Time in Romeo & Juliet

English Literature, GCSE, Teaching Resources

Romeo and Juliet explores the theme of time and the role it plays in the tragedy.  The conversation between Capulet and Paris explores the theme of time.  When Paris asks to marry Juliet.  Caplets says ‘My child is yet a stranger in the world; …Let two more summers wither in their pride’  Juliet is 13 years old extremely young even for Elizabethan times.  He is presented as a caring father, protecting his daughter from growing up too quickly.

Marriage for Juliet would inevitably lead to motherhood as Paris states, ‘Younger than she are happy mothers made.’  This reveals that marriage amongst the nobility is about producing an heir as quickly as possible.  Lord Capulet”s reply ‘too soon marred are those so early made’ is the voice of experience and reason.

However, he has decided to hold a feast which he believes will reveal that Juliet is the most beautiful.   The audience would believe that Capulet holds these feasts often but in Act 5 scene 1 he confesses that it has been 30 years since he has last at a party.  Therefore the audience can see that Capulet is keen to secure Paris as a suitor for Juliet.  Why wouldn’t he wait for such a ‘solemn’ occasion?

After the untimely death of Tybalt (the same day as Romeo and Juliet’s wedding). Capulet”s impatience to secure Juliet the marriage speeds up the plot.  Paris states, ‘These times of woe afford no time to woo.’  This is true of Romeo and Juliet their wedding night is surrounded by a background of secrecy, banishment and death.   Capulet worried by Juliet’s constant weeping for Tybalt gives Paris a date for the wedding.  ‘Thursday, tell her, She shall be married to the noble Earl.’

Capulet leaves Juliet desperate and alone when he tells her to ‘you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend;’ showing his true intentions Juliet is his property to dispose of her as he feels.  The monosyllabic words ‘hang, beg, starve, die in the streets.’ are powerful and disturbing to the audience as Shakespeare’s use of dramatic irony makes them aware that Juliet is already married.

Lady Capulet and the Nurse’s response to Capulet”s condemnation of Juliet adds to her isolation and fears. She cries, ‘Delay this marriage for a month, a week, or if you do not, make the bridal bed in that dim monument where Tybalt lies.’ Another good example of Shakespeare’s foreshadowing time becomes the enemy in Romeo and Juliet’s relationship. The play ends with Juliet dead in the monument also relating to the theme of destiny.

Act 4 Scene 1 begins with the theme of time. Paris tells the Friar, ‘her father ‘in his wisdom hastes our marriage to stop the inundation of her tears.’ Capulet sees her grief as ‘dangerous’ The Friar’s plan to save Juliet from a second marriage to Paris also explores the theme of time. The whole plot hinges on Friar’s Lawrence’s potion allowing Juliet to appear dead to her family and his ability to inform Juliet of his plan. Again the Prologue reminds the audience that they are ‘star-crossed lovers’ and ‘their doomed love” maybe they are filled with hope that the young lovers can be reunited.

The hope the audience might have felt is soon destroyed in Act 4 Scene 2 as Capulet brings the wedding forward to Wednesday when Juliet tells him she has ‘learnt to repent the sin of disobedient opposition …Henceforward I am ever ruled by you.’

The first death of Juliet leaves the audience in suspense. She has made the hard choice of taking the potion despite misgivings of it might be poison. The effect of the potion is timed so that she doesn’t wake during the funeral and close down any possibility of her marrying Paris. Friar Lawrence is attempting to protect himself but also to keep the young lovers secrets. Ultimately time defeats the young lovers as they are only reunited in death in the final scenes of the play.