David Bruce: William Shakespeare’s ROMEO AND JULIET: A Retelling in Prose — Act 5, Scenes 1-2

 — 5.1 —

Romeo, alone on a street in Mantua, said to himself, “If I may trust the truth — if it is not deceiving — of dreams, my dreams foretell good news and happiness for me. My heart is light, and all day I have been floating above the ground with cheerful thoughts — something unusual of late for me. I dreamt that Juliet came and found me dead — it is a strange dream that allows a dead man to be conscious and think! Juliet kissed me and brought me back to life, and when I lived again, I became an emperor. This dream was very joyful and sweet, but it is but a shadow of the joy I will enjoy and sweetness I will taste when I am again with Juliet, my beloved!”

Romeo’s servant, Balthasar, who had remained in Verona so that he could bring news to Romeo as needed, rode a horse up to Romeo.

Romeo said, “News from Verona! How are you, Balthasar? Have you brought me a letter from Friar Lawrence? How is Juliet? How is my father? Again, how is Juliet? I ask about her twice because nothing can be ill, if she be well.”

Balthasar replied, “Then she is well, and nothing can be ill. Her body rests in the tomb of the Capulets, and her soul lives with angels. I myself attended her funeral and saw her corpse placed in the tomb. Immediately, I rode here to tell you. Pardon me for bringing you such bad news, but I am following your orders to bring you news from Verona, sir.”

“Is what you have said true?” Romeo asked. “Then I defy you, stars! I will choose my own fate and make it fact. Balthasar, you know where I live. Get me ink and paper so that I can write a letter, and get fresh horses for us to ride. I will return to Verona tonight.”

“I beg you, sir,” Balthasar said, “not to act hastily and without patience. Your looks are pale and wild, and they worry me.”

“You have nothing to worry about,” Romeo said. “Leave me, and do the things I have ordered you to do. Didn’t Friar Lawrence write a letter to me and send it to me by you?”

“No, sir.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Romeo said. “Go and get fresh horses. I will be with you soon.”

Balthasar left.

Romeo said to himself, “Well, Juliet, I will lie with you — both of us dead — tonight. What is the best way for me to commit suicide? Funny how quickly the means is found for desperate men! I remember seeing an apothecary, a druggist, who lives near here in his shop. He wears tattered clothing, he has beetle brows, and I saw him gathering medicinal herbs. He was very thin — the sharp misery of poverty had worn him to the bones. In his poverty-stricken shop hung a tortoise, a stuffed alligator, and skins of various ill-shaped fishes. On the mostly empty shelves were a few empty boxes, unfired earthen pots, bladders and musty seeds, bits and pieces of packthread and cakes of rose petals that are too old to freshen the air and ought to be thrown away. All these poor things were on the shelves to make a pretense of merchandise. Noting this penury when I first arrived in Mantua, I said to myself, ‘If a man should ever need poison — the sale of which in Mantua is punished by immediate death — here lives a miserable wretch who would sell it to him.’ My thought then I will put into action now. I have need of poison, and this needy man will sell it to me. If I remember correctly, this is his shop. Today is a holiday, and his shop is shut.”

Romeo called, “Apothecary!”

The apothecary came to the door of his shop and said, “Who is calling so loudly?”

“I want to make a purchase,” Romeo said. “I see that you are impoverished. Here are forty gold coins — a fortune for you. In return, let me have some poison — fast-acting poison that will disperse itself through all the veins and kill the life-weary taker as violently and quickly as gunpowder is swiftly fired into the air from the womb of a cannon.”

“I have such a poison,” the apothecary said, “but the law of Mantua punishes with death anyone who sells it.”

“You are thin from hunger and full of wretchedness,” Romeo replied. “You are close to death, so why are you afraid to die? I look at your cheeks, and I see famine. I look at your eyes, and I see need and oppression. I look at your back, and I see the contempt that people have for you and for your beggary. The world is not your friend, and neither is the law of Mantua. Mantua has no law that will make you rich; it has only a law that will keep you from becoming rich. Therefore, stop being impoverished — break the law and take these forty gold coins.”

“My poverty, but not my will, consents.”

“I pay your poverty and not your will.”

The apothecary handed Romeo a small vial partially filled with poison powder and said, “Add any liquid you want to this vial of poison, and drink it. After you drink it, it will kill you even if you have the strength of twenty men.”

Romeo gave the apothecary the forty gold coins and said, “Here is your gold. Gold is a worse poison and kills more people than this so-called poison that the law of Mantua forbids you to sell. I have given you poison. You have not given me poison. Farewell. Buy food, and gain weight.”

He turned away and said to himself, “Come, cordial and not poison, go with me to the grave of Juliet, for there I will drink you and you will make me whole by reuniting me with Juliet.”

 — 5.2 —

Friar John walked up to Friar Lawrence’s cell and called, “Holy Franciscan Friar Lawrence! Are you home?”

Friar Lawrence said, “I recognize your voice, Friar John. Welcome back from Mantua.”

He let Friar John into his cell and said, “What news do you bring me from Romeo? Or, if he has written to me, please give me his letter.”

“I have news that will disappoint you,” Friar John said. “I went to find another Franciscan friar to accompany me during my journey to Mantua and back. He was visiting the sick when I found him. The health officials of Verona arrived, and thinking that my friend and I were in a house that was infected with the plague, quarantined us in the house. Therefore, I was not able to go to Mantua to give Romeo your letter.”

“Then who took my letter to Romeo?” Friar Lawrence asked.

“The health officials were so strict that I was unable to find someone to deliver your letter. In fact, I could not even get a messenger to carry the letter to you and give it to you. And so I return to you your letter.”

“This is bad luck, indeed!” Friar Lawrence said. “This letter was not trivial but instead was full of important and urgent news. That it was not delivered may do much damage. Friar John, please go and get me an iron crowbar and quickly bring it to me.”

“Brother, I will,” Friar John said.

He left to find the crowbar.

“I will go to the Capulet tomb alone,” Friar Lawrence said. “Romeo will not be present to accompany me. Within three hours, fair Juliet will awake. She will blame me because Romeo has not received news of our plan, but I will write him another letter and send it to him in Mantua. I will keep Juliet in my cell until Romeo reads my letter and comes to Verona to take her with him to Mantua. I pity Juliet: She is a living corpse in a tomb filled with the dead.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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