Balthasar: I just did what I was told… (5.3.271-278)

PRINCE           Where’s Romeo’s man? what can he say to this?

BALTHASAR   I brought my master news of Juliet’s death,

                        And then in post he came from Mantua

                        To this same place, to this same monument.

                        This letter he early bid me give his father,

                        And threatened me with death, going in the vault,

                        If I departed not and left him there.

PRINCE           Give me the letter, I will look on it. (5.3.271-278)

Even barer and more factual than the Friar, and the main note is fear: Balthasar was scared of Romeo (and in fact he doesn’t say here that he decided to hide in the churchyard and wait, rather than leave; he implies that he did exactly what he was told); he was too scared to go into the tomb with the Friar, and he’s pretty terrified now, perhaps under guard and being interrogated by the Prince. At what point does he realise that his bringing news of Juliet’s death was such a crucial error? he surely does now, if he’s heard the Friar’s story (and that’s an interesting choice for a director and an actor: what does Balthasar do when he hears about Juliet’s death being fake? One can imagine, if he’s being played very young, that he delivers his little speech through tears.) These few moments of the play are very efficient, orchestrated by the Prince, quickly gathering and corroborating information. And here’s the letter written by Romeo to his father, which we didn’t see him write but which was carefully set up by his asking for paper and ink before they left Mantua, and by his instruction to Balthasar to take it to his father. Balthasar must produce it here and wonder what to do with it: Montague is right there, but the Prince is surely the one in charge. And the Prince indeed makes that clear: give me the letter. As with the Friar’s long speech, there’s a question as to how much the other characters react to each fresh revelation. Too much gasping and head-shaking and heart-clutching and it’ll look like panto. Too much movement of any kind, in fact, and it’ll get in the way of the solemnity, formality, and stillness that signal that the play is drawing to a close. In these moments, it’s an odd mixture of a relatively speedy plot summary, and almost no physical action; a pretty full stage, but no one really doing anything. The Prince must have the gravitas, and the charisma, to hold the stage and keep the focus. But again, where do we look? at the Prince, at Balthasar, at the Friar, at the parents, the Nurse, Benvolio? or do our eyes keep straying back to the lovers, the stillest, most silent presence of all on that crowded stage?

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