Baking, bustle, and getting in the way (4.4.1-12)

[4.4] Enter lady of the house [LADY CAPULET] and NURSE [with herbs].

LADY CAPULET         Hold, take these keys and fetch more spices, Nurse.

NURSE                        They call for dates and quinces in the pastry.

                                    Enter old CAPULET.

CAPULET                    Come, stir, stir, stir! the second cock hath crowed,

The curfew bell hath rung, ’tis three o’clock.

Look to the baked meats, good Angelica,

Spare not for cost.

NURSE                                                Go, you cot-quean, go,

                                    Get you to bed. Faith you’ll be sick tomorrow

                                    For this night’s watching.

CAPULET                    No, not a whit. What, I have watched ere now

                                    All night for lesser cause, and ne’er been sick.

LADY CAPULET         Ay, you have been a mouse-hunt in your time,

                                    But I will watch you from such watching now.

                                                            Exeunt Lady [Capulet] and Nurse (4.4.1-12)


Some lovely details of class and household management here: spices are an expensive luxury, and are kept locked up, in a spice cabinet – hence Lady Capulet giving her keys to the Nurse to fetch them. It’s a good indication of the wealth of the Capulets that they have plenty of spices on hand, suggesting that they’re a normal, if prized and carefully managed, part of the household’s diet. (Compare the Young Shepherd in Winter’s Tale, who is sent on a special mission to the market to get the ingredients for the feast at the sheep-shearing: ‘I must have saffron to colour the warden pies; mace; dates, none—that’s out of my note; nutmegs, seven; a race or two of ginger—but that I may beg; four pound of prunes, and as many of raisins o’th’ sun’.) The pastry is just that, a separate room (again, a class indicator) where pastry is made: big kitchen, multiple cooks. Pies are clearly going to feature in this notably unItalian wedding feast (and it’s too early in the year, surely, for quinces, but no matter). Lady Capulet and the Nurse are running the show and Capulet is getting underfoot and telling everyone what to do, being a cot-quean, a man usurping the role (and the power) of a housewife. Angelica is probably the Nurse’s name rather than Lady Capulet’s, because she answers (in which case there might be a joke at the Nurse’s expense, Angelica being the name of the beautiful princess in the romance Orlando Furioso, which had appeared in English translation in 1591). Another time marker: it’s not that long until dawn (it’s summer, the nights are short), the second cock has crowed, the curfew bell hath rung, ’tis three o’clock. Capulet is treated as an annoying child – although not unaffectionately? – by both the Nurse and his wife: sent to bed for his own good (and their sanity) he protests that he’s been up really really late before because he’s a big boy. Indeed, says his wife, and I know the sort of thing that you get up to – chasing women. (Recall his heavy-breathing comments to Paris before the party, saying in effect that there would be lots of hot girls there. And can we imagine Capulet as the sort of boss who harrasses the women who work in the kitchen, the housemaids, the laundresses, because he thinks that it’s his right? probably.) All these preparations, all this bustle, all this life is continuing while Juliet is, in effect, dead, and no one knows yet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *