Wife, not cousin (3.2.91-97)

JULIET                                                he was not born to shame:

                        Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit;

                        For ’tis a throne where honour may be crowned

                        Sole monarch of the universal earth.

                        O what a beast was I to chide at him!

NURSE            Will you speak well of him that killed your cousin?

JULIET                        Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband? (3.2.91-97)

Juliet will defend Romeo against any accusations, including the ones she’s just made herself. For about all, he is honourable, a word that we mightn’t leap to associate with him, but which has characterised the ways in which others have spoken about him (look back: it’s there). He’s a gentleman, genuinely: Mercutio was (was!) the madcap, the gallant, Benvolio the nice boy – all three are, by birth, gentlemen – but Romeo seems most secure in that rank and characterisation. He is honourable. Juliet cannot think of him as shameful, and she thinks of shame as something physical, like a brand or a blemish, that would impair his beauty and integrity. And she rebukes herself for doubting him and rebuking him: Romeo is, in her account here, almost superhuman in his perfection, and if she chides him, she is a beast. The Nurse has come to her senses, and articulates the crux of the matter: will you speak well of him that killed your cousin? Where do your loyalties lie? In this tribal world, are you still one of us? Her opinion is clear. But Juliet has changed: shall I speak ill of him that is my husband? She is no longer the little girl to be teased and reprimanded, she is a married woman. Not in an annoying, getting-above-herself Lydia Bennet way (see P&P chapter 9), but in a way that demonstrates, again, the play’s investment in marriage: For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they too shall be one flesh (from the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer). Romeo is Juliet’s family now, and she is his. And, in this still-name-obsessed play, husband and wife are titles that supersede cousin and, as we will soon see, daughter. Although she’s still well capable of a bit of petulant foot-stamping, Juliet is putting away childish things.

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