Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Capturing Capulet

In the West Allis Players’ production of “Romeo and Juliet,” I have the role of Capulet, Juliet’s father, best remembered for his tyrannical insistence that Juliet marry Count Paris two days after her (unbeknownst to him) secret wedding to Romeo. In a rehearsal session discussing motivation for this sudden switch on the part of Capulet,  who had previously suggested Paris wait two years before a wedding, I jokingly suggested that, following the deaths of Tybalt and Mercutio,  perhaps Capulet had decided that eligible young men were becoming thin on the ground, and he should secure Paris as a son-in-law before something else happened. This set me thinking more deeply about the character.
I consider that both Capulet and his rival, Montague, although “dignified” are commoners, and probably of the merchant class.

Shakespeare seems to have had the opinion that Italian merchants were hard men. We see pretty  “cutthroat” business practices in “The Merchant of Venice.  In “The Taming of the Shrew,” the merchant Gremio has already mused on killing his rival for the hand of Bianca (“And may not young men die as well as old?”), and, when that rival suggests his father might retire and give him control of the family business, replies, “Your father were a fool to give thee all, and in his waning age, set foot under thy table. … An old Italian fox is not so kind, my boy.” When the said father, Vincentio, appears, he proves to have a violent temper and small sense of humor.  Capulet is of this type.

It is my theory that he’s had a lot of grief in his life to help harden him. He is a survivor of the generational feud, and seems to have buried a number of children (“The earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she.”), and probably at least one prior wife.  Lady Capulet says, “I was thy mother much upon these years that thou are now a maid,” i.e., fourteen, which means that Juliet was her eldest child. The age difference between her, who would be twenty-eight at the time of the play, and her husband, referred to as “Old” Capulet, makes it very probable that she’s a second wife and that Capulet had lost an entire first family to the accidents of life, childbirth (Paris: “Younger than she are happy mothers made.” Capulet: “And too soon marred are those so early made.”) and the deadly feud.

As head of household, Capulet is used to ruling the roost and confident he can master any situation.  When Lady Capulet expresses doubts about the sudden wedding plans, he blows them off: “Tush, all things shall be well, I warrant thee.”  In the party scene, he quells the headstrong Tybalt with a few phrases.  He’s definitely not used to being thwarted. When Juliet refuses to marry Paris, he threatens to disown her in a terrifying rage that leaves Juliet, her nurse, and her mother emotionally wrecked.

For all that, Capulet does care for his daughter.  Paris is a brilliant match: young, handsome, valiant, wealthy in his own right, a nobleman and cousin to the Prince of the city; yet Capulet is initially willing to make Paris wait two years to wed her.  For lack of a better, we must accept that his motivation for moving up the wedding is due to his concern over what he sees as Juliet’s intemperate grief over the death of Tybalt. (Capulet takes Tybalt’s death quite philosophically. Even Lady Capulet, whose blood kin he was, chides Juliet for trying to “wash him out of his grave with tears.”)  When Juliet, following Friar Lawrence’s crack-brained plan, seems to capitulate and beg his pardon, he’s more than ready to give it without suspicion.

Of course, any actor wants his character to be perceived by the audience as something more than just a walking plot device, but I hope that some of this groundwork came through in our production.  Judging by the positive feedback I have received from friends who saw it, I think it may have.

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Tags: shakespeare theatre

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