When I discussed Juliet’s lines
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet,
I did note that they were actually a subtle proposal: she’s saying “promise me your love, and I’ll give up the name “Capulet”—that is, she’ll marry him. What I could have underlined is that this is a circumstance, very much in the newly engaged Juliet’s mind, in which the name changes and the person doesn’t; a perfect example, one would think, of the theory behind “What’s in a name?” so there is an even better reason for Juliet to utter the famous line than I said in my original post; it’s at the heart of her experience. No wonder she places so little importance in names.
Alas, as in the original discussion, other people take them far more seriously. It’s not just changing her name that is at stake, but changing it as a result of marriage—which means assuming a changed position in an enormous web of social relations. A married woman’s mind and body, her individual characteristics, have not changed, but her social characteristics couldn’t be more different. Marriage is an institution that changes women in some of the most radical ways possible in Western society.
Though Romeo is usually the dimmer of the star-crossed lovers, he gets it this time. Consider his astonishing statement to Tybalt:
And so, good Capulet, which name I tender
As dearly as mine own, be satisfied.
Romeo—a Montague!—holds “Capulet” dear because of the particular Capulet who just gave up her name for him. But as dearly as his own? How is Tybalt, of all people, even supposed to make sense of this? Not the most reflective character in the play, even if he learned of Juliet’s marriage he could not be expected to welcome Romeo into the family, to imagine he had changed because her name had changed.
It’s a pity Mercutio never found out about the marriage, or even about Juliet. If you’re inclined toward this sort of speculation, I can think of few juicier subjects than what would have happened if Mercutio and Juliet had met. The woman with the downright operatic soul and the lightning-tongued woman-hating trickster; what an amazing scene it could have been!
But that’s why Shakespeare didn’t write it; he knew it would have upended, if not upstaged, the rest of the play. I’d even say that one reason he killed off Mercutio was precisely to prevent him from encountering Juliet. Which leaves it for us to imagine. It’s certainly more interesting than the old saw “How many children had Lady Macbeth?”
Coming soon! The wretched Friar Laurence.