Friar! Don’t just stand there, do something! (or else) (4.1.50-54)

JULIET                        Tell me not, Friar, that thou hearest of this,

                        Unless thou tell me how I may prevent it.

                        If in thy wisdom thou canst give no help,

                        Do thou but call my resolution wise,

                        And with this knife I’ll help it presently. (4.1.50-54)

Juliet’s frustration with the Friar here is palpable, and who can blame her for being actually quite narky in her echoing back to him that thou hearest of this, emphasising his passivity and hand-wringing tone. If you haven’t got anything helpful to say, then don’t say anything at all, effectively; don’t worry, I’ll do it myself. In thy wisdom reminds him that he is supposed to be the wise counsellor – and the adult – and if for all that he can’t think of any way out (because it’s past the compass of his wits) then he might as well give her the go-ahead to kill herself. I’m surprised that editors pass over this: she is effectively saying, if you have no words of advice, then you are sanctioning my suicide, a mortal sin, and throughout this scene, she reminds him of his status as a priest (for example by addressing him as holy father and, here, as Friar) and therefore the responsibility that he has for her soul. This is how desperate she is, and she really does have a knife, this knife, whether it’s one she customarily carries (in early modern dress, this wouldn’t be particularly unusual, to have a knife attached to the girdle for eating and household tasks) or one that she has procured specially and produces here from bag or pocket – or indeed one that she carries because this is standard within the world of the play, whether Elizabethan in setting or not, because of Verona’s systemic violence. She will kill herself, on the spot, immediately, presently. As well as making Juliet’s utter desperation clear, in the speech’s next movement, she will speak once more of hands (and hearts) and the physical presence of the knife in her hand at this moment therefore draws and focuses the audience’s close attention (and, one imagines, the Friar’s) and sets up the imagining, and the remembering, of bodies (especially hands) and their actions which has been so characteristic of the play.

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