Years ago a friend of mine was cast as the Nurse in a university production of Romeo and Juliet. She got the following letter from Alvina Krause (Northwestern University acting teacher who created the three-year acting course at NU over her tenure from 1930-1963.)
You love attention--Oh dear, you've walked so far! Ouch! Your feet hurt--Oo--your knees. Ooohh--your spine--Ah, there's a chair--in the sun--you can't just plop in it in the presence of your mistress--oh--oh your shoulders--nice chair, oh she's taking me to it, oh oh won't it be wonderful to sink down on it--fool her, play the game, you will never get down to it, your back, oh, your back, oh, easy easy my spine--rub it, higher, ummmm, wonderful, play the game--lower, higher--oh, the sun, I like to be in the sun, move a little, purr like a cat, smell--what? stew? beef? What's for dinner--taste it, lick your lips, how will you get a nice big helping, how will you get a nice spot by the fire--work Juliet, have to work her--place in the sun, a nice chunk of meat, a snooze by the fire--work her, tell her what she likes, hold back, a little more attention, tell her a little more--and so forth...
The nurse is perfectly hale and hearty, strong--she just doesn't want to work any more, wants her place in the sun, curls up like a cat and purrs--where Juliet and Romeo are all youth and love, she is old age thinking only of comfort and food--licks her chops, smacks her lips when thinking of food, feels in her bones the comfort of a chair before she snuggles into it. Her fingers itch at the thought of money--she played Romeo and his friends for money before she gave Juliet's letter--She loves attention, care, takes it for granted, but knows she will get more if she plays for it, holds back her message while she sniffs the air, smacks her lips, rubs her knees, half goes asleep--she is wonderful--She cries over Juliet's dead body, but that's that, she has to sit down, fall asleep--mustn't be caught in the plot, better fall asleep--so tired, so sad, better fall asleep, moan a little, talk a little, mustn't be involved--She is great--be a nice house cat, get attention, love it--
Just couldn't resist sharing my thoughts with you--
Every family has an old grandmother or a fat old aunt who is jolly and who loves playing with the kids and teasing them, but whose real attention is on finding the most comfortable chair, on getting the favorite drumstick from the turkey, who loves the attention of her family as they make sure she's cool enough, comfortable enough, has her glass of iced tea filled, etc.
What I appreciate about this letter is the subtle but significant shift from convention it suggests in understanding the nurse. Most interpretations I have seen create a nurse whose essential driving force is her love of Juliet. Even the teasing and the playing of Juliet is done for Juliet, through love of Juliet.
This letter suggests that while the nurse may very well like Juliet, her essential driving force is herself, her need of comfort and pampering in her old age. And thus constituted, she can take her place with the other adults in the play--parents, government, religious advisor--in dramatizing the essential theme of the play: the conflict between the generations over what's important about living, resulting here in tragedy.