Rope ladders, and joyful anticipation (2.4.148-161)

ROMEO           Bid her devise

                        Some means to come to shrift this afternoon,

                        And there she shall at Friar Lawrence’ cell

                        Be shrived and married. Here is for thy pains.

NURSE            No truly sir, not a penny.

ROMEO           Go to, I say you shall.

NURSE            This afternoon, sir? Well, she shall be there.

ROMEO           And stay, good Nurse, behind the abbey wall:

                        Within this hour my man shall be with thee,

                        And bring thee cords made like a tackled stair,

                        Which to the high top-gallant of my joy

                        Must be my convoy in the secret night.

                        Farewell, be trusty, and I’ll quit thy pains.

                        Farewell, commend me to thy mistress. (2.4.148-161)

The rope ladder, the cords made like a tackled stair is a necessary part of the plot; it does rather come across as a hasty afterthought here. But let’s be positive: Romeo is revealing hitherto unsuspected qualities of forward planning and practicality. (Even, perhaps, a knowledge of knotting techniques…) It’s a frank acknowledgement of the anticipated marriage’s sexual element, but both Romeo and the audience would be well aware that physical consummation was needed for the marriage to be legally binding; in a way it’s Romeo being practical again, as well as honest, because the consummation of the marriage would make it almost impossible for disapproving parents to attempt to have it annulled. There’s a nautical conceit here: the top-gallant is the little platform at the top of a ship’s mast, such as might be used by a look-out (disappointingly for the burgeoning bird obsession, ‘crow’s nest’ doesn’t seem to be current for centuries…) A little, necessarily railed platform overhead neatly recalls the balcony, gives a visual reminder to the audience both of the balcony scene itself and what Romeo will have to do to climb it. Convoy is also nautical, here meaning conveyance or guide; we might recall Romeo’s earlier He that hath the steerage of my course direct my sail, and Juliet’s own comparison of her love to the sea. And I like the simplicity of joy– enjoyment in a sexual sense, yes, but also to Juliet herself, his joy.

The employment of the ruse of going to confession could be troubling, but there’s actually no suggestion that Juliet will not make her confession, not that an audience is going to worry much about that. The Nurse initially refuses payment but it’s only a gesture, and Romeo has got her measure sufficiently to know that she doesn’t need much encouragement to take whatever coin he’s offering her. There might be a suggestion in the usual idiom there’s for thy pains that her initial refusal is because she takes pleasure in what she’s doing, or that pleasure is one of the things at stake here; Feste plays with painsand pleasure in similar circumstances in Twelfth Night.

From a slightly geeky editorial perspective: the beginning of Romeo’s speech here can be set either as a fourteener or as a half-line, followed by regular iambic pentameter. Whatever, the shift into verse when Romeo imagines Juliet, imagines marrying her, imagines climbing the balcony, is satisfying.

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