A mis-sheathed dagger? (5.3.202-207)

                                    [Capulet and Lady Capulet enter the tomb.]

CAPULET                    O heavens! O wife, look how our daughter bleeds!

                                    This dagger hath mistane, for lo his house

                                    Is empty on the back of Montague,

                                    And it mis-sheathèd in my daughter’s bosom!

LADY CAPULET         O me, this sight of death is as a bell

                                    That warns my old age to a sepulchre.

                                    [They return from the tomb.] (5.3.202-207)

The stage-directions here are unnecessarily fussy, I think; the point is simply that the focus shifts to the Capulet parents, and we see Romeo and Juliet’s bodies through their eyes, and in more detail. Especially in a staging with no directional lighting, the audience’s attention is constantly being divided, between the motionless bodies on the tomb and the increasingly crowded stage and its various conversations, between the Captain and the Prince, the Prince and the Capulets, and now between the Capulets themselves. That’s an interesting dilemma for an audience: do we want just to focus on the bodies, and to ignore the dialogue? How do we accommodate the emotional responses of the characters (some of whom, like the Capulet parents, we might have regarded as mostly in the wrong) to our own? Where do we look? In some respects the play is winding down, and the possibility of dividing and so diluting our attention and focus is part of that, but in others the tension is ramping up again, as the whole story, which hitherto only we have known, is about to be revealed.

Capulet repeats the same terms which Juliet used when she stabbed herself when he says that the dagger is mis-sheathèd in my daughter’s bosom, and he’s also more obviously observant than the Captain, in that he notices that it’s Romeo’s dagger – it must be, because his house, its proper scabbard, is empty on the back of Montague. (Montague. That’s apparently the only way that Capulet can recognise the young man who lies dead in his daughter’s arms. He’s the enemy; despite all Juliet’s efforts, as far as her father is concerned, Romeo doesn’t have a name of his own.) A house is not a home, but that is perhaps what it suggests here, although Capulet doesn’t yet know the significance of his choice of words: the dagger is indeed where it belongs, a means of uniting the lovers in death, of making them in a sense one flesh. As editors point out, and is increasingly common in performance, Lady Capulet cannot be more than 30: the burden of her lines here, however, is that she has been instantly aged by grief, and there is now nothing left for her but death. (These are her last lines in the play.)

Does Juliet bleed in any way other than in Capulet’s speech? For all the reasons I’ve suggested before, about the risk to expensive costumes, I’d suspect that in early stagings she didn’t. (In the current RSC production, she does; I think that this is the first time I’ve ever seen that.) (In Shakespeare in Love’s version of Romeo and Juliet, there’s an odd moment with a bit of red cloth being decorously pulled out of her costume by Paltrow, one eye on the film classification, perhaps; this is a way of staging blood that I have never seen suggested for the early modern stage, and it seems to me a weird compromise between the apparent ‘authenticity’ of the Elizabethan staging within the world of the film and the way in which film itself privileges ‘realism’.) More than the practicalities, however, I think that it won’t register if she doesn’t, and, even more, what’s being expressed by both Juliet and (unwittingly) by Capulet in the imagining of body-or-death-wound-as-sheath is that the fit is perfect, as perfect and as made-for-eachother as dagger and scabbard, lover and lover.


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