Happy nights, happy days (1.3.97-106)

LADY CAPULET         Speak briefly, can you like of Paris’ love?

JULIET                                    I’ll look to like, if looking liking move;

                                    But no more deep will I endart mine eye

                                    Than your consent gives strength to make it fly.

                                                Enter SERVINGMAN

SERVINGMAN            Madam, the guests are come, supper served up, you called, my young lady asked for, the Nurse cursed in the pantry, and every thing in extremity. I must hence to wait, I beseech you follow straight.              [Exit]

LADY CAPULET         We follow thee. Juliet, the County stays.

NURSE                        Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days.           Exeunt. (1.3.97-106)

And Lady Capulet seizes back the initiative: give me a straight answer, and don’t you say another word (to the Nurse…) Juliet’s reply is a model of filial deference, but also manages the verse much more sharply than her mother has. She picks up like, rather than love, and neatly extends both verbs, conditionally, if looking liking move: she will scrutinise Paris, and will be well-disposed in so doing (if it is indeed the case that sight is the key to falling in love), but is not going to do anything rash. And she knows, ultimately, that it’s her parents’ decision, their consent, that matters. It’s quite striking how little Juliet says in this scene as a whole.

After the relatively leisurely pace (brawl aside) of the first two scenes and most of this one, the tempo of the play is picking up. It’s now night, and the party which was only at the guest-list stage in the previous scene is now underway – the servingman (Peter again?) brings a bustling, slightly desperate urgency to the scene (there may be music and noises off), and we can imagine Lady Capulet and the Nurse departing at a run. It matters, though, that it’s the Nurse who has the last word here: reductive as she can be, she wishes for nothing more than happiness for the girl she’s loved since babyhood, and that happiness, for her, is about both happy days, a good life, and happy nights, sexual fulfilment. Love, for the Nurse, is not simply looking and liking, but very definitely about making love too.

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