Comfortable words (3.2.138-143)

NURSE            Hie to your chamber. I’ll find Romeo

                        To comfort you, I wot well where he is.

                        Hark ye, your Romeo will be here at night.

                        I’ll to him, he is hid at Lawrence’s cell.

JULIET                        O find him! Give this ring to my true knight,

                        And bid him come to take his last farewell.

                                                                        Exeunt (3.2.138-143)

It’s a perfectly ordinary idiom, but the Nurse’s Hie to your chamber surely echoes the end of 2.5 – only a few hours earlier – when the Nurse has finally told Juliet of the arrangements for the marriage ceremony. Then it was hie you hence to Friar Lawrence’ cell hie you to church hie you to the cell – and then Juliet’s exuberant Hie to high fortune! How hollow that echo is, but at least the Nurse has pulled herself together, and we see here the practical, loving woman of her earlier interactions with Juliet. (Note that matter-of-fact almost-entirely monosyllables have replaced the extravagantly elongated banishèd, for both the Nurse and Juliet herself.) As Juliet will put Romeo first – her Romeo – the Nurse will put Juliet first; she cannot bear to see her so upset. Comfort can mean give pleasure to, but its primary sense is to console, strengthen; it doesn’t seem to have a sexual sense (at least not in the OED, at this date). There’s a little bittersweet edge: the Nurse used to be the one who could comfort Juliet and make everything alright. Perhaps here that interminable, but now-almost-forgotten-because-from-another-life anecdote about the earthquake and the bumped head and the bawdy joke that stopped the little girl from crying, back in 1.3, finds one of its purposes in the play? The Nurse knows that only Romeo – her Romeo – can truly comfort Juliet now. But she’s still reassuring, as one would reassure a child: I’ll find Romeo, I know where he is, Hark ye, calm down and listen, he’ll be here, he will be, trust me. He’s safe. O find him! gasps Juliet, seizing on this with passionate relief; make it better. The ring appears out of nowhere a bit – it might be the wedding ring, which in early modern terms at least wouldn’t need to be a wedding band, but simply any ring – and here it’s a token not just of love, and perhaps a sign of the contract, the bond between them, their marriage – but it’s also an authenticating, authorising token, a sign that the Nurse has indeed come from Juliet, and that she can be trusted. My true knight has a touch of romance to it, a final glimpse, perhaps, of the teenager. But the last farewell is more complex. It might take us back to that delirious, silly, ending of the balcony scene, when the lovers kept failing to say goodbye. It sets up the ending of 3.5, which will indeed be their – equally protracted – last farewell. And it also (as does much of this scene, in fact, something that I hope I will remember around mid December) anticipates the terrible lasts of Romeo’s final speech in 5.3… But let’s not go there yet.


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