Said Ay… (1.3.50-59)

LADY CAPULET         Enough of this, I pray thee hold thy peace.

NURSE                        Yes, madam, yet I cannot choose but laugh,

                                    To think it should leave crying and say ‘Ay’:

                                    And yet I warrant it had upon it brow

                                    A bump as big as a young cock’rel’s stone,

                                    A perilous knock, and it cried bitterly.

                                    ‘Yea’, quoth my husband, ‘fall’st upon thy face?

                                    Thou wilt fall backward when thou comest to age,

                                    Wilt thou not, Jule?’ It stinted, and said ‘Ay’.

JULIET                     And stint thou too, I pray thee, Nurse, say I. (1.3.50-59)


Is this just more of the same? Yes, and no. The additional, coarse detail of the bump as big as a young cock’rel’s stone, testicle, emphasises – vividly – the Nurse’s obsession with bodies and sex. It’s also a wonderfully homely comparison. When Juliet rejoins the scene and interrupts, it’s affectionate and witty; she picks up and echoes the Nurse’s phrasing and makes a neat couplet out of the Ay / I homophone. Lady Capulet is exasperated and characteristically formal; Juliet is used to this running on, and knows how to deal with it. Compare Romeo and Benvolio.

Two further thoughts. One is that there is a neat illustration here of the suggestion that actors working from cue scripts – that is, with only their own parts and their cues, rather than the whole play text – might have their performances shaped by false cues, leading them to interrupt ‘too early’ and therefore have to stop and start, perhaps in growing frustration. The Nurse’s repeated said ‘Ay’ / said ‘Ay’ / say ‘Ay’ / said ‘Ay’ might work in this way, with first Lady Capulet and then Juliet given false cues. A second idea: the Nurse’s excess, her warmth, the copiousness of her language, her repetitions, models a kind of plenitude and abundance which is the antithesis of both the closed formality of Lady Capulet and the way in which Capulet emphasises that Juliet is his only surviving child. In some respects Juliet is isolated, but she will later describe her love for Romeo in terms of bounty as boundless as the sea, and the lovers will speak, together and apart, in terms as generous and as generative as those employed here – albeit in a very different register – by the Nurse. So, probably just comic relief. But also those crucial notes of warmth, physicality, and an abundance that is at once linguistic, physical, and emotional.

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