy, joy, joyful. It’s a word particularly associated with weddings – to wish the happy couple joy – and also one that is often opposed to weeping and sadness, not least in the Bible. Psalm 30: ‘heaviness may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning … Thou hast turned my heaviness into joy’. And there are lots of other examples, especially in the Old Testament. So Lady Capulet is using loaded language here, but at the same time she seems quite reluctant to come to the point: joy comes well in such a needy time; thou hast a careful father. And there, the suggestion that this is Capulet’s idea; she’s going along with it (she didn’t look for it herself), but it’s his initiative. We’ve seen the marriage negotiations, though, where Capulet’s main motivation seemed to be anxiety at letting such an advantageous marriage slip away, because of scandal or questions of propriety (and previously, of course, he was of the opinion that Juliet was too young); he wasn’t thinking about cheering Juliet up at all. Now, it’s Lady Capulet who emphasizes Juliet’s youth – girl, child, my child – and seems to be reassuring both Juliet and herself that Paris, too, is young, as well as gallant and noble, even as she (perhaps uneasily) spins Capulet’s plan. (But addressing Juliet as girl and child is also emphasizing her dependence, her lack of agency, and the expectation of obedience.) Juliet is immediately on her guard, immaculately polite: beseech your ladyship, madam. There’s an echo of the only previous scene between Juliet and her mother, in which the possibility of marrying Paris was introduced: finally managing to interrupt the Nurse, Lady Capulet said then Marry, that ‘marry’ is the very theme I came to talk of. And now she’s doing it again; yes, marry is a mild oath (‘Mary’), but it’s also as if Lady Capulet just blurts it out, the what, the who, and the where. Paris’s most important features are duly noted – he’s a noble gentleman, with a title! – and it’s all settled, a done deal. It’s happy, fortunate as well as cheering, and you will be made a joyful bride. No choice, no discussion, and Juliet will be joyful, because her mother’s told her so. Good luck with that…


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