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Essay: How minor characters are used by Shakespeare to portray a message

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Shakespeare uses his perspective on situations, e.g. the way minor characters are used in Romeo & Juliet and Othello to illustrate the way in which these characters behave and what role they have on the play overall and how Shakespeare has used them to portray a message. This essay will focus on comparing the different roles, minor characters play in the two texts. The character of the nurse in Romeo & Juliet has the chief function in the play as a messenger for Romeo and Juliet. In this way the Nurse plays a role in driving the plot towards its tragic ending. The character of the nurse who acts as a parent figure towards Juliet also shows the distant relationships between parents and their children at the time of the play. On the other hand, in Othello, the characters of Emelia and Desdemona are characters used by Shakespere and may not have an enormous role to play. The dominant theme of love and relationships shines through both plays. The focus of this essay will be comparing the different roles, minor characters have in the texts.

In Act 1 Scene 3, of Shakespere’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’ we learn that the nurse has a significant role to play and increases in importance as the play progresses. Shakespeare provides all the background information needed for this, for example, he provides excellent characterisation of the Nurse as having a close relationship with Juliet. The relationship between Juliet and her parents is more distant as a result. The nurse is also a ‘device’ used by the playwright that helps to bring the two star cross’d lovers together making her have a very dramatic function within the play. The distant relationship between Juliet and her parents is shown in – “Madam, I am here. What is your will?” – This shows that Juliet talks to her mother like there is a lack of a close relationship. The play ‘Romeo & Juliet’ argues that the minor characters like the nurse are vital in how the play unfolds and what events take place. On the other hand, ‘Othello’ suggests that Emilia and Desdemona are less vital within their plays as minor characters. The reason these two characters could be regarded as minor is that they are simply for Iago and Othello, to feel empowered. For example, when Emilia says, “What he will do with it, Heaven knows, not I”, it suggests that she isn’t as close to Iago as the audience might expect and instead is used as a sexual object for Iago. At the point in the play where Juliet says to her mother “I will not marry yet and when I do, I swear it shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate, rather than Paris.” Shakespeare makes use of dramatic irony to underline the fact that Juliet is lying to her mother making their relationship even more distant.

Furthermore, the Nurse feels that Romeo is the best option for Juliet and helps her get what she desires because she understands that Juliet adores him. For example, the Nurse says she’ll “fetch a ladder” for Romeo to use so he can climb up to spend his wedding night with Juliet, Shakespeare cleverly manages to turn the Nurses description of Romeo “climbing” the ladder into Juliet’s “bird’s nest” into an image of the two love birds. Furthermore, The close relationship between Juliet and the Nurse rather than her parents continues throughout the scene, “Faith, I can tell her age unto an hour.” – This appears to show that the nurse knows exactly how old Juliet is which shows that she has known her since she was born and as a result, further highlights their closeness. It is worth noting here that the word “faith” is another reference to the Elizabethan era backdrop against which the play is set, as many people were religious. The nurse has known Juliet long enough to remember when she was a baby, which is why their relationship has developed, to the point of a ’motherly’ relationship being formed. There is evidence that suggests Friar Lawrence wanted Romeo and Juliet to get married for his own gratification. As a result, he brings the two ‘star-crossed lovers’ together to grant peace for himself and ignores the deeper meaning and feelings of the characters. He says – “So smile the heavens upon this holy act, That after-hours with sorrow chide us not.” This implies that Friar Lawrence wants the two to get married and hopes that the decision does not cause deep regret. Also, the nurse is another reference to the context of the play, in that upper class women of the time didn’t look after their own children, but employed nurses to feed their children.

On the contrary, there is evidence to prove that the character of Iago in ‘Othello’ has a sensational manipulative capacity whereby he controls Emilia’s activities as well as other characters in the play. Additionally his character exhibits a manipulative personality. Also, Desdemona and Emilia are the two fundamental female characters in Shakespeare’s Othello but are also fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. Although they are both trustworthy to their husbands, a sharp contrast between these women can be made with regard to how innocent Desdemona is, in comparison to Emilia’s experience and realism. “If you say so, I hope you will not kill me.” Shakespeare shows that even faced with death, Desdemona will accept Othello’s actions and die as he pleases. This brings home the idea od context and how women had little say in situations at the time. Although Iago is of villainous nature, Emilia realises the need to respect him. Emilia’s loyalty to her husband even begins to conflict with her many other traits and involves other characters. This takes place when she tells a lie in regards to the location of the handkerchief. Iago has seen Othello’s inclination to uncertainty and eruption, yet not even Iago envisioned Othello would go as far into desire as he did. Desire powers Othello’s brain so firmly on one thought, for example the possibility that Desdemona has sold out him with Cassio, this foreshadows Othello’s reason and good judgment. Up to the minute he kills Desdemona, Othello’s developing envy incenses him past the point of understanding. In a different way, in Romeo & Juliet, the nurse does everything she can to ensure Juliet is happy, “Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days”, meaning that Juliet should enjoy the physical side of marriage as she is aware how much Juliet loves Romeo and cares a lot about her wellbeing.

In Conclusion, Shakespeare has successfully communicated the strong relationship between Juliet and the Nurse as well as Othello and Desdemona. The minor characters discussed, all play a role whether it be vital or not, the arguments made suggest that the Nurse and Friar Lawrence are more ‘visible’ minor characters. The underlying themes of love and affection, come through primarily between Romeo & Juliet. They play a major role in bringing Romeo & Juliet together and to their fates. The character of Othello gets to a sensational stage of angerment where a large number of the characters die. There is tragedy in these plays because the Nurse and Juliet have a unique closeness and Juliet dies at the end of the play causing this to shatter. Through these plays, Shakespere has shared his perspective whilst also using the characters as devices to portray the key themes, such as “love & relationships” and “justice & revenge” which shine through the characters.


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