Finally! the Friar may have a plan… (4.1.68-76)

FRIAR              Hold, daughter, I do spy a kind of hope,

                        Which craves as desperate an execution

                        As that is desperate which we would prevent.

                        If, rather than to marry County Paris,

                        Thou hast the strength of will to slay thyself,

                        Then is it likely thou wilt undertake

                        A thing like death to chide away this shame,

                        That cop’st with Death himself to scape from it;

                        And if thou dar’st, I’ll give thee remedy. (4.1.68-76)

It’s the repetition of Juliet’s last word here, remedy, that suggests that the Friar really has been listening and thinking, and that he might just have an idea. And it also suggests that that idea might be medical. But he is still going to take his time, reassuring Juliet that he is taking her seriously, that he does appreciate, if not understand, how desperate she is, and how far she is prepared to go. (And also that he’s on her side: we would prevent, he says, not you would.) If she is desperate enough to kill herself, then she might just take a chance on what he’s about to suggest, which is itself not just a high-risk strategy, but will specifically require from Juliet tremendous courage and nerve. But he thinks she’s up to it. (We know she’s up to it. Thank goodness the Friar has woken up to this.) Shame is interesting: at no point has Juliet said that she would be ashamed to marry Paris, but rather that it is impossible; she’s never given any indication that she cares what people think, and her concern has been with the absolutes of morality and sin, with guilt rather than shame. Perhaps the Friar here uses shame to mean outrage, this terrible thing. But the most ominous phrase is buried, for now, in the middle of the speech: a thing like death. Unsurprisingly, it’s going to take the Friar a little longer yet to explain what he means…

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