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Detailed Summary of Act 1, Scene 3
Enter Lady Capulet and Nurse:
Lady Capulet wants to have a serious conversation with Juliet, but the Nurse interrupts with a long reminiscence about Juliet's weaning and what Juliet said about falling on her back. Lady Capulet tells Juliet that Paris wants to marry her, and urges her to look him over and see that he is the husband for her. A servant comes to call everyone to the feast.
Enter Lady Capulet and Nurse:
Hurriedly, Lady Capulet says to the Nurse, "Nurse, where's my daughter? call her forth to me" (1.3.1), and the Nurse answers, "Now, by my maidenhead at twelve year old, / I bade her come." (1.3.2-3). She is swearing that she already told Juliet to come. (Another person might swear by her faith or honor, but the Nurse swears by the purity of her maidenhead at the age of twelve, the last time it was intact.) The Nurse calls and calls, then Juliet appears and obediently asks her mother what she wants. Lady Capulet starts to speak, then sends the Nurse away so that she and Juliet can speak in private, but then immediately changes her mind and tells the Nurse to stay. Lady Capulet has a big point to make with Juliet and she apparently believes that the Nurse will support her.
Lady Capulet is thinking that Juliet is old enough to get married, but rather than just announcing that, she opens the discussion by saying to the Nurse, "Thou know'st my daughter's of a pretty age" (1.3.10). Juliet is pretty, but that's not what Lady Capulet means. She's using the word "pretty" in the same way that we use it in phrases such as "pretty big" or "pretty good." Lady Capulet wants Juliet to start thinking like a grown-up; instead, the Nurse starts chattering about baby Juliet. The Nurse declares that she can tell Juliet's age to the hour, and when Lady Capulet says that Juliet is not yet fourteen, the Nurse goes ahead to prove just how good her memory is.
The Nurse remembers when Juliet was born almost to the hour; it was the day before Lammas (Aug. 1), after dark, so that "Come Lammas-eve at night shall she be fourteen" (1.3.17). That reminds the Nurse that her own daughter, since deceased, was the same age as Juliet. It also reminds her of the day that Juliet was weaned, which was about three years later. And the day of Juliet's weaning was also memorable because there was an earthquake, which was eleven years ago. And then, At this point the Nurse forgets all about deciding the exact age of Juliet and rambles into a field of fond memories. She was sitting in the sun against the wall of the dove-house, and she had put wormwood (a bitter herbal extract) on her breast to teach little Juliet that her nursing days were over. What happened next was very cute: "When it [Juliet] did taste the wormwood on the nipple / Of my dug and felt it bitter, pretty fool, / To see it [Juliet] tetchy and fall out with the dug!" (1.3.32). To "fall out" meant then what it still means today, to have a quarrel with a friend. So Juliet's old friend, the Nurse's "dug," was suddenly bitter and "it" (Juliet -- only infants and toddlers were called "it") fussed and made faces at its old friend the dug.
Then, chattering on, the Nurse says, "Shake quoth the dove-house: 'twas no need, I trow, / To bid me trudge" (1.3.33-34). Probably she means that the earthquake shook the dove-house, letting her know that it was time for her "shake" (slang, meaning to leave quickly), but she didn't really need telling. What does this have to do with Juliet? Nothing, except it was part of the memorable day when Juliet was weaned, which was eleven years ago, which reminds her of another thing, which was that Juliet was walking very well by then, "For then she could stand alone; nay, by the rood, / She could have run and waddled all about" (1.3.36-37). And that reminds her of another cute story. Just the day before she was weaned, Juliet had fallen and bruised her forehead, and the Nurse's husband had picked her up and made a joke which three-year-old Juliet made even better:
"Yea," quoth he, "dost thou fall upon thy face?A woman would "fall backward" to have sex, but of course little Juliet doesn't know that, so when she says "Ay" it's hilarious in a truth-out-of-the-mouths-of-babes kind of way. The Nurse thinks the story is so funny she tells it twice, laughing and probably imitating the cute, innocent way the child said "Ay."
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit;
Wilt thou not, Jule?" and, by my holidame,
The pretty wretch left crying and said "Ay."
To see, now, how a jest shall come about!
I warrant, an I should live a thousand years,
I never should forget it: "Wilt thou not, Jule?" quoth he;
And, pretty fool, it stinted and said "Ay." (1.3.41-48)
Lady Capulet, on the other hand, is tired of listening to the Nurse talk and asks her to please shut up, but the Nurse is so wrapped up in her memory that she tells the punchline of the story another two times. Again Lady Capulet asks the the Nurse to stop, which she does, though not before saying to Juliet, "God mark thee to his grace! / Thou wast the prettiest babe that e'er I nursed: / An I might live to see thee married once, / I have my wish" (1.3.59-62). The Nurse's mention of marriage gives Juliet's mother the opportunity to say what is on her mind. She says, "Tell me, daughter Juliet, / How stands your disposition to be married?" (1.3.64-65). This must be quite a shock to Juliet. A minute before, the Nurse was going on and on about what a cute baby Juliet was, and Juliet was probably feeling that silly embarrassment that such talk usually produces. Under the circumstances, it's easy to understand Juliet's response: "It is an honor that I dream not of" (1.3.66). At this, the Nurse throws in a joke at her own expense: "An honor! were not I thine only nurse, / I would say thou hadst suck'd wisdom from thy teat" (1.3.67-68), meaning that Juliet is wise to call marriage an honor, so wise that the Nurse is tempted to say that Juliet got her wisdom when she nursed, but that couldn't be because the Nurse was her only nurse, and she is a fool.
Ignoring the Nurse, Lady Capulet pushes on. She tells her daughter it is time she thought of marriage. She points out (as Paris did to Capulet) that there are younger ladies in Verona who are already mothers, and that she became Juliet's mother at just about Juliet's age. Lady Capulet concludes, "Thus then in brief: / The valiant Paris seeks you for his love" (1.3.73-74). Juliet says nothing, perhaps because the Nurse doesn't give her a chance. The nurse sputters and searches for the words to say how handsome Paris is, then exclaims "why, he's a man of wax" (1.3.76). In other words, as perfect as a wax sculpture. And Lady Capulet praises Paris as the most perfect flower of Verona, then asks Juliet if she can love him. But without allowing Juliet a moment to answer, her mother tells her that Paris will be at the feast that night, and then goes into a sales pitch so elaborate that it sounds as if she had rehearsed it.
Comparing Paris' face to a book, Lady Capulet tells Juliet to "Read o'er the volume of young Paris' face, / And find delight writ there with beauty's pen; / Examine every married lineament [feature], / And see how one another lends content" (1.3.81-84). Juliet should look at Paris and be delighted in his beauty, then she should look again, seeing his lineaments as if he were married to her. When she does this, she will "see how one another lends content," that is, her happiness ("content") will increase because his beauty will make her want to marry him and marrying him will make him more beautiful. Lady Capulet adds, "And what obscured in this fair volume lies / Find written in the margent [margin] of his eyes" (1.3.85-86). In Shakespeare's time books were often printed with many explanatory comments in their margins. Lady Capulet is telling Juliet that if she has any doubts, one look into Paris' eyes will tell her that she will find love and happiness with him.
Using the same metaphor of a book, Lady Capulet speaks of the role that Juliet will have in the marriage: "This precious book of love, this unbound lover, / To beautify him, only lacks a cover" (1.3.87-88). Juliet will be the cover to the book of Paris, making him even more beautiful. Lady Capulet continues, "The fish lives in the sea, and 'tis much pride / For fair without the fair within to hide" (1.3.89-90). As natural as it is for the fish to live in the sea, it is natural for a beautiful exterior ("fair without") to enclose ("hide") a beautiful interior ("fair within"). And for a woman to be that beautiful exterior, "'tis much pride." Juliet will be proud to be Paris' wife because, Lady Capulet says, "That book in many's eyes doth share the glory, / That in gold clasps locks in the golden story" (1.3.91-92). Now the metaphor has shifted slightly; Paris will be the story which everyone admires and Juliet will be admired as the beautiful book which contains the story.
(In our day, Lady Capulet may seem hopelessly backwards, but she's only expressing a common idea, one which is not dead yet. Ask yourself, why do polls show that the wife of the President of the United States is always one of the most admired women in the country, even if she does nothing but smile?)
Concluding her speech to Juliet, Lady Capulet says, "So shall you share all that he doth possess, / By having him, making yourself no less" (1.3.93-94), and the Nurse cracks a bawdy joke: "No less! nay, bigger; women grow by men" (1.3.95). If Juliet's mother and nurse were expecting Juliet to jump at the chance to marry a rich, handsome man, they're probably disappointed; Juliet says nothing until her mother says, "Speak briefly, can you like of Paris' love?" (1.3.96). The order to "speak briefly" means that Lady Capulet wants a simple "yes or no" answer, but she doesn't get one. Juliet says, "I'll look to like, if looking liking move: / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly" (1.3.97-99). Lady Capulet's speech to Juliet started from the assumption that because Paris is good-looking, Juliet would be attracted to him, but Juliet seems to have her doubts. "Move" means "motivate" or "persuade," and Juliet seems to be questioning "if looking liking move." And what she says next also raises a question about her attitude. "Endart" means to shoot like a dart or arrow, so apparently Juliet is saying she won't look at Paris any more than her mother gives her consent to do so. But her mother has not only given consent for Juliet to look, but has urged her to look and fall in love, so why does Juliet say what she does? Maybe it's Juliet's way of saying "if you say so, I'll give it a try, but I'm not guaranteeing anything."
In any case, there's no time for further discussion. As Juliet is speaking, a servant rushes in to call Lady Capulet to the feast. In fact, she's already late. The guests have arrived, supper is on the table, and the servants in the pantry are cursing the Nurse for not being there to help out. Having delivered this message, the servant rushes out again, and Lady Capulet follows him, admonishing her daughter, "Juliet, the county stays" (1.3.104); she means that Paris is waiting for Juliet. And the Nurse urges Juliet, "Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days" (1.3.105). "To" means "leading to," so Juliet is again being urged to find love and happiness at the feast. As it turns out, she does so, but not with Paris.