David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET — Act 1, Scenes 4-5

 — 1.4 —

On a street of Verona, Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, and five or six other people wearing masks and some people holding torches to provide light were heading to Old Capulet’s party. Mercutio was neither a Montague nor a Capulet, but he was a friend to Romeo and Benvolio and other Montagues. He was also related to Prince Escalus.

“When we arrive at the party, should we talk to Old Capulet and introduce ourselves, or should we simply crash the party?” Romeo asked.

“We need not say anything,” Benvolio said. “Wordy introductions are out of fashion. We need not draw attention to ourselves. We certainly aren’t going to blindfold one of ourselves like Cupid, arm him with a bow, and scare all the ladies like a scarecrow scares crows. We don’t need such ostentatious costumes, and we don’t need any memorized complimentary speeches. We will simply crash the party anonymously and let them judge us as they will. We will dance a dance, and then we will be gone.”

“Let me hold a torch,” Romeo said. “I am not in the mood for dancing.”

“No, good friend Romeo,” Mercutio said. “We must watch you dance.”

“You would not enjoy the sight,” Romeo replied. “You, Mercutio, have dancing shoes with nimble soles. I have a soul of lead that weighs me down so I cannot dance.”

“You are a lover,” Mercutio said. “You can easily borrow Cupid’s wings. With them you can dance lighter than a non-lover.”

“Not so,” Romeo said. “I am so wounded by Cupid’s arrow that I cannot soar with his light feathers. Because I am so wounded, I cannot leap in a dance. Under love’s heavy burden, I sink.”

“By sinking, you drag down love,” Mercutio said. “Love is so tender that it ought not to be treated like that.”

“Is love tender?” Romeo asked. “Love treats me roughly, rudely, and boisterously, and it pricks like a thorn.”

“If love is rough with you, then you should be rough with love,” Mercutio, who regarded sex as a joke, said. “If love pricks you, then use your prick to lay down your love and be satisfied.”

They had arrived at Old Capulet’s mansion. Mercutio shouted, “Someone, give me a mask to put my face in. Give me a new face for my old face. And make the new face ugly. What do I care if people look at me and think that my face is deformed?”

Someone handed Mercutio an ugly mask. He looked at it and said, “Here are the overhanging beetle brows that shall make me look deformed!”

Benvolio said, “Let’s knock and go in. As soon as we are in, let all of us begin dancing.”

“Give me a torch to hold,” Romeo said. “Let people who are light of heart do the dancing. If I hold a torch and am an onlooker only, I probably won’t get in trouble. I am not in the mood for dancing, and so I won’t dance. I am done with dancing.”

“Done with dancing?” Mercutio said. “Dun is the color of a mouse, and now we should be quiet like a mouse. We should stop talking and go in to the party and start dancing. If you are dull-colored and dun, we will pick you up out of the mire caused by your lovesickness — that mire in which you are up to your ears. Come on, we need to go in to the party. We are wasting light.”

“No, we aren’t. It’s night,” Romeo said.

“Please,” Mercutio said. “We are wasting the light cast by our torches by not going in to the brightly lit party. It is like lighting a lamp on a bright summer day when the lamp is not needed. Don’t think so literally. Usually, you are a wit.”

“We mean well by going to this party,” Romeo said, “but we are not showing wit or intelligence by so going.”

“Why not?” Mercutio asked.

“I dreamt a dream tonight.”

“And so did I.”

“What was your dream?”

“That dreamers often lie.”

“In bed asleep, while they do dream about true things,” Romeo, who could be witty, said.

Mercutio, as was common with him, let his imagination run free: “Oh, then, I see Queen Mab has been with you. She is the fairies’ midwife, and she is no bigger than the agate-stone on a ring on the forefinger of an alderman. She rides in a wagon drawn by a team of tiny insects across men’s noses as they sleep. The spokes of the wheels of her wagon are made from spiders’ long legs. Covering her wagon are the wings of grasshoppers. The traces used by the insects to draw her wagon are made from the webs of spiders. The collars that go around the necks of the insects are made of moonbeams. Her whip handle is made from a cricket’s bone, and the lash of her whip is made from a fine filament. Her wagoner is a small grey-coated gnat that is not as big as a round little worm touched by the lazy finger of a maiden. Her chariot is the shell of a hazelnut, and it was manufactured by a carpenter squirrel or an old grub, which for ages have made the coaches of fairies.”

Mercutio’s vision gradually grew darker: “And in this carriage Queen Mab gallops night by night through the brains of lovers, and then they dream of love. She gallops over the knees of courtiers, and then they dream of curtsies. She gallops over the fingers of lawyers, and then they dream of lawyers’ fees. She gallops night by night over the lips of ladies, who dream of kisses. Queen Mab blisters those lips because they smell of candy. Sometimes she gallops over the nose of a courtier, and then he dreams of smelling out a lawsuit. Sometimes she takes the tail of a tithe-pig — a gift to support a priest — and she uses it to tickle the nose of a parson, and then he dreams of money and wealth.”

And then Mercutio’s vision became very dark: “And in this carriage Queen Mab sometimes drives over the neck of a soldier, and then he dreams of cutting foreign throats, of breaking through defensive walls, of ambushes, of Spanish swords, and of drunkenness. She drums in his ear and he wakes up. Frightened, he prays and makes vows to God, and then he goes back to sleep. She is that very Queen Mab who makes matted the manes of horses in the night, and tangles their hairs in foul elflocks that, once untangled, are harbingers of misfortune. Queen Mab is the hag who sends dreams that teach maidens to lie on their backs and screw and get pregnant and carry children like women of good carriage. Queen Mab is she who —”

Alarmed by Mercutio’s wildness, Romeo touched him gently on the arm and said, “Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! Be quiet now. You are talking of nothing.”

As if he were coming out of a trance, Mercutio blinked himself into everyday consciousness and said, “True, I talk of dreams, which are the children of an idle brain and are born of nothing but vain fantasy that is as thin of substance as the air and that is more unconstant than the wind, which now blows toward the frozen bosom of the north, but then becomes angry and blows toward the dew-dropping south.”

“We are being blown off our course by the wind you talk of,” Benvolio said. “We are supposed to be attending a party. By now, everyone has eaten. Soon, people will start leaving the party and going home.”

Romeo thought, Benvolio worries about getting to the party too late. I worry about getting there too early. I worry that an uncaring fate and the uncaring stars will set something in motion at this party that shall end with my all-too-early death. But let who or whatever has the steerage of my course direct my sail!

Romeo said out loud, “Let’s go party-crashing, friends!”

Benvolio said to a drummer, “Begin drumming,” and all marched into the mansion of Old Capulet.

 — 1.5 —

Inside Old Capulet’s mansion, musicians played. Some servants were busy cleaning up the great chamber after the dinner.

A servant asked, “Where’s Potpan? Why isn’t he helping us to carry dirty dishes away from the table? How can he call himself a server? He isn’t scraping any dishes and washing them!”

A second servant said, “When almost everyone forgets to do their work, and it lies in the hands of only a couple of workers to do all the work, then it is a foul thing — and the good workers’ hands are foul with the work of scraping dirty plates.”

The first servant said, “Let’s carry out of the dining room the folding chairs and movable cupboard and the silver dishes and the silverware. Please, save me a piece of marchpane — I love sugar and almonds. And please, tell the porter to let in Susan Grindstone and Nell. Our master is having a party, and we have a party of our own planned.”

The first servant then called, “Anthony and Potpan!”

Anthony and Potpan arrived.

Anthony asked, “What do you want?”

“Help is needed in the great chamber,” the first server said. “They have been asking for your help for a long time.”

Potpan said, “We cannot be here and there, too. Be cheerful, boys; work hard and quickly, and then we will have time for our party.”

In the great chamber, Old Capulet invited guests and maskers to dance. Juliet was nearby.

Wearing masks and not easily recognized, Romeo and his friends entered the great chamber.

Old Capulet said, “Welcome, gentlemen! Ladies who are not plagued with painful corns on their feet will be happy to dance with you. Ladies, none of you will dare not to dance, now! Any lady who does not dance will — I will tell everybody — have corns on her feet. Welcome, gentlemen! I have seen the day when I have worn a mask and would whisper sweet nothings in a fair lady’s ear, but for me those days are gone. You are welcome, gentlemen! Musicians, play! Clear the hall. Dance, everyone! Foot it, girls!”

Mercutio, Benvolio, and others in Romeo’s group began to dance. Romeo stood to the side like a wallflower.

Old Capulet ordered, “More light, you knaves. Move the tables to the side. Quench the fire because the room has grown too hot.”

Old Capulet, who had not recognized Romeo, said to a relative about Romeo and his group of friends, “I had not expected these people in masks to be guests, but the more the merrier — especially welcome are those who will dance. You and I are past our dancing days — how many years has it been since you and I wore a mask at a party?”

His relative answered, “By Saint Mary, it must be thirty years.”

“What?” Old Capulet said. “It can’t have been that long ago! We last wore a mask at the wedding of Lucentio at Pentecost. When Pentecost arrives, it will have been twenty-five years since Lucentio was married.”

“He has been married longer than that. His son is thirty years old.”

“That’s not possible, is it?” Old Capulet said. “Just two years ago, his son was still a minor.”

Romeo had caught sight of Juliet, and her beauty dazzled him. He asked a servant, “Which lady is she who is dancing with that knight?”

The servant replied, “I know not, sir.” Old Capulet had hired extra servants for the feast and dance; these servants were not familiar with the Capulet household.

Still wearing a mask, Romeo thought, She teaches the torches how to burn brightly. She seems to brightly hang upon the cheek of night like a rich jewel in an Ethiopian woman’s ear. Her beauty is too rich for use and too dear for Earth! She is like a white dove in the midst of a flock of black crows — that is how much in beauty she surpasses all the other women in this ballroom. Once this dance is finished, I will watch where she stands, and I will touch her hand and make blessed my own rough hand.

Then Romeo said out loud without thinking, “Did my heart ever love before now? Answer no, sight! For I never saw true beauty until this night.”

Although Romeo thought that he was speaking softly, Tybalt overheard him enough to recognize the sound of his voice but not enough to understand the content of his words.

Tybalt said to a servant, “This person, judging by his voice, is a Montague. Fetch me my rapier, boy. How does this slave dare to come hither, his face covered with a grotesque mask, to mock and scorn our dance? By the stock and honor of my kin, to strike Romeo dead, I hold it not a sin.”

Old Capulet noticed that Tybalt was upset, and he asked him, “What’s wrong? Why are you so angry?”

Tybalt replied, “Uncle, this man is a Montague, our enemy. He is a villain who has come here in spite, to mock our dance this night.”

Old Capulet looked closely at the young man whom Tybalt pointed out, and he asked, “Young Romeo, is it?”

Tybalt replied, “Yes, he is that villain Romeo.”

Mindful that the Prince of Verona had threatened him with death should violence break out, Old Capulet said, “Don’t be angry, Tybalt. Let him alone. He bears himself like a good gentleman, and to say the truth, he has a reputation throughout Verona of being a virtuous and well-behaved youth. I would not for the wealth of all Verona have any harm come to him in my house. Therefore, Tybalt, be patient and take no note of him. Instead, I want you to show a fair presence. Look pleasant, be courteous, and don’t frown. Remember that you are at a dance.”

“My frowns are justified, when a guest is such a villain,” Tybalt said. “I will not endure Romeo’s presence.”

A younger man should not disrespect an older man, especially when the older man is a wealthy and respected relative and the host of a dance that the young man is attending.

Old Capulet told Tybalt, scornfully, “I say that you shall endure Romeo’s presence here. You will do what I tell you to do, young man! Who is the master here? Me? Or you? Who are you to make a scene? No one, that’s who!”

“But, uncle, it’s a shame!”

“Says you!” Old Capulet replied. “Are you going to disrespect me? Do so, and your actions will come back and bite you in the ass. Don’t be a fool.”

He said to some nearby guests, “Enjoy yourselves and be merry!”

He then said to Tybalt, “You are acting like a spoiled youngster! If you can’t behave, leave before you make a fool of yourself.”

He said to some servants, “More light, more light!”

He then said to Tybalt, who looked ready to burst with words, “Be quiet, or I’ll make you quiet.”

He said to some guests, “Be merry, friends.”

Tybalt, still angry, thought, Patience and anger don’t mix. I am so angry that I cannot be patient, and so I shall leave. Romeo’s intrusion here must seem to him sweet, but I shall change the sweetness to bitter gall.

Tybalt left the great chamber.

Juliet had stopped dancing, and Romeo — whose name means “a pilgrim to Rome” — went over to her and held her hand, saying, “If I profane with my unworthiest hand this holy shrine, your hand, the gentle fine is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.”

Juliet, using the same metaphor of a pilgrim — sometimes also called palmers — visiting a holy shrine, replied, “Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much. By holding my hand, you show proper devotion. For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, and palm-to-palm is holy palmers’ kiss. By holding my hand, you have showed proper devotion, but let’s not otherwise kiss.”

Romeo asked, “Have not saints lips, and holy palmers, too?”

“Yes, pilgrim,” Juliet said. “They have lips that they must use in prayer.”

“Oh, then, dear saint, let our lips do what our hands are doing — let our lips touch. My lips pray to you for a kiss. Grant their prayer, lest my faith turn to despair.”

“Saints do not take the initiative, even when through the intercession of God they grant prayers.”

“Then move not, while you grant my prayer. Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin you take.”

Romeo kissed Juliet.

“Now my lips have the sin that they have taken from your lips,” Juliet said.

“Your lips have taken sin from my lips?” Romeo said. “That is a trespass I sweetly urged! Give me my sin again.”

He kissed her again.

Juliet said, “You kiss by the book — you get your kisses in accordance with the pilgrim metaphor we have been following.”

The Nurse arrived and said to Juliet, “Madam, your mother craves a word with you.”

Juliet left, and Romeo asked the Nurse, “Who is her mother?”

The Nurse replied, “Young man, her mother is the lady of the house, and a good lady, both wise and virtuous. I was wet nurse to her daughter, with whom you have been talking. Whoever marries her will inherit much wealth from her father.”

The Nurse went to Juliet.

Romeo thought, She is the only daughter of Old Capulet! My life is forfeited to my enemy! If I can’t be with Juliet, I cannot live!

Benvolio came over to Romeo and said, “It is time for us to leave — we have had a good time here.”

“Yes,” Romeo said. “I wonder if I ever again will have as good a time.”

Old Capulet heard the two talking and said, “No, gentlemen, don’t leave now. Stay and eat a snack before you go.”

Benvolio shook his head no, and Old Capulet said, “What? You must leave? Then I thank you gentlemen for coming tonight. Good night, young sirs.”

Old Capulet said, “Bring more torches here to provide light for these gentlemen.”

Romeo and Benvolio waited for Mercutio to come, and Old Capulet said to Juliet and the Nurse, “It really is getting late, so I’m going to bed.”

Old Capulet left, but Juliet and the Nurse stayed.

Juliet still did not know the name of the young man who had kissed her, and she did not want the Nurse to know that she was interested in him, so she asked what were the names of some other young men before she asked for the name of the young man who had kissed her.

Juliet pointed and asked the Nurse, “Who is that gentleman?”

The Nurse replied, “The son and heir of old Tiberio.”

“Who is that person who is now going out of the door?”

“He, I think, is young Petruchio.”

Juliet pointed and asked, “Who is the young man who would not dance?”

“I don’t know.”

“Please go and ask him his name.”

The Nurse left to inquire, and Juliet thought, If he is married, I think that I will die. My grave will be my wedding bed.

The Nurse returned and said, “His name is Romeo, and he is a Montague. He is the only son of your great enemy.”

Juliet said softly, “My only love sprung from my only hate! I saw and loved him before I knew who he was, and I found out who he is too late to stop loving him. Love is born in me, and I now love a loathed enemy.”

“What did you say?” the Nurse asked.

“Just a rhyme that I learned at this dance.”

Someone in another room called, “Juliet.”

The Nurse said loudly, “We’re coming! We’re coming!”

She said to Juliet, “Let’s go now. The guests have all left. All who remain are family and servants.”

They left.

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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