Wells, Stanley. "Juliet's Nurse: The Uses of Inconsequentiality."
Shakespeare's Styles. Ed. Philip Edwards, Inga-Stina Ewbank, and G. K. Hunter. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1980. 51-66. Rptd. in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 197-214

Thesis: Wells' entire article concerns the nurse's famous long speech (Act1, Scene3) about Juliet's age. He is interested both in the speech's function within the play and its place in the development of Shakespeare's powers as a dramatist. The essay begins with a close examination of the Nurse's thought -- stream of consciousness, really -- and then moves on to Wells' main concerns.

Concerning the function of the speech within the play, Wells says that it is "irrelevant to the plot" (206), but puts "great stress on Juliet's age" (206). Also, the speech puts Juliet in perspective:

The Nurse's ramblings do indeed give us a sense of the past, and they do so in a particularly poignant context. The stage situation shows us a girl poised on the brink of womanhood. We have not met her before, and one function of the Nurse's speeches is to engage our sympathetic interest in the play's heroine. As the Nurse talks, her memories not only throw our minds back to the infancy of this girl, they also recall a prediction made at that time of how Juliet would react when she had 'more wit' and came 'to age'. The child who is talked about as an innocent infant is now before us, the subject of marriage plans. She retains the vulnerable innocence of the baby that 'stinted and said "Ay"', as we see in her reaction to the question 'How stands your dispositions to be married?' 'It is an honour that I dream not of', says Juliet. This is in naïve contrast to the sexuality of 'Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit", and it partakes of the infantile naïveté of Juliet's earlier response: 'Ay.' Thus the Nurse's delving into the past recalls an anecdote which looked forward to beyond, but only just beyond, the present in which she speaks. The temporal complexities of the situation are subtle and ironical.   (208)

Bottom Line: Despite many scholarly ramblings of his own, Wells has many useful things to say about the Nurse's ramblings.

   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 3 April 2002