Fathers join hands, and, golden statues (5.3.296-304)

CAPULET        O brother Montague, give me thy hand.

                        This is my daughter’s jointure, for no more

                        Can I demand.

MONTAGUE                           But I can give thee more,

                        For I will raise her statue in pure gold,

                        That whiles Verona by that name is known,

                        There shall no figure at such rate be set

                        As that of true and faithful Juliet.

CAPULET        As rich shall Romeo’s by his lady’s lie,

                        Poor sacrifices of our enmity. (5.3.296-304)

The Prince has spoken of penance and punishment, but Capulet speaks of reconciliation. On a stage that is mostly static, shocked, properly stricken by grief, he reaches out his hand and, we can only assume, Montague reciprocates, as he is asked to, in return. I hadn’t thought before of the way in which this gesture, balanced and mutual, refers back to Romeo and Juliet’s meeting, 4 days ago, 4 acts ago, what seems a moment and lifetime ago. (In terms of this blog, I think it was March…) Two hands, reaching out into space, adventuring in hope, joining and making something new. Romeo and Juliet didn’t know, in that electric moment of the coup de foudre, that they were meant to be enemies, crossing fierce and dangerous lines; they didn’t know who they were, in that moment, only that they had found each other, and themselves. Capulet and Montague know all too well who they have been and are and what they are doing; they are now brothers, however, in their grief and loss. This, therefore, is the clasped hands of friendship, a new bond and promise, a new beginning – it’s not just Capulet’s hand, or Montague’s, but their conjoined hands, setting aside their pointless, baseless feud. As such, it is Juliet’s jointure – not her dowry, imagined as being given by Capulet to Montague, but the provision that Montague is imagined as having made in return. Jointure (the word here underscoring that moment of joining) was the money that a bridegroom’s father agreed would be settled on his son’s wife if she were widowed, as part of the marriage negotiations. There is a bitter accuracy here: Juliet was indeed a widow, for a matter of moments, after Romeo’s death. The marriage settlement is one of reconciliation.

With that half rhyme (hand/demand) and half line (no more can I demand) Capulet is broken. But Montague reaches out with more than his hand: he picks up Capulet’s more, repeats and over-goes it – I can give thee more – in a gesture not of one-upmanship, but of the generosity and excess that has been so characteristic of Juliet. I will ensure that Juliet is remembered, with a golden statue. Her fidelity, her truth (she, like Romeo, has been true, unto death). There’s a variant here: most editions have raise, set up, directing us to imagine, perhaps, a public monument, gilded, possibly upright. But two early quartos have raie or ray, meaning array, dress or, here, gild – and so Montague might be envisaging a recumbent tomb effigy (which Juliet herself resembles in death), which Capulet seems to pick up, with his response: as rich as Romeo’s by his lady’s lie. Two golden statues, beautiful, precious, enduring; bright and whole. Lifeless, but everlasting. And Capulet knows this: no matter how beautiful and golden, Romeo and Juliet are still poor sacrifices of our enmity. And the lips of even a golden statue are still cold.

Many years later, in Cymbeline, Shakespeare wrote his beautiful dirge for those who die young: Golden lads and girls all must, as chimney-sweepers, come to dust. There’s a little of that grief-struck gilding here.

This is the second-to-last entry of a series of blog posts that began on 1 January – tomorrow’s will be the last, but I’ll continue to post some reflections and thoughts about the play over the next few days and weeks, both here and on Twitter @starcrossed2018

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