NURSE Have you got leave to go to shrift today?
JULIET I have.
NURSE Then hie you hence to Friar Lawrence’ cell,
There stays a husband to make you a wife.
Now comes the wanton blood up in your cheeks,
They’ll be in scarlet straight at any news.
Hie you to church, I must another way,
To fetch a ladder, by the which your love
Must climb a bird’s nest soon when it is dark.
I am the drudge, and toil in your delight;
But you shall bear the burden soon at night.
Go, I’ll to dinner, hie you to the cell.
JULIET Hie to high fortune! Honest Nurse, farewell.
It’s notable that the second part of this scene slides into verse for the Nurse as well as for Juliet. We mightn’t notice, earlier, when the Nurse is still noisily prevaricating and protesting, but the clear, monosyllabic blank verse of Have you got leave to go to shrift today reins the scene in for a moment, as the Nurse, finally, comes to the point, quiet and simple. Still oblique, and also a reminder that Juliet does still have to get permission from her parents to leave the house, even to go to confession. Juliet might well be bewildered by this apparent change in direction, but the Nurse, triumphantly, tells all: it’s all organised, it’s all totally legit, you’re getting married. (Does I have anticipate I do?) Husband and wife, and the naming of the priest, makes this proper and serious. But from this point on, it’s hie, hie, hie, hie– hurry! The scene ends not only swiftly, but with urgency: now, straight, must, go, and with the promise of action.
The Nurse’s words make Juliet’s blush, as well as making her blush, unless the actor can blush on cue. (The same is true of blood and wounds; all too soon, the Nurse’s words will be making Tybalt bleed.) Wanton picks up the Nurse’s are you so hot, but it also anticipates Juliet’s extended evocation of her own modest blush (my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks), as well as recalling the maiden blush that should bepaint her cheek in the balcony scene. As the Nurse here observes, Juliet blushes easily, her cheeks in scarlet straight at any news; scarlet might, just, suggest the colour of celebration, of public festivals (scarlet gowns for aldermen, doctors of the university, and so-called scarlet days).
The ladder is a reminder of the necessity of the marriage’s consummation, and of the balcony as an obstacle that must be overcome. But it’s also a reminder of the balcony scene itself, of looking up, reaching up, and seeing stars; I want to hear high, high as well as hie, even before Juliet’s punning hie to high fortune. And in the first stagings, at least, the balcony is there throughout; it’s reanimated here by the mention of the ladder, like a spotlight being turned on. The bird’s nest neatly feeds my birds obsession (it also slyly makes Romeo into a naughty schoolboy, stealing eggs) – and it makes the balcony, and the bed chamber, not only aloft but nurturing, soft, feathery, warm. The Nurse does, in effect, get the last word, with a bawdy joke at Juliet’s expense. But Juliet doesn’t care, doesn’t blush, doesn’t pause; we imagine her exiting, like Romeo before her, at a run.