Honourable marriage (2.2.142-148)

                                    [Enter Juliet above.]

JULIET                        Three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed.

                        If that thy bent of love be honourable,

                        Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow,

                        By one that I’ll procure to come to thee,

                        Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite,

                        And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay,

                        And follow thee my lord throughout the world. (2.2.142-148)

Obviously more than three;threehere is used generically, to mean a few, and Juliet speaks with precision and economy: if this, then this; this is the plan. She calls him by name, again, but this is the first time she’s addressed him as my lord: here it’s implicitly follow theeas my lord– as my husband. This is also the first time the word marriagehas been used between the lovers, and it’s colouring everything that Juliet says here. In the marriage service in the Book of Common Prayer, marriage is an honourableestate; when Juliet asks Romeo if his intentions in love are honourable, this is where she’s heading, as well as simply asking if he is a man of honour. She is imagining – planning – not a wedding but a marriage ceremony, the rite. In the marriage service of the day, only the male partner promises that with all my worldly goods I thee endow, but that’s the sentiment, and the phrase, that’s partly expressed by all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay; Juliet knows as well as Romeo (and the Nurse, and Capulet, and Paris) that she is an heiress. But she is also giving Romeo her fortunes, whatever happens to her; she is throwing her lot in with his. At thy footsuggests tribute – as one might make an offering to a king, or indeed to God – but here it perhaps also, just, glances at the pre-Reformation marriage rite, in which – in some ‘uses’ – the bride prostrated herself at her husband’s foot immediately following the point at which he promised to share his worldly goods with her… Hmm. It might seem far-fetched, but it’s probably the custom behind Kate’s injunction, in her final speech of resignation – or whatever – in the Shrew, that wives should ‘place your hands below your husband’s foot’. It was a ritual proscribed well before the 1590s, but clearly survived as a folk memory. There might be a little further evidence here for my suggestion that Romeo is dressed as a pilgrim – which, after all, could just mean a hat-badge – one who will wander throughout the world. The alliteration (where, whattime, wilt, world; fortunes, foot, follow) gives it both density and momentum, but there’s also a terrible poignancy in follow thee throughout the world, imagining a new world of shared experiences, adventures, a future, that we know will be denied. Romeo and Juliet never get to go anywhere together: they have meetings and partings.

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