Captain of the Watch: what’s happened here? (5.3.179-187)

CAPTAIN                    We see the ground whereon these woes do lie,

                                    But the true ground of all these piteous woes

                                    We cannot without circumstance descry.

                                    Enter [one of the Watch with] Romeo’s man [Balthasar].

SECOND WATCHMAN Here’s Romeo’s man, we found him in the churchyard.

CAPTAIN                    Hold him in safety till the Prince come hither.

                                    Enter Friar [Lawrence] and another Watchman.

THIRD WATCHMAN  Here is a friar that trembles, sighs, and weeps.

                                    We took this mattock and this spade from him,

                                    As he was coming from this churchyard’s side.

CAPTAIN                    A great suspicion. Stay the friar too. (5.3.179-187)

Fortunately the Captain doesn’t have very long to be philosophical, but the rhetorical move that he makes from the (bloody) ground of the churchyard (and by extension the tomb), the ground as the scene, the setting for the action, and ground as reasons, background, underlying causes is an important one; how far will the play and the Prince go, eventually, in apportioning blame, as well as trying to ascertain cause? Circumstance here means details, further information. And those details now going to come thick and fast, as first Balthasar (who hasn’t gone far, and has presumably just remained, petrified, in hiding) and then the Friar are brought back, the latter in a terrible state; he too is a pitiful, piteous sight, frightened, shocked, and grieving. The stage is starting to fill up fast. And fortunately the Captain isn’t going to swerve into the comedy policeman territory which Shakespeare is exploring around this time in Love’s Labour’s Lost (with Dull) and Much Ado About Nothing (Dogberry), although the crashingly understated obviousness of a great suspicion, when confronted with tools for breaking and entering and grave robbery does at least hint at the possibility. The most important thing: the Prince is on his way, and he will determine both what has happened, and what is to be done. And, tucked in at the start of this little exchange, that repetition of woes, a word which will resound throughout the remainder of this scene, as it has, periodically, in the rest of the play.

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