Hands and hearts, sealed indissolubly (4.1.55-59)

JULIET                        God joined my heart and Romeo’s, thou our hands,

                        And ere this hand, by thee to Romeo sealed,

                        Shall be the label to another deed,

                        Or my true heart with treacherous revolt

                        Turn to another, this shall slay them both: (4.1.55-59)

So Juliet spells it out for him, as the Friar looks on in horror and wonders what on earth he’s going to do. Her language is legal as well as spiritual, the seal and the label referring to documents, contracts. Central to this, once again, is the complete seriousness with which Juliet takes her marriage vows: God joined my heart and Romeo’s, an echo – again – of the Prayerbook marriage service’s statement of indissolubility: ‘Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder’. Are you going to be that man, Juliet is asking the Friar? You were the one who married us, you incorporated our hands and our hearts, made us one flesh (the explicitly corporeal incorporate was the word used by the Friar himself in the wedding scene, 2.6). It’s not just wrong, it’s impossible. Maybe – this is a stretch – there’s an echo even of the Song of Solomon: ‘Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is as strong as death’. The image of the joined hands of the lovers has been a recurrent one – finding each other, reaching for each other – and now Juliet holds not her husband’s hand but a knife (we can probably assume that she’s right-handed; it’s the right hands that are joined in the marriage service, too) – and if she holds her left hand – this hand – aloft, perhaps even wearing a wedding ring, which might be thought of as a seal or label, she is also making a gesture of swearing, vowing, recalling both her marriage vows and the solemn promise that she is now making, that she will kill herself, slay both hand and heart, rather than marry Paris.

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