Can the Friar help? (4.1.44-49)

JULIET                        O shut the door, and when thou hast done so,

                        Come weep with me, past hope, past cure, past help!

FRIAR              O Juliet, I already know thy grief,

                        It strains me past the compass of my wits.

                        I hear thou must, and nothing may prorogue it,

                        On Thursday next be married to this County. (4.1.44-49)

Juliet’s two lines of monosyllables are stark and, uncharacteristically for her, utterly bleak and passive, as her desperation can finally tumble out, released from the strain of being polite to Paris, not saying anything incriminating, and – perhaps above all – not being able to confide in the Nurse. The Friar is now the only person left in Verona whom she trusts, and also the only person who will weep with her. She knows that the Friar cares deeply about Romeo and presumably about herself too (although they have a different, more distant relationship), but she seems doubtful that he’ll be able to do anything to help her in this situation, which is past hope and past help, but also past cure – not just incurable, without remedy, but specifically beyond even the aid of one who has the cure of souls, a priest. But in this moment, Juliet seeks solidarity and sympathy, as much as advice. The Friar’s response – and his silence in the scene thus far – does not give great confidence, however. He is, of course, sympathetic, but he’s readily admitting that this is past the compass of his wits, that he can’t think clearly, let alone come up with a solution. I hear thou must on Thursday next be married to this County seems to echo Paris himself, and the Capulets, and the Nurse (Juliet never uses Paris’s title): the Friar is naturally cautious, he doesn’t like unsettling things (agreeing to perform Romeo and Juliet’s marriage was massive for him and he took a lot of persuading) and the marriage with Paris now seems completely fixed; prorogue means postpone, but it’s a particularly formal, legalistic word to use (Parliament, elections, laws are prorogued), as if there really is no way out, the deal’s done, and they’ll have to go along with it. If even the Friar can’t think of what to do next, as Juliet’s priest and confessor, as Romeo’s teacher, friend, and mentor, and as the only grown-up left who’s on their side, then what is Juliet to do?

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