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The Nurse & Comic Relief in Romeo and Juliet

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  • 0:04 Romeo & Juliet
  • 0:32 How Tension Works
  • 1:18 Nurse as Comic Relief
  • 3:02 A Different Side of Nurse
  • 4:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Monica Sedore

Monica holds a master's degree and teaches 11th grade English. Previously, she has taught first-year writing at the collegiate level and worked extensively in writing centers.

Comic relief is not often a term associated with the tragedy 'Romeo and Juliet.' However, this lesson discusses Nurse's role in relieving the tension created by the lovers in the play.

Romeo & Juliet

Romeo and Juliet is perhaps the most famous of William Shakespeare's plays from the 16th century. The story centers around 'a pair of star-crossed lovers,' Juliet, a Capulet, and Romeo, a Montague, whose families have been at war with one another for as long as anyone can remember. In spite of the play ending tragically with the lovers' deaths, one bright spot exists among all the violence and grief: Juliet's Nurse.

How Tension Works

Most enduring stories and plays involve tension or suspense. To build tension in a play requires that the writer release the tension at times. If the audience is on the edge of their seats with worry the entire time, the tragic ending might come off as too expected and prove less powerful. By releasing the tension throughout the story, the worry and anxiety that Romeo and Juliet will meet a fateful end grows at a steadier pace. A good way of thinking about this tension building is a staircase: each stair is higher than the last; some stairs provide a place of rest before one moves on to the next. Nurse provides one of these plateaus, a flat space along the incline in which the tension does not increase and the audience can relax.

Nurse as Comic Relief

Though the only name given to her is simply 'Nurse,' the character provides much-needed comic relief for both Juliet and the audience. At times, she also helps Romeo through his relationship with Juliet. Her role is that of a caregiver for Juliet, who 'wast the prettiest babe that e'er I nursed.' One of Nurse's most comical moments occurs after she carries a message to Romeo about his impending marriage to Juliet. Upon Nurse's return to the Capulet mansion in Act 2, Scene 5, Juliet begs her for news from Romeo, and Nurse responds:

Lord, how my head aches! what a head have I!

It beats as it would fall in twenty pieces.

My back o' t' other side,--O, my back, my back!

Beshrew your heart for sending me about,

To catch my death with jaunting up and down!

JULIET

I' faith, I am sorry that thou art not well.

Sweet, sweet, sweet nurse, tell me, what says my love?

NURSE

Your love says, like an honest gentleman, and a

courteous, and a kind, and a handsome, and, I

warrant, a virtuous,--Where is your mother?

JULIET

Where is my mother! why, she is within;

Where should she be? How oddly thou repliest!

'Your love says, like an honest gentleman,

Where is your mother?'(lines 51-61)

Nurse's unexpected reply serves to draw the tension away from Romeo's reply and onto the interaction between Juliet and her caretaker. The Nurse highlights how tired she feels, lightening the mood on stage. Her dialogue hopefully draws laughter from the audience, which in turn, allows them to relax from the building tension in the story line.

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