Juliet’s living nightmare, #2 (4.3.36-44)

JULIET                        Or if I live, is it not very like

                        The horrible conceit of death and night,

                        Together with the terror of the place –

                        As in a vault, an ancient receptacle,

                        Where for this many hundred years the bones

                        Of all my buried ancestors are packed,

                        Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth,

                        Lies fest’ring in his shroud, where, as they say,

                        At some hours in the night spirits resort–… (4.3.36-44)

Uncharacteristically, I’m breaking this up into bits without respecting the complete sentences – because this part of Juliet’s speech extends over some 19 lines, with a series of increasingly terrified subordinate clauses. So there’s no main verb here. Sorry about that. It’s wonderfully vivid in its psychology: as Juliet imagines each possible scenario – here, waking up alone, in the dark, before Romeo gets there – she adds more and more detail, building on what she definitely knows about the tomb – that it’s ancient, that it’s where all her ancestors are buried– and what she’s heard rumours of, as they say. (Probably rumours, hearsay, and ghost stories from the Nurse.) The vault has become, more grimly, simply a receptacle, a pit, packed with bones – not imagined here as a dignified family monument but as a charnel, indiscriminate, a kind of midden. That’s bad enough. But then she remembers: it’s not just long-dead ancestors, reduced to their bones– it’s also Tybalt, only dead for a couple of days, Tybalt, her cousin, whom she loved. That he is green in earth means that he’s only newly buried – but unavoidably it suggests putrefaction, the livid sheen seen on rotting flesh, as Tybalt does indeed lie fest’ring in his shroud. Fest’ring suggests a stench, too. Juliet has already, in her account of her worst fears to the Friar, included being hidden with a dead man in his shroud. Here he is, and not just dead, but bloody – covered in blood? perhaps, although surely he wouldn’t have been buried in that state – although it certainly recalls the Nurse’s description of his corpse. But also bloody because Tybalt has been violent, angry, bloodthirsty – potentially unquiet, even as a corpse, a ghost. And it’s ghosts that she imagines next…

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