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Level 13

The Nurse and other minor characters


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GREGORY: The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.
[Act 1, scene 1] Shakespeare uses the servants to foreground the idea that violence from the nobles has been taken up by the lowly peasants of the house and that such violence isn't noble or worthwhile. The noun "quarrel" also reinforces the petty nature of the squable.
SAMPSON: I will bite my thumb at them; which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it.
[Act 1, scene 1] Like Gregory, Shakespeare uses Sampson to emphasise the petty, childish origins of the "new mutiny"; neither servant is willing to start the fight and risk getting in trouble. This is 'squaring up' and posturing, not real threat.
NURSE: Faith, I can tell her age unto an hour. [...] Thou wast the prettiest babe that e'er I nursed: / An I might live to see thee married once, / I have my wish.
[Act 1, scene 3] Shakespeare establishes the close bond between Juliet and her Nurse, who has raised her as a surrogate daughter (including breast-feeding her) from her first moments. This goes a long way towards explaining why the Nurse would hold Juliet's personal happiness over the loyalty she owes to the Capulet household. There's also a potential note of humour here where the nurse knows more accurately Juliet's age than her mother.
NURSE: Hie you to church; I must another way, / To fetch a ladder, by the which your love / Must climb a bird's nest soon when it is dark
[Act 2, scene 5] Shakespeare has the nurse act as facilitator to the impending marriage of Romeo and Juliet, but also protecting Juliet by ensuring that she has a wedding night with Romeo. According to their Catholic Christian faith - which doesn't recognise divorce - once the couple have consummated (had sex), the marriage cannot be annulled (cancelled), so the nurse is off to "fetch a ladder" to ensure Juliet's safety by having her securely married to Romeo.
NURSE: since the case so stands as now it doth, / I think it best you married with the county.
[Act 3, scene 5] Shakespeare has the Nurse suggest that, practically, it's probably sensible to marry Paris, as Romeo is in exhile and likely never to return without being killed. As the marriage is secret, it's arguably possible, but also a grave sin in Christianity to have mutliple partners. The Nurse is characterised as caring here but also pragmatic - she's rather see Juliet safe and secure than risk her being cast out.
MONTAGUE: Alas, my liege, my wife is dead to-night; / Grief of my son's exile hath stopp'd her breath
[Act 5, scene 3] Shakespeare makes it clear that every household has been affected by the tragedy, with Lady Montague dead through grief.