Romeo and Juliet–The Betrayal (1 of 3)

(Edited 28 March to note, contrary to the original post’s overexuberant claim, that Juliet probably did meet the County Paris.)

Après l’aubade, le deluge. Mere moments after the most glowing intimacy a woman can know, Juliet’s world comes crashing down around her. It comes in three waves, each a hammer blow more devastating than the one before.

The first blow: Mom

No doubt Juliet has completely forgotten about the County Paris; she’s been making her own decisions ever since she told her mother, way back in Act I scene iii, “I’ll look to like, if looking liking move” (97). Now her mother is back, and before she brings Verona reality brutally back into focus, Juliet engages in some marvelously equivocal exchanges with her. It’s pretty amazing, really, how she and Shakespeare keep this up:

Well, girl, thou weepst not so much for [Tybalt’s] death
As that the villain lives which slaughter’d him.

What villain, madam?

That same villain, Romeo.

Villain and he be many miles asunder.
God pardon him. I do, with all my heart.
And yet no man like he doth grieve my heart.

Lady Capulet will take this as “Villain, and he” meaning “Yes, that villain, and he”; whereas Juliet means “He is many miles from being a villain.” And they will take “grieve” two ways, Lady Capulet thinking Juliet is talking about her grief for Tybalt when she is really talking about the grief caused by their necessary separation

Ay madam, from the reach of these my hands.
Would none but I might venge my cousin’s death.

Juliet implies that she wants to avenge Tybalt all by herself but really means that she doesn’t want anybody else to; they would harm Romeo whereas she would not. Lady Capulet’s response is not equivocal at all, but really quite ominous, hinting at a subplot that was not to be

We will have vengeance for it, fear thou not.
Then weep no more. I’ll send to one in Mantua,
Where that same banish’d runagate doth live,
Shall give him such an unaccustom’d dram
That he shall soon keep Tybalt company;
And then I hope thou wilt be satisfied.

It’s often overlooked that if the tragic ending we all know had not occurred, Lady Capulet had this plan to get rid of Romeo; but the opening night audience would not have known what we know, and would have had her plot at the back of their minds. But we can still marvel at Juliet’s response:

Indeed, I never shall be satisfied
With Romeo, till I behold him—dead—
Is my poor heart so for a kinsman vex’d.

Look at these lines carefully, because I’m not sure an actor could read them so as to convey the multiple meanings. To her mother Juliet is saying: “I’ll never be satisfied with Romeo until I see him dead/My poor heart is vexed for my kinsman [Tybalt].” To us and herself, she’s saying “I’ll never be satisfied [satiated] with Romeo/Until I see him, my heart is dead for my poor kinsman [husband, not blood relative] who is vexed”  and “I’ll never be satisfied until I see Romeo/My heart is dead, etc.” And we today know the further irony that when Juliet next sees Romeo he will be dead. As a writer, I can only imagine how much Shakespeare must have enjoyed writing these lines. And he keeps it going:

Madam, if you could find out but a man
To bear a poison, I would temper it—
That Romeo should upon receipt thereof
Soon sleep in quiet. O, how my heart abhors
To hear him nam’d, and cannot come to him
To wreak the love I bore my cousin
Upon his body that slaughter’d him.

Again, Juliet secretly means she would water the poison down into a sleeping potion—and her last image is so blatantly sexual you might wonder how Lady Capulet missed it.

But things are about to turn, suddenly.

What follows is proof of Shakespeare’s greatness as a writer. A lesser writer would have been content to let Juliet drive all this irony, have it all be for her benefit. She is the heroine, after all, and we love her at least as desperately as Romeo does by this point. At this point we just want everything to work out for her and Romeo so we can go home happy holding our own lover’s hand. Shakespeare denies us that satisfaction. Not only (as we in 2012 know) will things end badly, he starts the process going by turning dramatic irony, his supreme weapon, against Juliet:

Find thou the means, and I’ll find such a man.
But now I’ll tell thee joyful tidings, girl.

This time everybody, even in the world premiere audience, knows that the tidings are about as far from joyful as they can get. Everybody except Juliet.

And joy comes well in such a needy time.
What are they, I beseech your ladyship?

Note that Juliet has completely dropped the irony. She genuinely has no idea what’s coming.

Well, well, thou hast a careful father, child;
One who to put thee from thy heaviness
Hath sorted out a sudden day of joy,
That thou expects not nor I look’d not for.

Madam, in happy time. What day is that?

Peeking through your fingers? Can’t bear to look, can you? Me neither.

Marry, my child, early next Thursday morn
The gallant, young, and noble gentleman,
The County Paris, at Saint Peter’s Church,
Shall happily make thee there a joyful bride.

Now, by Saint Peter’s Church and Peter too,
He shall not make me there a joyful bride.
I wonder at this haste, that I must wed
Ere he that should be husband comes to woo.
I pray you tell my lord and father, madam,
I will not marry yet. And when I do, I swear
It shall be Romeo, whom you know I hate,
Rather than Paris. These are news indeed.

Everything else to one side, y’know, Juliet certainly has a point. She has not even met that pleasant lunk, the County Paris, so far as we have seen. (In fact, she must have met him at the Capulet party–that was one reason Old Capulet threw the party in the first place–but he is so unimportant Shakespeare doesn’t even bother to show us that encounter.) And give her props for sneaking Romeo back in again, signaling to her mother that she would rather not marry anybody at all than Paris—because she’d rather marry Romeo, and there’s no way  she would ever do that.

The main thing is, here Juliet is again, acting as a woman not a girl, standing up for herself. And even today, when women stand up for themselves, we slap them down. So much the more in the time in which Romeo and Juliet is set, as we are about to see.

Here comes your father, tell him so yourself,
And see how he will take it at your hands.

Notice that Lady Capulet steps aside, deferring to her husband. She’s expressing anger and petulance toward her wayward child while passing the buck the way parents always do (“Just wait until your father gets home!”), but she also presents Juliet with an example of how “real” women are supposed to behave. All in two lines: Shakespeare doesn’t miss a trick.

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