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Home :: Archive :: 1995 :: March ::
Re: *Romeo and Juliet*
Shakespeare Electronic Conference, Vol. 6, No. 0154.  Friday, 3 March 1995.
 
(1)     From:   James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
        Date:   Thursday, 02 Mar 1995 09:43:09 -0500 (EST)
        Subj:   Juliet's Nurse
 
(2)     From:   Laurie White <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Mar 1995 10:21:07 -0400 (EDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0149  Re: *Romeo and Juliet*; Love
 
(3)     From:   E. H. Pearlman <
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        Date:   Thursday, 02 Mar 1995 08:02:27 -0600 (MDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 6.0149  Re: *Romeo and Juliet*; Love
 
(4)     From:   Takako Nagumo <
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        Date:   Thursday, 2 Mar 1995 11:23:16 -0800
        Subj:   *R&J* - a tragedy of unawareness
 
 
(1)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           James Schaefer <SCHAEFEJ@GUVAX.BITNET>
Date:           Thursday, 02 Mar 1995 09:43:09 -0500 (EST)
Subject:        Juliet's Nurse
 
Frank Savukinas suggests that Juliet's Nurse must have been of an advanced age
because she has only four teeth left.  Once again, the problem of applying
current standards (in this case, of public health) to past eras rears its head.
 
My wife, a biologist, tells me that in Colonial America, one of the health
risks of child rearing was summarized in the expression, "A tooth a child."
Lacting women's bodies devote their resources, especially of calcium, primarily
to the production of milk and only secondly to their own well being.  Before
the importance of good nutrition was understood, and especially the need for
increased calcium intake, women who nursed regularly suffered tooth loss from
calcium deficiency.  The more children, the more teeth lost.
 
Now this would seem to have several implications.  First, wealthy women (who
did not know any more than their lower class wet nurses that they ought to
increase calcium intake) would want to put their children out to nurse to
protect their own teeth -- that is to say, their own beauty.  (This is in
addition, of course, to their not wanting to be bothered with raising the
messy, noisy little pests.)  The wet nurses -- women who extended the natural
lactation period following birth by continuing to nurse other women's children
-- would continue to suffer from calcium deficiency, and therefore tooth loss.
Thus, the Nurse's comment that she has only four teeth left would be a sign of
how long she has devoted herself to the nursing of others' children, not
necessarily her age.  She could, in fact, be no older than Lady Capulet, and
possibly somewhat younger.
 
Lactation on a deficient diet has another effect that may tell us something
about the Nurse's character:  it suppresses ovulation. The folk wisdom that a
nursing mother cannot get pregnant is true -- for ill-nourished women (i.e.,
most women throughout history).  Thus a wet nurse could be a "loose woman"
without risking pregnancy (we'll ignore syphilis for the moment...).  Her bawdy
scene with Mercutio suggests more than a passing familiarity with the life of
the flesh.  Are there other examples of lusty nurses in literature?
 
Finally, remember that fluoridation of drinking water in the U S is less than a
generation old; topical treatment of children's teeth is even more recent.  I
have four children and step-children ranging in age from 13 to 20 and not a
single one has _ever_ had a cavity.  I find this staggering, since I had lost
all my upper teeth by the time I was a freshman in college.  Granted that my
parents were on the far end of the scale in terms of lax attention paid to
their children's health care, but many of my now-middle-aged peers have mouths
full of silver and gold.  The lower classes of Verona (not to mention London)
would have fared even worse.  Even George Washington had to put up with
ill-fitting dentures.  (Vide Stan Freberg:  "That's George all right . . .
talks up a storm with those wooden teeth of his; can't shut him up!)
 
Jim Schaefer
Georgetown University

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(2)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Laurie White <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Mar 1995 10:21:07 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: 6.0149  Re: *Romeo and Juliet*; Love
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0149  Re: *Romeo and Juliet*; Love
 
I am teaching Romeo and Juliet now and look forward every day to this
discussion. One of the things bothering my students in our survey class is the
connection of true love and death.  I keep bringing in Keats as a gloss.  His
obsession with the ideal in "Ode to a Nightingale" and "Ode on a Grecian Urn"
and his knowledge that the ideal is static, dead, inhuman explains something to
me about Shakespeare's portrayal of that paradox (perfection and life cancel
each other; Romeo _will_ end up with egg in his beard, if the darlings make it
to Mantua.)
 
--Laurie White (
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(3)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           E. H. Pearlman <
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Date:           Thursday, 02 Mar 1995 08:02:27 -0600 (MDT)
Subject: 6.0149  Re: *Romeo and Juliet*; Love
Comment:        Re: SHK 6.0149  Re: *Romeo and Juliet*; Love
 
The nurse is old when Shakespeare wants her to be old:  "ancient lady". She is
youngish when he wants her to be young:  young enough to wetnurse Juliet.  The
same goes for Juliet's mom:  she is sometimes 2 x 14, sometimes Old. La.  It's
a play.  She's a character, not a person.  Sh. has other priorities than to get
such trivialities right.  E. Pearlman
 
(4)----------------------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Takako Nagumo <
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Date:           Thursday, 2 Mar 1995 11:23:16 -0800
Subject:        *R&J* - a tragedy of unawareness
 
Hello,
 
I was reading the introduction of *R&J* that appears in The Complete Pelican
Shakespeare (c1969), written by John E. Hankins of the U. of Maine, which
mentions a critic who "views it [*R&J*] as a tragedy of unawareness." (p. 857).
   I am really interested in locating this article/book/material that mentions
this.
 
If anyone has read this, or knows who wrote it, please email me directly.
 
Thank you all for your time.
 
Takako Nagumo

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