Marrying money (1.5.110-117)

NURSE            Madam, your mother craves a word with you.

ROMEO           What is her mother?

NURSE                                                Marry, bachelor,

                        Her mother is the lady of the house,

                        And a good lady, and a wise and virtuous.

                        I nursed her daughter that you talked withal;

                        I tell you, he that can lay hold of her

                        Shall have the chinks.

ROMEO                                               Is she a Capulet?

                        O dear account! my life is my foe’s debt. (1.5.110-117)

There’s no direction for Juliet here, although some editions add one – it’s clear, however, that Juliet moves away. The Nurse is, as ever, on to it in her own way: has she spotted something going on that she wants to break up, or is she conveying a genuine message? Bachelor doesn’t have to mean unmarried man, and Marry doesn’t have anything to do with matrimony (it’s a mild oath, Mary) – but to modern ears, it’s hard not to hear the irony of the phrase – especially given that the Nurse is clearly thinking along these lines when she boasts that in marriage-market terms, Juliet is a great catch. Ker-ching, as it were. (In the OED!) Juliet is a prize, financial and otherwise; the Nurse is returning to Romeo’s earlier idiom of enriching, as well as reporting fact. And Romeo picks up the financial metaphor and extends it: the situation, and Juliet herself, are both a dear, beloved and costly, reckoning – and his life is now owed to his enemies, because he loves Juliet and she is a Capulet. The Nurse’s completely inappropriate (but entirely characteristic) reminder that she nursed Juliet takes us back to 1.3 and the lengthy discussion of Juliet’s weaning – and it’s therefore also a reminder of just how young Juliet is.


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