PRINCE Come, Montague, for thou art early up
To see thy son and heir now early down.
MONTAGUE Alas, my liege, my wife is dead tonight;
Grief of my son’s exile hath stopped her breath.
What further woe conspires against mine age?
PRINCE Look and thou shalt see.
[Montague enters the tomb and returns.]
MONTAGUE O thou untaught! what manners is in this,
To press before thy father to a grave? (5.3.208-215)
Connections. The first time we encountered Montague, back in 1.1, he was talking with Benvolio, early in the day, about how Romeo was getting up even earlier and mooching around feeling sorry for himself, coming home and shutting himself away in his room, because of Rosaline. Now Montague is up early too, as the Prince comments, but Romeo has again been earlier, early down, eluding his father, slipping away, not into his sulky teenage room, but this time where his father cannot follow him. Montague – unsurprisingly, given what he subsequently says – doesn’t seem to grasp what the Prince is (perhaps too obliquely, but very gently) telling him. That Romeo, his son, is dead. He is preoccupied with another tragedy: his wife has died of a broken heart, unable to cope even with Romeo’s banishment. (Lady Montague has apparently done exactly what Lady Capulet says she herself is going to do.) As editors point out, there will be straightforward reasons for this: the actor playing Lady Montague clearly has to double another part. But it gives Montague that noted of stunned pathos: just as the Capulets were mourning Tybalt, and then Juliet, and now Juliet again and are almost too overloaded with grief to be able to process it, so Montague is having to confront the almost simultaneous deaths of his wife and his son (and he thought that Romeo was safely out of the way, in Mantua). In the first quarto there is an additional line, spoken by Montague, saying that Benvolio is dead too. This might also be for doubling reasons; his absence is odd. I’ve suggested earlier on that the effective replacement of Benvolio with Balthasar as Romeo’s sidekick means that there’s no one to talk Romeo out of his desperate plan, because Balthasar is servant, not friend; it isolates Romeo, too. But there’s no reason why Benvolio can’t be a shattered, silent presence in the tomb scene, as in the current RSC production, where it’s poignantly effective. (Benvolio, as I observed absolutely ages ago, is a first sketch for Hamlet’s Horatio, the loving friend – perhaps in love with his friend, as again is the case in the current RSC version – who is left behind.) When Montague sees Romeo’s body – perhaps going into the tomb – or simply registering what he’s being told and looking more closely – his response is so gentle, and quietly devastating: what manners is in this, to press before thy father to a grave? Why have you died before me? And in fact it echoes Juliet, lovingly berating Romeo for not leaving her a friendly drop of the poison. In this moment, Montague is the most lonely character on the stage.