I’m a coward, I tried, I’m sorry… (5.3.257-264)

FRIAR              But when I came, some minute ere the time

                        Of her awakening, here untimely lay

                        The noble Paris and true Romeo dead.

                        She wakes, and I entreated her come forth

                        And bear this work of heaven with patience.

                        But then a noise did scare me from the tomb,

                        And she too desperate would not go with me,

                        But as it seems, did violence on herself. (5.3.257-264)

The Friar is scrupulously, touchingly honest here: I am a coward, I was scared away by a noise – and implicitly, I should have stayed, Juliet’s death at least is my fault. But first, all the ideas about time from the earlier part of the speech end up here: the Friar arrived on time, a mere minute or so before the time when Juliet was to wake up, right on schedule. This punctuality, however, was all in vain, because what the Friar found, just before she awoke (on time) was the bodies of Paris and Romeo, untimely dead – untimely because they are young, but also because not only is this unwelcome, it’s entirely unforeseen, and unexpected – out of the blue. (Paris’s death seems random anyway; here it has the effect of making everything more mysterious, more extreme in its untimeliness, its inexplicability.) Paris is noble (this is pretty much all anyone ever finds to say about Paris, poor Paris) but Romeo is true – both his fidelity to Juliet, and his all or nothing nature, his devotion to absolutes, make him true. This too has been his downfall. No life without Juliet. No pause for thought, or consultation, or compromise. Juliet now is the one described as desperate, not simply frantic, in a state of extreme emotion, but without hope – she had, the Friar thought, given up, even though he tried to persuade her to be patient, to accept what had happened, as the work, the will of heaven. And one can imagine the Friar making a helpless gesture. I ran away, and, as it seems, she did violence on herself. All that passion, that intensity, that devotion (like Romeo, of course) to absolutes was turned inwards, in a gesture at once calculated and impulsive, that admitted no other possible course of action. The Friar has to intuit that it’s what Juliet did – no one was there to see it – but it’s clear, much more clear (at this moment) than what has happened to Romeo (and Paris).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *