David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET: A Retelling in Prose — Act 1, Scenes 2-3

 — 1.2 —

In his mansion, Old Capulet was planning a party, one that he held annually. He also was hosting Count Paris. A relative of the Prince, Paris would be an important political ally if he would marry Juliet, Old Capulet’s daughter. Paris had come to Old Capulet to see about arranging that marriage.

Old Capulet said to Paris, “I believe that the upcoming days will be peaceful. If I fight, I die. If Old Montague fights, he dies. With such a penalty over our heads, and with Montague and I being so old, it should not be hard for us to keep the peace.”

“Both of you are honorable men of good reputation, and it is a pity that you have feuded,” Paris said. “But will you allow me to marry your daughter, Juliet?”

“I can say only what I have said before,” Old Capulet said. “My daughter is yet a stranger in the world — she is not yet fourteen years old. She will have to be sixteen before I can think of allowing her to get married.”

Paris replied, “Younger than she are happy mothers made.”

Thinking of his much younger wife, Old Capulet said, “And too soon marred are those so early made mothers. All of my other children are dead and buried; Juliet is my only child who is left alive. In her I place my hopes. But woo her, Paris, and win her heart. My consent to the marriage is only part of what is needed. If she agrees to the marriage, I will gladly give my consent.

“Today I am giving a party, one I hold each year. I have invited many guests whom I love, and I invite you to be a welcomed guest. Come to my house tonight. You will see young girls who will seem to be stars that walk on the Earth and light up the night sky from below. After the cold winter come warm April and many beautiful flowers. The young girls you see at my party tonight are as beautiful as April flowers — look at all of them and talk to all of them. Fall in love with the one whom you think most deserves your love. That one may be my daughter, or perhaps you will prefer another girl.”

To a servant, Old Capulet gave a paper, saying, “Go throughout Verona and invite to my party tonight the people whose names are written on this paper. Tell them that I look forward to seeing them.”

To Paris, Old Capulet said, “Come with me.”

Old Capulet and Paris left the room, and the servant said, “Find the people whose names are written here! How can I do that? I can’t read! I have been told that the fisherman should use his pencil, and I have been told that the painter should use his net. I think that’s what I’ve been told, but it doesn’t sound quite right. But how can I use this piece of paper when I can’t read! I must find an educated person.”

Old Capulet had hired extra servants for the feast and dance, and so he did not know that this servant could not read.

The illiterate servant walked out into the street and saw Romeo and Benvolio. He did not recognize them, but they looked as if they could read and so he said, “Just the people I need!”

Benvolio said to Romeo, “To put out one fire, firefighters sometimes start another fire. Seeing the pain of another person sometimes lessens one’s own pain. One evil is sometimes conquered by another evil. Your eyes have been poisoned by the woman you love; to cure that poison, infect your eyes with the poison of the sight of another beautiful woman.”

“Why not simply use aloe vera?” Romeo asked.

“Use aloe vera for what?” Benvolio asked.

“For skinned knees.”

“But I’m not talking about skinned knees!”

“You certainly aren’t talking about anything I am interested in listening to. Your kinds of remedies have nothing to do with my lovesickness.”

Romeo saw the servant eagerly looking at him and asked, “May I help you?”

The servant asked, “Can you read?”

“I can read my own future — I will continue to be miserable.”

“That’s not the kind of reading I mean, sir. Can you read something that is written on a piece of paper?”

“Yes, if what is written is a language that I can read.”

“You are not giving me a strictly straight answer, so I will assume that you do not want to help me,” the servant said, beginning to turn away.

“Wait. Don’t go. I have been joking with you. I really can read.”

The servant handed Romeo the piece of paper and Romeo read the list out loud:

“Signor Martino and his wife and daughters.

“Count Anselm and his beauteous sisters.

“The lady widow of Vitruvio.

“Signor Placentio and his lovely nieces.

“Mercutio and his brother Valentine.

“My uncle Capulet, and his wife and daughters.

“My fair niece Rosaline.

“Livia.

“Signor Valentio and his cousin Tybalt.

“Lucio and the lively Helena.”

Romeo said to the servant, “This is a list of well-known people in the city. Mercutio is a friend of mine, and I have seen Rosaline. What is the list for, if you don’t mind my asking?”

“They are coming up.”

“Up where.”

“To my master’s house, for supper.”

“Whose house?”

“My master’s.”

“I had hoped for more information than that. Apparently, I was not clear enough when I asked my question.”

“I have been joking with you,” the servant said. “Now I will tell you what you want to know. My master is the great and rich Old Capulet, and if you and your friend are not Montagues, feel free to crash the party and drink some wine. Farewell, and God bless.”

The servant left to invite to the party all the people named in the list.

Romeo and Benvolio had been talking, and Romeo had confessed that the woman he loved was Rosaline, whose name appeared on the list of guests to be invited to the Capulet party.

Benvolio said, “The beautiful Rosaline, whom you say you love, will be at the Capulet party. So will many beautiful women of Verona. Go to the party with me, and if you look with unbiased eyes and compare Rosaline’s face with some faces that I shall show you, I will make you think that your swan whom you think is beautiful is actually as ugly as a crow.”

“My eyes worship Rosaline, and if ever my eyes would falsely regard any woman as being more beautiful than she, then let my tears turn into fires,” Romeo said. “My eyes have often drowned in tears and yet they live, but if ever my eyes regard any woman as being more beautiful than Rosaline, then they are clearly heretics and liars and so should be burnt. Can anyone be fairer than Rosaline? No. Since the creation of the world, the Sun, which sees all, has seen none more beautiful than she.”

“Come on,” Benvolio said. “When you saw Rosaline and decided that she was beautiful, she was the only woman present. Your eyes had no one to compare her to. Come to the party and compare Rosaline with some women I shall show you, and you won’t think Rosaline is as beautiful as you think she is now.”

“I will go to the party with you,” Romeo said, “but not to look at any women you seek to show me. I will go to the party so that I can look at Rosaline.”

 — 1.3 —

In a room in Old Capulet’s mansion, Mrs. Capulet and the Nurse were sitting and talking.

“Nurse, where’s my daughter? Call her to come to me.”

“By my virginity when I was only twelve years old,” the Nurse said, “I swear that I have already told her to come here.”

The Nurse called, “Lamb! Ladybird!”

Then she said to herself, “Good Heavens! Where is that girl?”

She called again, “Juliet!”

Juliet entered the room and said to the Nurse, “Here I am. What do you want?”

“Your mother wants to talk to you,” the Nurse said.

“Here I am, Mother. What do you want?”

“We need to talk about something important,” Mrs. Capulet said. “Nurse, step outside for a while. No, wait. Stay here. You should hear what I have to say. You know that Juliet is growing up.”

“I can tell her age unto an hour,” the Nurse said.

“She still is not yet fourteen years old,” Mrs. Capulet said.

“I would stake as a wager fourteen of my teeth — but to my sorrow, I have only four teeth left — that she is not yet fourteen,” the Nurse said. “How long is it now to Lammas-tide — the first of August?”

“A fortnight and odd days,” Mrs. Capulet replied.

“Even or odd, of all days in the year, on Lammas-eve at night Juliet will be fourteen years old,” the Nurse said. “My daughter — God bless Susan’s soul — and Juliet were born on the same day. Susan is with God. She was too good for me. But on Lammas-eve at night Juliet shall be fourteen years old. I remember her infancy and childhood well. It has been eleven years since the earthquake and so eleven years since she was weaned. I was her wet-nurse and fed her Susan’s milk, and on the day of the earthquake I put wormwood on my nipple to make it bitter. You and your husband were then away visiting the city of Mantua. I was sitting with Juliet in the Sun under the dove-house wall. My memory is excellent. Juliet started to suck at my breast, but when she discovered that the nipple was bitter, she grew irritable. That is when the earthquake struck and the dove-house shook. That is the day that my duties as Juliet’s wet-nurse ended. That was eleven years ago, and Juliet was able to stand by herself. Actually, she was able to run and walk by herself, too. The day before the earthquake, she was running and fell forward and cut her forehead. My husband — God bless his soul — said to her, ‘Juliet, you fell forward upon your face, didn’t you? But someday, after you reach puberty, you will fall backward and lie on your back, won’t you, Juliet?’ And I swear that pretty Juliet stopped crying and said, ‘Yes, I will.’”

Mrs. Capulet blushed, knowing that the joke was that Juliet would lie on her back with her knees in the air and her legs parted — and Juliet would not be alone.

The Nurse continued, “It was the funniest thing. If I live to be a thousand years old, I will not forget it. ‘Won’t you fall backward, Juliet?’ my husband asked her. And pretty Juliet stopped crying and said, ‘Yes, I will.’”

“No more of this talk,” Mrs. Capulet said. “Please be quiet.”

“Yes, I will be quiet,” the Nurse said. “But I cannot stop myself from laughing. Pretty Juliet stopped crying and said, ‘Yes, I will fall backward,’ although she had a bump on her forehead from the fall — a bump as big as one of the balls of a rooster. Juliet fell, and she cried, and my husband said to her, ‘You fell forward upon your face, didn’t you, Juliet? But one day you will fall backward and lie on your back, won’t you, Juliet?’ and Juliet stopped crying and said, ‘Yes.’”

Juliet was embarrassed because her mother was present, but if her mother had not been present, she would have laughed.

Juliet said, “Please stop telling that story, Nurse.”

Having told it four times, the Nurse said, “I am done telling the story. You were the prettiest baby I ever nursed, and I hope that I live long enough to see you married.”

“That is exactly what I want to talk about,” Mrs. Capulet said. “Juliet, what do you think about getting married?”

Juliet replied, “It is an honor that I have never dreamed about.”

“An honor,” the Nurse said. She thought, Yes, if Juliet gets married, her husband will be on her.

The Nurse said out loud, “That is a wise remark. I would say that you sucked wisdom from my nipples, but that would be complimenting myself as well as you.”

Mrs. Capulet said to Juliet, “Think about marriage now. Here in Verona, many ladies of esteem younger than you are already mothers. I myself was a mother when I was your age. Let me tell you straight out that the valiant Paris wishes to marry you.”

The Nurse said, “Paris really is a man, Juliet, and such a man! His figure is as perfect as if he were a sculpture.”

“Speaking poetically,” Mrs. Capulet said, “summertime in Verona has not such a flower as Paris.”

“True,” the Nurse said, “Paris is a flower.”

“What do you say, Juliet?” Mrs. Capulet asked. “Do you think you can love Paris? He will attend our party tonight. Look him over carefully. I think you will be pleased by what you see. If he were a book, a pen of beauty would have written it. Examine his features and see how they work together to create a harmonious whole — he is a handsome man. Continue your examination by looking into his eyes. He will make a handsome groom — he lacks only a beautiful bride. A man needs a woman to be complete. He has handsomeness outside and virtues inside, and with you as his wife, he will be complete. As the wife of such a man, you shall share all his virtues and his reputation. Speaking poetically, by having him as your husband, you will make yourself no less.”

The Nurse joked, “Juliet, you will certainly be no less. Women grow by men — they become pregnant!”

“Tell me, Juliet,” Mrs. Capulet said. “Can you learn to return Paris’ love?”

“I will look at him and see if I like him,” Juliet said. “I certainly will not do anything that you do not want me to do.”

A servant entered the room and said to Mrs. Capulet, “The guests have arrived and dinner is supposed to be ready. People are asking for you and for Juliet. Servants in the pantry are cursing the Nurse because she is not there to help. Everything is a mess right now, and I have to go back and serve the food. I beg you, come with me and restore order.”

“We will go with you,” Mrs. Capulet said.

She said to Juliet, “Paris is here now, and he wants you to approve of him as a groom.”

The Nurse said, “Juliet, seek happy nights to happy days. A honeymoon has many happy nights.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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