A tangle of lifeless cords (3.2.127-137)

JULIET                        Where is my father and my mother, Nurse?

NURSE            Weeping and wailing over Tybalt’s corse.

                        Will you go to them? I will bring you thither.

JULIET                        Wash they his wounds with tears? mine shall be spent,

                        When theirs are dry, for Romeo’s banishment.

                        Take up those cords. Poor ropes, you are beguiled,

                        Both you and I, for Romeo is exiled.

                        He made you for a highway to my bed,

                        But I, a maid, die maiden-widowèd.

                        Come, cords, come, Nurse, I’ll to my wedding bed,

                        And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead! (3.2.127-137)

The Nurse has calmed down and is starting to be practical; the couplets into which Juliet shifts at this point also makes it seem more ordered and calm, even if the content is still as emotionally intense. We’ve seen Lady Capulet weeping and wailing already, so the scene evoked by the Nurse is easily imagined. Juliet is unmoved, and in her response there is a small moment of filial rebellion: her first loyalty is to her husband, and in her own grief she cannot make room for the grief of others. Juliet has steel. And she continues to be wonderfully clear and frank about her desire, her passionate anticipation of the consummation of her marriage which now seems impossible. Look at the interplay of names and titles here: Juliet invokes her parents, the Nurse names Tybalt, and then Juliet names Romeo three times, even as she contemplates her own apparently anomalous, stranded state, simultaneously – or so it seems – virgin, and wife, and widow. (And a reminder that their marriage is, without consummation, in a legal limbo.) The macabre, admittedly self-dramatising conclusion – if I can’t have Romeo then I’m going to die; death will takemy virginity, not my husband – connects sex and death in the most explicit way in the play so far – and it’s a connection that will continue to resonate, not least in the tomb scene. The lines about the cords are perhaps easily cut, but I think it’s worth contemplating what their presence in the scene might add, a tangle of ropes lying between Juliet and her Nurse, where the latter has dropped them as she wrings her hands in despair. The line that was meant to connect, the thread (of life?) has been cut, is tangled, was meant to be about life and liveliness but is now inanimate; it might, depending on design choices, bring an oddly corporeal presence to the scene, standing in for Tybalt’s body, something dead, something to be pitied. To think of the cords as a puppet with its strings cut, lying twisted on the stage, is perhaps anachronistic. But it can certainly make material the desperate sense, in this scene, that something which was beautiful and risky and about to arise, go aloft, take flight, has crashed, lifeless, to the ground. Is Juliet threatening suicide here, to hang herself with those cords? I haven’t seen it suggested, but it might add another, even darker, shade.


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