Longing to die – marrying Paris is impossible (4.1.60-67)

JULIET                        Therefore, out of thy long-experienced time,

                        Give me some present counsel, or, behold,

                        ’Twixt my extremes and me this bloody knife

                        Shall play the umpire, arbitrating that

                        Which the commission of thy years and art

                        Could to no issue of true honour bring.

                        Be not so long to speak, I long to die,

                        If what thou speak’st speak not of remedy. (4.1.60-67)

Having in effect told the Friar that he’s a disgrace to the name of priest for effectively advocating adultery and bigamy, she now reproaches him further, that out of his long-experienced time, at his age, with the life he’s lived, he has no other advice at all – he’s meant to be the adult in this situation, the only member of that older generation whom Juliet (and Romeo) still trust and confide in. And he’s failing her. It makes no difference if he’s wise and experienced; if he’s got no present counsel, nothing to suggest right in this moment, then he’s no use at all. Here this is a particularly sharp instance of how given to excess Juliet can be, in her promises and her language: we saw her give everything to Romeo, with huge images of sea and sky. This isn’t just a teenage strop, though, familiar hyperbole (compare what Beatrice has supposedly said of Benedick in Much Ado, as relayed by Claudio: ‘Hero thinks surely she will die, for she says she will die if he love her not, and she will die ere she make her love known, and she will die if he woo her’), but rather testament to the utter clarity and absoluteness of her vision and values. Juliet cannot marry Paris, because she is married to Romeo – it would be bigamy, perjury, mortal sin, damnation – impossible. Suicide, which she is properly threatening, is also a mortal sin – but between these equally appalling extremes, her knife shall play the umpire, it will arbitrate – and with knife as umpire (hardly impartial) her suicide is certain. Juliet can be pretty scary, and even in this extreme, over-the-top moment, she is not ‘hysterical’ but rather chillingly rational, fiercely intelligent and principled, and even witty – the conceit of the knife as umpire, and a quibble on long: reply to me quickly (be not so long to speak) because I long to die – if, when you finally say something, you don’t have any advice, a remedy for this desperate situation. Basically the Friar is no match for Juliet; she has a knife and she’s prepared to use it. But it’s her very fierceness and fortitude that gives him an idea…



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