David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET: A Retelling in Prose — Act 2, Scenes 3-4

— 2.3 —

Friar Lawrence was up early and was out in a meadow collecting herbs and placing them in his wicker basket. He talked to himself as he looked at the plants around him, “The morning smiles at the frowning night. As the morning brightens the Eastern sky, the night like a drunkard staggers away from the light and the Sun. Before the Sun is fully risen and has made the day cheerful and has dried up the dew of the night, I must fill my basket with poisonous weeds and with medicinal flowers. The Earth is the mother of nature, but it is also her tomb. The place for burial is also her womb. And from the Earth’s womb come so many and various children that we can make use of. Many plants have many excellent qualities, no plant lacks a use, and all of the plants are different. Herbs, plants, and seeds all have useful qualities. None is so evil but that its use can bring about good, and none is so good but that, being misused, it can bring about evil. Virtue itself can become a vice, if it is used wrongly, and vice can bring into being something good when used to good purpose.”

Romeo walked toward the good friar, who did not see him and continued to talk to himself, “In this small flower are both a poison and a medicine. Smell this flower, and you will feel good and your senses will tingle. Taste this flower, and your senses will die along with your heart. In plants, as well as in human beings, two kings attempt to rule. One king is good and full of grace, and the other king is evil and filled with an evil will. When evil becomes predominant, a cankerworm will feed on the leaves of that plant and kill it.”

Romeo said, “Good morning, Friar Lawrence.”

Friar Lawrence looked up and said, “Benedicte! God bless you! Who is up so early? Ah, it is Romeo. Young man, you must have a troubled mind if you are up and out of bed so early. Old men have troubles and cares, and sleep does not come easily to or remain long with men who worry, but a young man who is unbruised by life and who has an untroubled mind should easily go to sleep and easily stay asleep. Since you are up so early, something must be worrying you. Or if nothing is worrying you, I can guess why you are now up — our Romeo has not been in bed and asleep tonight.”

“Your second guess is correct,” Romeo said. “I have not been in bed and asleep tonight, but for all that, the sweeter rest was mine.”

Shocked by what entered his mind, Friar Lawrence said, “God pardon sin! Have you been up all night with Rosaline?”

“With Rosaline, Friar Lawrence?” Romeo said, “No. I have forgotten that name, and the sorrow that name brought me.”

“Good for you, my son,” Friar Lawrence said. “But then where have you been?”

“I’ll tell you, before you ask me again. I have been feasting with my enemies. One of my enemies wounded me, and I wounded her. To cure our wounds, we need your help and a holy sacrament. I bear no hatred, blessed man, because what I ask you will benefit my enemy.”

“Be plain, good son, and let me understand your speech; riddling confession finds but riddling absolution.”

“Then plainly know that my heart’s dear love is set on Juliet, the beautiful daughter of rich Old Capulet. My heart is set on her, and her heart is set on me. We have been wounded by love and separated by our families, and the only thing that will cure our wounds is marriage, for then we can come together. When and where and how Juliet and I wooed each other and exchanged vows of love, I will tell you, but this I pray, that you will consent to marry us today.”

“Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!” Friar Lawrence said. “Is Rosaline, whom you did love so dear, so soon forsaken by you? Young men’s love then lies not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes. Jesu Maria, what a deal of brine used to wash your love-sickened cheeks for Rosaline! Your tears seasoned your love for Rosaline with salt, but you did not taste that love! The Sun has not yet cleared away the mist from your lovesick sighs for Rosaline! Your lovesick groans for Rosaline ring yet in my old ears. Here upon your cheek I see a still-unwashed stain of a tear that you shed for Rosaline! If ever you were yourself and these woes were yours, you belonged to Rosaline and your woes were all for her! And now you have changed? Remember this: Don’t blame women for falling in and out of love, when men do the same.”

“Often you have criticized me for loving Rosaline,” Romeo said.

“I criticized you for your puppy love, not for any real love, Romeo.”

“And you wanted me to bury my love.”

“I did not want you to bury your love in a grave just so you could immediately love someone else.”

“Please, don’t criticize me,” Romeo said. “The woman whom I now love returns my love. Rosaline did not love me.”

“She knew well that you talked of love without understanding what love is. You were like a student who has memorized the answers to questions without understanding what the answers mean. But come with me, changeable lover, I will help you because a marriage between you and Juliet will most likely change the hatred between the Montagues and the Capulets into love.”

“Let’s hurry,” Romeo said. “I want to be married quickly.”

“Go wisely and slow,” Friar Lawrence said. “People who run fast stumble.”

— 2.4 —

Benvolio and Mercutio walked together on a street.

“Where the devil is Romeo?” Mercutio said. “Did he go home last night?”

“He did not return to his father’s mansion,” Benvolio replied. “I asked his servant there about him.”

“That same pale hard-hearted wench, that Rosaline, is tormenting him, and so he will surely become insane.”

“Tybalt, that Capulet, sent a letter to Romeo’s father’s mansion.”

“It is a challenge to a duel, I suppose,” Mercutio said.

“Romeo will answer him,” Benvolio said.

“Any man who can write may answer a letter.”

“He will not answer it with another letter. Instead, he will fight Tybalt, just as Tybalt dares him to do.”

“Poor Romeo!” Mercutio said. “He does not need a duel to kill him. He is already dead. The dark eyes of the white wench Rosaline have already stabbed him. A love song has already shot him through the ear. The center of his heart has already been penetrated by Cupid’s arrow. Is Romeo, an already dead man, the man who should fight Tybalt?”

“Why shouldn’t he fight Tybalt?” Benvolio asked.

“Romeo is too love struck to fight anyone, including Tybalt, who is as intelligent as the cat — also named Tybalt — that Reynard the Fox tricks in folk tales. Tybalt is quite the man. In fact, Tybalt likes to think that he is a manly man with manly man powers. Tybalt speaks well in public — truly, Tybalt is a courageous captain of compliments. Tybalt fences the way that other people sing classical music — Tybalt and they keep time, distance, and proportion. They reach a high note, and Tybalt puts his sword in your bosom — with his sword Tybalt can stab and butcher each button on your chest. Tybalt understands the protocol and the moves of fencing: the first and second cause, the immortalpassado, the punto reverso, and the home thrust!”

“I don’t understand those words,” Benvolio said.

“If you knew how to fence and duel the fashionable way, you would,” Mercutio replied. “But those words are too fancy! The people such as Tybalt who use them are inane, lisping, drama-queen fanatics! They pronounce these fancy words with fake accents! They say, ‘By Jesu, he is a very good blade! He is a very brave man! She is a very good whore!’ It is lamentable that we should be thus afflicted with people like Tybalt — these strange buzzing insects, these fashionmongers, these pretentious fellows with their elaborate courtesy, who pay so much attention to fashionable clothing and language that they cannot sit at ease upon an old bench! I am tired of people such as Tybalt forever saying ‘Bon! Bon!’ when all they mean is ‘Good! Good!’ Romeo may be too lovesick to fight Tybalt, but I could easily defeat Tybalt in a fair fight.”

Romeo came walking up to his friends.

Benvolio said, “Here comes Romeo.”

“Romeo is thin,” Mercutio said. “His lack of a lady who loves him in return has made him grieve in love-sickness and waste away. He is like a herring that has separated from its roe and dried. Take ‘roe’ away from ‘Romeo’ and you have ‘meo’ — a lover’s sigh. Now the grieving lover is ready to listen to the love poetry of Petrarch. Compared to Rosaline, Laura — the beloved of Petrarch — was only a kitchen-wench. Compared to Rosaline, Dido — the tragic Queen of Carthage who loved the Trojan hero Aeneas, who abandoned her — was a dowdy woman. Compared to Rosaline, Cleopatra — the Queen of Egypt — was a gypsy. Compared to Rosaline, Helen of Troy and the woman named Hero — loved respectively by Paris and by Leander — were good-for-nothing harlots. Compared to Rosaline, the pretty eyes of Thisbe, the lover of Pyramus, were lacking. So Romeo thinks, anyway.”

Mercutio said to Romeo, “Signor Romeo, bon jour! There’s a French salutation to go with the French loose breeches you are wearing. You gave us the counterfeit last night.”

“Good morning to both of you,” Romeo said. “What counterfeit did I give you?”

“You counterfeited friendship with us — and then you gave us the slip and disappeared, although we sought you,” Mercutio said.

“Pardon me, my friend Mercutio,” Romeo said. “I had something important to do, and in such circumstances, I ought to be excused for my lack of good manners.”

“I can guess that your important business involved going in and out and in and out,” Mercutio said.

“Going in and out of doors?” Romeo said.

“That’s not what I meant, but your interpretation of my words is very polite. I was referring to a kind of exercise.”

“I am in the pink of health,” Romeo said.

“In the pink is exactly what I was referring to,” Mercutio said.

“Knowing you, ‘pink’ has more than one meaning, and not just one sole meaning,” Romeo said.

“Knowing you, you are concerned about your soul,” Mercutio said.

“At times, my soul is my sole concern, and I’m not talking about the sole of my shoes, or the Sun, or King Solomon,” Romeo said.

“Benvolio, help me out,” Mercutio said. “I am running out of puns. I can’t think of any more to save my soul.”

“If you can’t make any more puns, then I declare myself the winner in this game of wits,” Romeo said. “I am a cobbler of puns. I will save your sole and I will heel you, but I will not dye — D, Y, E — for you.”

“Shoe puns are shoe hilarious,” Mercutio said. “Trying to find a new pun at this point is like going on a wild-goose chase. Some of these puns are hoary with age.”

“I have never seen you go out of your way to avoid a whore,” Romeo said.

“I will bite you on the ear for that joke,” Mercutio said.

“Whores use their mouths on a different body part,” Romeo said. “Which is why their customers say, ‘Please don’t bite.’”

“Your wit is a sharp sauce that betters the living of life. You are a bon vivant,” Mercutio said.

“You have always liked a saucy girl — someone who betters the living of life. You are also a bon vivant,” Romeo said.

“Your wit runs both broad and deep.”

“You like broads and you like being deep in the pink.”

“Isn’t this game of punning much better than being constantly lovesick and groaning?” Mercutio said. “You are again the Romeo I remember. You are friendly. You are good company. You are witty. You are what you used to be and what we have wished you to be. For a while, the love you felt made you run up and down like an idiot with his tongue or another body part hanging out while he looked for a hole to put his favorite plaything in.”

“That is a good place to stop this line of thought,” Benvolio said.

“But I like this line of thought,” Mercutio said.

“You like going too far and too fast,” Benvolio said.

“You are wrong,” Mercutio said. “I like going very deep and very fast.”

The Nurse and Peter, another Capulet servant, entered the street.

“Here comes some fun,” Romeo said.

It was a windy day, and the wind blew on and filled out the Nurse’s long skirt and Peter’s baggy shirt.

“A sail, a sail!” Romeo shouted.

“No, two sails,” Mercutio said. “A shirt and a smock.”

The Nurse said, “Peter.”

“Yes, Nurse.”

“Please give me my fan.”

“Good Peter, give her fan so that she can hide her face,” Mercutio said under his breath to Romeo and Benvolio. “Her fan is fairer than her face.”

The Nurse said, “Good morning, gentlemen.”

Mercutio replied, “Good afternoon, fair gentlewoman.”

“Is it afternoon?” the Nurse asked.

“Indeed, it is,” Mercutio said. “The bawdy — that is, dirty — hand of the dial is now on the prick — that is, mark on a clock — of noon. Prick, hand, ha! Handjob! A prick in two hands is not worth one in a bush.”

“Your language is bawdy,” the Nurse said. “What kind of man are you?”

Romeo said, “He is a man whom God created so that he could ruin himself.”

“He is well on his way to doing that,” the Nurse said.

She added, “Gentlemen, can any of you tell me where I may find the young Romeo?”

“I can tell you,” Romeo said, “but young Romeo will be older when you have found him than he was when you sought him. However, in Verona I am the youngest of that name, for fault of a worse.”

“You speak well,” the Nurse said.

“True,” Mercutio said to Benvolio, “‘For fault of a worse’ is a nice variation of ‘for want of a better.’”

“If you are Romeo,” the Nurse said to Romeo, “I wish to speak to you and have a confidence with you.”

“She means ‘conference,’ not ‘confidence,’” Benvolio whispered to Mercutio. “She will probably ‘endite,’ not ‘invite,’ him to supper.”

“I have found out her occupation,” Mercutio said.

“What have you found out?” Benvolio asked.

“She is a procurer. She can’t be a whore because she is so old and ugly. Of course, she may be a hoary hairy whore who wants to serve him a hair pie. Would you like to hear a song that I learned at school?”

He sang loudly as he stared at the Nurse,

“She has a friend with some hankers.

“He has crabs, herpes, syphilis, and cankers.

“He got all the four

“From a dirty old whore,

“So he wrote her a letter to thank her.’”

The Nurse stared in shock as Mercutio then said, “Romeo, are you going to your father’s for lunch? We will go with you.”

“You two go now, and I will follow you later,” Romeo replied.

Mercutio tipped his hat to the Nurse with mock courtesy and said to her, “Farewell, ancient lady, farewell.”

Then he and Benvolio walked away as Mercutio sang again, “She has a friend with some hankers ….”

Recovering from her shock, the Nurse asked Romeo, “Who was that sassy punk whose mouth runs faster than his mind?”

“He is a gentleman who loves to hear himself talk,” Romeo said. “He says more in words in one minute than he says in sense in a whole month.”

The Nurse said, “If he says anything nasty about me, I will take him down, and if he is bigger than anything I can handle, I will find other people to take him down. Either I or other people whom I will find will demolish him. We will indeed make him go down in size and make him shorter than he is now.”

Romeo thought, It is a good thing that Mercutio is not here. He would make jokes about going down and about demolishing a six-inch structure.

“He is a scurvy knave!” the Nurse continued. “I am not one of his loose women. I am not one of his gangster’s molls. I am not one of his buddies.”

She said to Peter, “And all you did was stand by and let him use me as the butt of his jokes. Now everyone will know that he used me.”

“I saw no one use you,” Peter said. “If I had, I would have quickly taken my weapon out.”

Romeo thought, I am glad that Mercutio is not here to talk about a weapon. The weapon that Mercutio would talk about is one that a man can take out of his pants. And, of course, he would make jokes about this woman being used.

Peter continued, “I dare draw a sword as soon as another man, if I see occasion in a good quarrel, and if the law is on my side.”

Romeo thought, Once again, I am glad that Mercutio is not here to talk about a sword. He would talk about a “swordsman,” a word that can refer to a guy who has had a lot of sex. He would joke about putting a sword in a sheath. He would remind everyone that the Latin word “vagina” means sheath.

“I swear to God that I am so angry that every part about me quivers,” the Nurse complained.

Romeo thought, If Mercutio were here, he would make a joke about an arrow in a quiver.

The Nurse continued, “That scurvy knave! But to business. Romeo, my young lady ordered me to find you. I am her Nurse. What she told me to say to you, I will keep to myself for now. First, I want to tell you that if you are trying to mislead her into a fool’s paradise — that is, if you want a one-night stand instead of a marriage — that is a poor way to treat a lady. My young lady is very young, and even if she were not, no lady should be treated that way.”

“Nurse,” Romeo said. “Tell Juliet that my intentions are honorable. I —”

“I will do so,” the Nurse said. “Lord, she will be a joyful woman.”

“What will you tell her, Nurse?” Romeo asked. “You have not listened to what I have to say.”

“I will tell her, sir, that you do protest to her,” the Nurse said. “That is what a gentleman would do.”

Protest to her?Romeo thought. Oh, she means, Propose to her.

Romeo said, “Tell her to find an excuse to go to Friar Lawrence’s cell this afternoon. There she and I shall be married.”

He held out some money to the Nurse and said, “This is for your pains.”

The Nurse said, “No, truly, sir; not a penny.”

“I insist that you take it,” Romeo said.

The Nurse took the money, and then she said, “This afternoon, you say. Juliet will be there.”

“Wait, good Nurse, behind the abbey wall,” Romeo said. “Within an hour my servant shall be here with a rope ladder. I will use it to climb into Juliet’s bedchamber tonight and be with her joyfully and secretly. Farewell. Do good work and I’ll reward you. Farewell. Be sure to praise me when you speak to Juliet.”

“May God bless you,” the Nurse said, “but listen to me.”

“What is it?”

“Can your servant keep a secret?” the Nurse asked. “Let us remember that two people can keep a secret provided that only one person knows the secret.”

“My servant can keep a secret,” Romeo said. “He is as true as tempered steel.”

“My young lady is the sweetest lady,” the Nurse said. “I remember when she was a babbling little girl and fell forward upon her face — but no more of that. A nobleman in town — Count Paris — would gladly marry Juliet and bed her, but Juliet prefers to look at a toad, a very toad, than look at him. I made her angry by saying that Paris is better looking than you. When I told her that, she changed color.”

The Nurse paused, then said, “Don’t rosemary and Romeo both begin with the same letter?”

“Yes,” Romeo said. “They both begin with R.”

“Don’t be silly. Pirates say, ‘Arrrrr.’ So do sea dogs. I know of a dog that when it talks, it says, ‘Arrrrr.’ Perhaps that is its name. Are you mocking me because I’m not educated? I’m pretty sure that Romeo and rosemary begin with another letter. Anyway, Juliet says the most beautiful things about you and rosemary.”

Romeo said, “Please say the most beautiful things about me to Juliet.”

“Yes, I will,” the Nurse said. “I will say one thousand nice things about you.”

Romeo left, and the Nurse called, “Peter!”

Peter, who was standing a short distance away, said, “Yes, Nurse?”

The Nurse ordered, “Peter, take my fan, and walk in front of me. Walk quickly.”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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