[Paris strews the tomb with flowers.]
PARIS Sweet flower, with flowers thy bridal bed I strew –
O woe, thy canopy is dust and stones! –
Which with sweet water nightly I will dew,
Or wanting that, with tears distilled by moans.
The obsequies that I for thee will keep
Nightly shall be to strew thy grave and weep. (5.3.12-17)
Oh, this is cunning. In some respects this is a continuation of the scene where Juliet’s ‘death’ is discovered, where the Capulets and Paris and the Nurse get carried away with very formal, even archaic, quite ritualised expressions of grief. Paris is speaking in rhyming verse; this could be described as a sestet (four lines with alternating rhymes and a couplet), so a sort-of incomplete sonnet. Nicely conventional rhymes (strew/dew; stones/moans; keep/weep) – but it seems heartfelt (as indeed does the earlier scene). By starting this climactic scene with Paris, apparently grief-stricken for Juliet’s death, the bar is set for Romeo to surpass – and it’s also set up that he will have to find a different idiom in which to express his grief, that we will find more ‘authentic’, even more heartfelt. And, of course, it makes it worse when Romeo kills Paris, that we’re feeling sorry for him too. (Spoiler. Sorry.) Paris’s actions – strewing flowers and sweet water – also foreground the connection, which is going to be so central to this scene, between grave and wedding bed: both would be decorated with flowers and sprinkled with perfume (or indeed holy water). Juliet is, again, the sweet flower. And, again, those repeated sounds: O woe. They will recur. Paris is also imagining a future stretching out before him, saying that he’s going to keep doing this, night after night, mourning Juliet at her grave. And that’s poignant too. Poor Paris.