R is for Romeo, and rosemary (and rose) (2.4.173-181)

NURSE            Doth not rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?

ROMEO           Ay, Nurse, what of that? Both with an R.

NURSE            Ah, mocker, that’s the dog-name. R is for the—no, I know it begins with some other letter – and she hath the prettiest sententious of it, of you and rosemary, that it would do you good to hear it.

ROMEO           Commend me to thy lady.

NURSE            Ay, a thousand times.

                                                                        [Exit Romeo]


PETER                        Anon.

NURSE            Before and apace.

                                                            Exit [after Peter] (2.4.173-181)

Easily cut, or at least trimmed, again. But what strikes me here – as with what I think is the evocation of Juliet comparing Paris with a toad and possibly making vomit noises at the thought of any kind of physical contact with him – is that this is all about Juliet and what she’s been doing since the end of the balcony scene. The dog-name or dog-letter, is rrrrrr, the sound of a growling dog, and rrrrr of course sounds a bit like arse – but that rather tired wordplay alerts us to other ways in which words can be played with, as Juliet has been doing. She’s been playing with names– with Romeo’s name, still – and perhaps even composing mottoes or poems. And while rosemary is appropriate, straightforwardly and ironically, in its associations with both weddings and funerals, we know that the Nurse characteristically gets things slightly wrong – so is it, in fact, that Juliet is still thinking about Romeo and roses and what’s in a name? (Or – potentially more troubling thought – was the Nurse listening in to the balcony scene? that which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet is certainly sententious, or a sentence, an aphorism. And although the suggestion that she will commend Romeo to Juliet a thousand times is both characteristic of her garrulity and idiomatically conventional, it also echoes Juliet’s a thousand times good night in the balcony scene.) As she’s entered the scene, so the Nurse leaves it, with as much dignity as she can muster – Peter going before her – but also apace, at speed. (Although – setting up the next scene – nowhere near fast enough.)



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