The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0347 Tuesday 2 March 1999.
Date: Monday, 1 Mar 1999 10:57:24 -0800 (PST)
Subject: 10.0330 Capulets' Ages
Comment: Re: SHK 10.0330 Capulets' Ages
Nora Kreimer writes:
"Age of Shakespeare's characters is really an issue for me, since I
enjoy debating this with my students. Juliet is "not yet 14". How old
are Lady Capulet and the Nurse? Does choice of actors and actresses
condition the value of representation of age in our minds? How old is
A series of questions I always discuss w/ my students as an exercise in
1. Lady Capulet says, "By my count, I was your mother much upon these
years that you are now a maid."
Since Juliet will be 14 in "a fortnight and odd days" on July 31st
("Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen") Lady Cap by HER count must
be around 28. However, give some exaggeration/preservation of youth
motivation (she's certainly not happy being married to an old man) and
"much upon these years" and we can place her anywhere from 28 to her
2. The Nurse. Well, "Susan and she were of an age," meaning that the
Nurse was young enough to have borne a child 14 years earlier. (Let me
put to rest another canard here: that the Nurse's child died b/c the
Nurse had to breast feed Juliet. The more a woman's breasts are asked
to produce milk, the more milk they produce. Certainly the Nurse HAD
milk or she wouldn't have been Juliet's nurse. So if she nursed two
children she'd have had enough milk for two children. Often, the
availability of the wet nurse depended on her own child having just died
and her milk supply not having yet dissipated.) The Nurse could have
been anywhere from 13 through early 20's when Juliet was born; I venture
to say any woman still dropping offspring after then would be too old
and worn out to be a viable candidate for wetnursing. And there is no
mention of other children from the Nurse, so I lean toward the younger
range, but not SO young that she can't be responsible for a child. I'd
say the Nurse is mid-late 30's. SHOCKING, ain't it? But textual
evidence can't be denied, especially when linked w/ biology.
3. Lord Capulet. We know that he's older, presumably much older, than
his wife: "A crutch, a crutch, why call you for a sword" and "You have
been a mousehunt in your time." Pinning down his age depends on the
age that a young man would have stopped attending masques. Since Paris
now is ready to wed (presumably the point at which men would no longer
disguise themselves and crash the party) and he is "a flower" as opposed
to Romeo's and Juliet's bud-like nature, I'd pick 20 as a nice round
figure, with a range of 18-24 as a reasonable spread. And we know that
it's been anywhere from "five and twenty years" to "some thirty years"
since they masqued. So Lord C has to be between 43 (a very low
estimate) and 54.
Sorry if there are slight misquotes; I'm working from memory.
Regarding the role of casting here: I've never seen a production
(professional, not student :) where Lady C was as young as she claims to
be. The youngest I ever saw was at Circle in the Square some twenty-odd
(VERY odd!) years ago; I wish I could recall the actor's name, but she
also played a very sexy character on one of the soap operas. And in
that production, the Nurse was played by the woman who has been "Madge"
of the Palmolive commercials ("you're soaking in it!") who was even then
certainly older than the logical age for the nurse. And she was much
younger than some of the other performers; I've seen mostly grandmother
types as the Nurse, which also doesn't square w/ her performance in 2.4
when she's out to bedazzle the entire town.
Now here's a related but much more puzzling question, b/c there IS no
textual evidence: How old is Friar Lawrence? He could be any age at
all, but think of the different dynamic if he's younger rather than
older. Given that he contradicts his own warning, "Wisely, and slow.
They stumble that run fast." by running at least as fast as Romeo and
Juliet, mightn't it make sense to cast him as in his 20's, perhaps not a
lot older than Paris? Since children were not infrequently committed to
religious orders for one reason or another, might he not have learned
his herbalist's skills while growing up? I'd love to see a production
that makes him more Romeo's slightly older peer than a grandfather.
Anyone ever see one of those?
Hope this helps the students and produces some additional discussion!