Breaking with the Nurse (3.5.235-242)

JULIET                        Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!

                        Is it more sin to wish me thus forsworn,

                        Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue

                        Which she hath praised him with above compare

                        So many thousand times? Go, counsellor,

                        Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain.

                        I’ll to the Friar to know his remedy;

                        If all else fail, myself have power to die.     Exit      (3.5.235-242)

Is Juliet over-reacting, calling the Nurse a fiend, a devil, a wicked old woman? On her own terms, no: the Nurse has more or less been acting as a bawd, encouraging Juliet to commit adultery and bigamy, effectively to prostitute herself, to break her vows, wish me thus forsworn. And added to that, there’s the Nurse’s about-face in praising Paris and dispraising Romeo (can we say dissing? I think we can) – that pettiness, that shallowness also rankles, and registers as a kind of hypocrisy, and Juliet doesn’t do hypocrisy. And then the break: thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain. I’m not going to share anything with you, tell you anything, trust you, ever again. My bosom is figurative, but has a physical dimension: our real closeness has gone, the ease with which we’ve hugged each other, the way I’ve leaned on you, the way you’ve comforted me. Even in this moment of rejection, a touching – misguided? – trust in the only other grown-up left, the Friar. Surely he’ll have a solution in this terrible situation. But if he doesn’t, then again, that note of steeliness: myself have power to die. I will kill myself. And, spoken in soliloquy, we have to believe it. (I would not argue that soliloquy is always a guarantee of truth. But in these circumstances, and in a play of this relatively early date, I reckon it’s a reasonable inference.)


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