David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET: A Retelling in Prose — Act 4, Scenes 1-4

— 4.1 —

Count Paris had been talking to Friar Lawrence and asking him to officiate at his wedding to Juliet.

Friar Lawrence now said, “On Thursday, sir? The time before the wedding is held is very short.”

“This is what Old Capulet wants,” Paris said. “However, I admit that I want to be married quickly.”

“You say that you don’t know what Juliet thinks about being married to you,” Friar Lawrence said. “Weddings should not be arranged until afterthe girl has consented to be a bride. I do not like this.”

“She has been excessively grieving because of the death of Tybalt,” Paris said, “and therefore I have not been able to woo her as I would like to. Venus does not smile in a house of tears. Juliet’s father thinks that it is dangerous for her to grieve so immoderately, and he believes that it is best for her to quickly marry because that will stop her tears. She has been staying by herself and grieving, and her father — as do I — believes that if she is around other people and enjoying society that she will stop grieving. That is the reason for our haste in arranging this wedding.”

Friar Lawrence thought, I know of a reason why this wedding ought not to take place quickly.

He saw Juliet walking toward his cell, and he said aloud, “Here comes the lady herself walking toward us.”

Juliet arrived, and Paris said to her, “Happily met, my lady and my wife!”

Politely, but distantly, Juliet replied, “That may be, sir, when I may be a wife.”

Paris said, “That ‘may be’ must be, love, on this coming Thursday.”

“What must be shall be,” Juliet said.

“That’s the truth,” Friar Lawrence said.

“Did you come to make your confession to Friar Lawrence?” Paris asked Juliet.

“To answer that, I should confess to you.”

“Do not deny to him that you love me.”

“I will confess to you that I love him.”

“You will also confess to him, I am sure, that you love me.”

“If I tell Friar Lawrence that I love you, that will be more trustworthy than if I said it directly to you.”

“Poor Juliet,” Paris said, “your face is disfigured by the tracks of many tears.”

“The tears have done little to disfigure my face because my face was bad enough before I cried.”

“By saying that, you wrong your face even more than the tears have wronged it.”

“What is true is not slander,” Juliet said. “And I have spoken the truth.”

“Your face is mine,” Paris said, “and you have slandered it.”

Thinking of Romeo, Juliet said, “It is true that my face is not my own.”

She asked Friar Lawrence, “Do you have time for me to confess, or should I come to you at evening mass and confess afterward?”

Friar Lawrence said to Juliet, “I have time now.”

He said to Paris, “I need to be alone with Juliet so I may hear her confession.”

“Heaven forbid that I should keep anyone from confessing their sins!” Paris said to Friar Lawrence.

To Juliet he said, “The morning of the day we will be married, I will wake you up with music. Until then, goodbye.”

Paris kissed Juliet’s cheek, and then he departed.

“Shut the door,” Juliet said. “After the door is shut, come and cry with me. I am past hope, past cure, past help!”

“Juliet, I know, of course, why you grieve,” Friar Lawrence said. “I can’t think of a way to stop or delay the marriage. Your father is determined that you marry Count Paris this Thursday.”

Juliet replied, “Don’t tell me that you have heard of this marriage unless you can also tell me how to prevent it. You are wise, but if you cannot think of a way to prevent my marriage to Count Paris, then tell me that what I have resolved is wise, and with this dagger I will commit suicide. God joined my heart and Romeo’s heart. You joined our hands in marriage. This hand belongs to Romeo, and before my hand shall be joined in marriage to another man or my heart revolt and turn to another man, this dagger shall slay both my hand and my heart. Therefore, Friar Lawrence, out of your years of experience of living, give me helpful advice or a plan — or else this dagger will solve my problem. Give me a plan quickly. If you can come up with no way to stop this marriage, I long to die quickly.”

“Wait, Juliet,” Friar Lawrence, who was completely opposed to suicide, said. “I do see a way to stop the wedding. You are in a desperate situation, and the way out will require a desperate action. If you are willing to commit suicide rather than marry Count Paris, then it is likely that you will be willing to undergo something similar to death to avoid marrying him. You will have to encounter something like death itself to escape the shame and sin of committing bigamy and being unfaithful to Romeo. If you are willing to do this, I can help you avoid this marriage.”

“I am willing to do much to avoid marrying Paris,” Juliet said. “I am willing to jump from the top of a tower. I am willing to walk in a road swarming with thieves. I am willing to stand in a nest of serpents. I am willing to be chained to roaring bears. I am willing to be locked alone in a building where human bones are stored and to be covered with reeking leg bones and yellow, jawless skulls. I am willing to go into a newly made grave and hide with a shrouded corpse. All of these things that I have heard about have made me tremble, but I will do any of them without fear or hesitation in order to stay faithful to Romeo, my sweet love.”

“In that case, go home, be merry, and tell your parents — falsely — that you agree to marry Paris,” Friar Lawrence said. “Today is Tuesday. On Wednesday night, make sure that you are alone in your bedchamber. Do not let the Nurse stay with you. I have a vial for you to take with you when you leave here. When you are in bed tomorrow night, drink the potion inside the vial. Immediately, the potion will get into your veins and stop your pulse without harming you. Your body will be cold, not warm. You will have no breath. You will have no color in your lips and cheeks. Your eyelids will close. All of the parts of your body shall be stiff and stark and cold. You will appear to be dead for forty-two hours. After that time, you will wake up as if from a pleasant sleep. When Paris comes Thursday morning to wake you up, everyone will think that you are dead. Then, as our tradition is, you will be dressed in your best clothing and carried on a bier to the ancient burial vault where all the deceased Capulets and their kin lie. In the meantime, I shall send a letter to Romeo to tell him about our plan, and he shall secretly return to Verona, and he and I will wait in the Capulet burial vault for you to wake up. After you have woken up, Romeo will take you to Mantua. If you do this, you will not have to marry Count Paris. This plan will work as long as you do not let a womanish fear stop you from drinking the potion in the vial.”

“Give me the vial!” Juliet said. “Do not talk to me about fear!”

Friar Lawrence gave her the vial and said, “Leave now. Be brave. Be strong. I will send a fellow friar, a friend of mine, to Mantua with a letter for Romeo.”

“Love will give me strength! And strength will help me do what I must do!” Juliet said. “Farewell, dear Friar Lawrence.”

 — 4.2 —

In Old Capulet’s mansion were Old Capulet, his wife, the Nurse, and some servants.

Old Capulet told a servant, “Take this list and invite to the wedding all the people whose names are on it.”

The servant left.

Old Capulet, who had changed his mind about having only a few guests to the wedding, told the second servant, “Go and hire for me twenty good cooks.”

The second servant said, “All of the cooks shall be good cooks, sir, because I will test them. I will see if they will lick their fingers.”

“Why?” Old Capulet asked.

“A cook’s cooking gets on his fingers. A cook who cannot lick his own fingers is a bad cook. Therefore, I will not hire for you any cook who cannot lick his own fingers.”

“Leave now,” Old Capulet said.

The second servant left.

“We are unprepared for this wedding feast,” Old Capulet said. “Has Juliet gone to see Friar Lawrence?”

“Yes,” the Nurse replied.

“Maybe he can talk some sense into her,” Old Capulet said. “She is a peevish and selfish good-for-nothing.”

“Here she comes from confession now,” the Nurse said. “She looks happy.”

“So, my headstrong young daughter,” Old Capulet said, “where have you been gadding about?”

“I have been where I have learned to repent my sin of disobeying you,” Juliet said, kneeling before her father. “Friar Lawrence told me to obey you and to ask for your forgiveness, which I do. Henceforward I am ever ruled by you and shall be obedient to your wishes.”

Old Capulet immediately made up his mind to hold the wedding a day early.

He said, “Send for Count Paris. Tell him that Juliet has agreed to marry him. The wedding will be held tomorrow morning — Wednesday — not on Thursday.”

“I met Count Paris at Friar Lawrence’s cell,” Juliet said. “I gave him what decorous love I could, but I was careful not to step over the boundary of what is modest.”

“I am glad,” Old Capulet said. “All of this is good. All things are as they ought to be. Stand up now. Let me see Count Paris. Servant, go and bring Count Paris to me. By God, the city of Verona owes this reverend holy friar a great debt.”

Juliet said, “Nurse, will you go with me to my bedchamber and help me to choose the clothing and jewelry that I will wear tomorrow for my wedding?”

Mrs. Capulet said, “No, let’s have the wedding on Thursday. We can wait that long.”

Old Capulet overruled his wife: “Nurse, go with Juliet. We will have the wedding tomorrow, on Wednesday.”

Mrs. Capulet said, “We will be unprepared to host a wedding. Already it is almost nighttime.”

“Don’t worry,” Old Capulet said. “I will handle everything, and everything will be done as it ought to be done. Go to Juliet and help her get ready for her wedding. I will stay awake all night. Leave everything to me, and for this once I will do the work of a housewife.”

His wife went to Juliet.

Old Capulet said, “Everyone is gone. Well, I will see Count Paris to let him know about tomorrow’s wedding. I feel happy now that my wayward girl is obeying me.”

 — 4.3 —

In Juliet’s bedchamber, Juliet and the Nurse had been picking out the clothing and jewelry that Juliet was supposed to wear at the wedding.

Juliet said, “Yes, this is what I will wear, but Nurse, please let me be alone tonight because I need to make many prayers to ask God to smile upon me and my wedding. As you know, lately I have been rebellious and sinful.”

Mrs. Capulet entered the bedchamber and asked, “How is everything going? Do you need my help?”

“No,” Juliet said. “We have already picked out the clothing and jewelry that I will wear tomorrow, so please let me be left alone tonight, and let the Nurse stay up with you tonight because I am sure that you will be up all night making preparations for the wedding.”

“Good night,” her mother said. “Go to bed and rest. You need your sleep.”

“Farewell!” Juliet said.

Mrs. Capulet and the Nurse left Juliet’s bedchamber.

“God knows when we shall meet again,” Juliet said to herself. “I feel a cold fear going through my veins, nearly causing me to faint. It almost freezes the heat of life. I will call for my mother and Nurse to comfort me.”

She called, “Nurse!”

Then she said to herself, “Why am I calling for the Nurse? What should she do here? I need to be alone for what I have to do.”

Out of a pocket, she took the vial that Friar Lawrence had given to her.

She said to herself, “What if this potion does not work? Will I then be married to Paris tomorrow morning?”

Juliet took out a dagger.

She said, “If the potion does not work, this dagger will stop my marriage. I will commit suicide.”

She put the dagger down in a handy place where it was easy to reach.

Juliet then said, “What if this potion is a poison? If my marriage to Romeo is discovered, Friar Lawrence will be in grave trouble. Perhaps he has given me a poison so that I will die and no one will ever hear of my marriage to Romeo. I am afraid that this potion is a poison, and yet I doubt that it is because Friar Lawrence has always been a righteous man.”

Juliet then said, “What if, after I am laid in the tomb, I wake up before Romeo comes? That would be terrifying! Won’t I suffocate in the tomb where no healthy air comes in? Won’t I die before Romeo comes to get me?

“Or, if I continue to live, what will happen when I am surrounded by death and night in a place of terror — a vault, this ancient receptacle of dead bodies, where for many hundreds of years the bones of all my buried ancestors have been placed, this vault where Tybalt, bloody with his wound, newly interred, lies festering in his shroud? What will happen when I wake up in a place inhabited by ghosts at night? Isn’t it likely that I, if I should wake before the arrival of Romeo, will smell rotting flesh and perhaps even hear hideous shrieks of ghosts that drive men mad? Isn’t it likely that I will become hysterical because of these fearsome things and insanely play with my forefathers’ bones? Isn’t it likely that I will pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud? Isn’t it likely that in an insane fit I will grab a relative’s bone and use it as a club to dash out my desperate brains? Look! Already I see Tybalt’s ghost seeking Romeo, who spitted his body with a rapier! Stop, Tybalt, stop!”

Juliet held up the vial and said, “Romeo, I am doing this for you. This I drink to you.”

Juliet drank the potion, which quickly took effect, and she fell back upon her bed.

 — 4.4 —

In Old Capulet’s mansion, Mrs. Capulet said to the Nurse, “Take these keys, and bring more spices.”

The Nurse replied, “They are calling for dates and quinces in the pastry room.”

Old Capulet entered the room and said, “Stir! Stir! Stir! The second cock has crowed, the curfew-bell has rung, and it is very late at night. Look after the baked meats, good Nurse. Don’t worry about the cost.”

“You are a man trying to do the work of a woman,” the Nurse replied. “Go to bed. If you stay up all night, you will be ill tomorrow.”

“Nonsense,” Old Capulet said. “I have previously stayed awake all night for less important reasons than this wedding, and I have never felt ill because of it.”

“Yes, in your day you chased skirts,” his wife said. “But I will make sure that you don’t chase any more skirts.”

Mrs. Capulet and the Nurse left.

“My wife is jealous,” Old Capulet happily said.

Some servants entered the room, carrying spits, logs, and baskets.

Old Capulet asked a servant who was carrying baskets, “Now, fellow, what have you got there?”

“Things for the cook, sir,” the servant replied, “but I don’t know what they are.”

That servant left, and Old Capulet said to another servant, “Fetch drier logs. Call Peter, he will show you where they are.”

The servant replied, “I have a brain in my head, sir, and I can find the drier logs without troubling Peter.”

The servant left.

Old Capulet said, “Well said, servant, but you are, I think, a loggerhead. Good Heavens, it is already morning. Count Paris will soon be here with his musicians to wake up Juliet. Wait! I hear them playing!”

He listened to the music played by Count Paris’ musicians as they walked to his mansion, and then he shouted, “Nurse! Wife! Come here! Nurse, I say!”

The Nurse entered the room, and Old Capulet told her, “Go and wake up Juliet and help her dress. I will go and talk to Paris. Hurry! Hurry! The bridegroom has arrived! Hurry!”

***

Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

***

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