Dagger ready, just in case – but what if it’s a trick? (4.3.21-29)

JULIET                        What if this mixture do not work at all?

                        Shall I be married then tomorrow morning?

                        No, no, this shall forbid it; lie thou there.

                        [Laying down her dagger.]

                        What if it be a poison which the Friar

                        Subtly hath ministered to have me dead,

                        Lest in this marriage he should be dishonoured,

                        Because he married me before to Romeo?

                        I fear it is, and yet methinks it should not,

                        For he hath still been tried a holy man. (4.3.21-29)

The first point: the complete impossibility of marrying Paris tomorrow morning. That cannot be allowed to happen. So if this plan doesn’t work, then she will kill herself; the dagger is there, ready, and she will do it. And then something that we probably haven’t even considered (clever Juliet, imaginative Juliet): what if the Friar has a plot of his own, to save his reputation because he’s connived at a bigamous marriage with Paris (and, incidentally, married Romeo and Juliet without the consent of their parents) and this potion will actually kill her? She is alert, just as her parents are, to the social complexities of honour and reputation, and not just for her, or her family. But she immediately dismisses this: she has no reason to mistrust the Friar, he’s well known to be a holy man. (And in this moment, she has to trust him – this is the only hope she has left.) These are the reasonable, practical objections and anxieties, relatively easily allayed. And, we might not notice, but this is the first time she has named Romeo – the first time she’s been able to name Romeo – since the scene with the Friar. His name will be her talisman for the rest of the speech, which is about to get considerably more baroque. (A brilliant challenge for an actor, all too often cut. Looking at you, Zeffirelli, among many others.)

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