Farewell, Romeo, says the Friar (3.3.166-175)

FRIAR              Go hence, good night, and here stands all your state:

                        Either be gone before the Watch be set,

                        Or by the break of day disguised from hence.

                        Sojourn in Mantua; I’ll find out your man,

                        And he shall signify from time to time

                        Every good hap to you that chances here.

                        Give me thy hand, ’tis late. Farewell, good night.

ROMEO           But that a joy past joy calls out on me,

                        It were a grief, so brief to part with thee:

                        Farewell.                                 Exeunt (3.3.166-175)

I think in this scene’s final moment I’m inclined to be a bit more indulgent towards the Friar and even to revise my impatience with his long-windedness earlier on. These are his final words to Romeo in the play (although of course they don’t know that) and he is now concerned only for Romeo’s safety – having successfully, it seems, talked him out of harming himself and then coming up with a plan. He reiterates, and in fact adds to, his instructions as to when and how Romeo must leave Verona: it’s either got to be later this same night, before the gates are closed and the Watch be set (as he’d suggested earlier) or else he’ll have to leave disguised early the following morning, by the break of day. We know that it’s already late enough for it to be plausible for Juliet to hasten all the house to bed – and given that it’s apparently mid July, it’s getting late already. (Also: dawn departures. Much more passionate and poignant. Coming up not-quite-next.) Buried in the middle: that little unexploded bomb of a plot point, about how news from Verona is going to be communicated to Romeo, not by letter, but by his servant. Some things to note about the manner of Romeo’s leaving the Friar. His final lines are speedy, but also a finely turned couplet, and that implicit paralleling of joy past joy with the internally rhymed grief, so brief is very neat. (So briefly, so quickly, is what he means, but that wouldn’t be as satisfying.) The Friar says give me thy hand – they part as adults, as equals, not as teacher and student – and (something which might be noted by an early modern audience) Romeo’s departure is so swift that he neither asks, nor is given, the Friar’s blessing. Perhaps (and this is what I hope) the Friar makes the sign of the cross and murmurs a prayer at Romeo’s departing back, as Romeo leaves by one of the side entrances and the Friar himself retreats slowly into the central entrance, perhaps earlier designated as his study. Romeo is his boy, and he’s gone. As the scene ends, the Friar looks old.

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