Friar: O no o no o no – but maybe it’s just a bad dream? (5.3.130-139)

FRIAR              How long hath he been there?

BALTHASAR                                                   Full half an hour.

FRIAR              Go with me to the vault.

BALTHASAR                                       I dare not, sir.

                        My master knows not but that I am gone hence,

                        And fearfully did menace me with death

                        If I did stay to look on his intents.

FRIAR              Stay then, I’ll go alone. Fear comes upon me.

                        O, much I fear some ill unthrifty thing.

BALTHASAR   As I did sleep under this yew tree here,

                        I dreamt my master and another fought,

                        And that my master slew him.         [Retires] (5.3.130-139)

Time jumps; in real terms, it hasn’t been anything like half an hour, of course, but the significance is clear. A long time. Long enough. And also, long enough for Juliet to be waking: when he heard that his letter hadn’t been delivered, the Friar said that she would wake within three hours. A useful character note: Balthasar is frightened, on many levels – a frightened child, even – and the Friar isn’t going to make him go into the tomb; there’s no attempt to persuade. (Balthasar says that Romeo threatened him – and he did – but it’s also a tomb; there are grubs and eyeless skulls. The yew tree, the graveyard, are scary enough.) Yet Balthasar stayed, out of his loyalty to Romeo, in the terrible position of the servant, the child, of wanting to act, and not being empowered to do so. The Friar is already worried, and now he too is properly frightened – of what he will find, and that the bad luck of the undelivered letter (and the rest) will continue – yet more ill unthrifty things. Did Balthasar really sleep and dream the fight with Paris? it doesn’t matter. Some editors suggest that he describes it in that way to cover his own back, for not intervening (either in the fight or with Romeo) – but what it does for the audience is to turn the fight with Paris, retroactively, into something like a bad dream: did that really happen? did we see it? because all our focus has, for the last few moments, been on Juliet and Romeo, and we saw that with our own eyes, and it wasn’t a dream. Paris (sorry, Paris) is just a distraction.

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