Strew rosemary, and prepare for a funeral (4.5.91-95)

FRIAR              Sir, go you in, and, madam, go with him,

                        And go, Sir Paris. Everyone prepare

                        To follow this fair corse unto her grave.

                        The heavens do low’r upon you for some ill;

                        Move them no more by crossing their high will.

[They all, but the Nurse and the Musicians, go forth, casting rosemary on her, and shutting the curtains] (4.5.91-95SD)

This is mostly the Q1 stage direction and therefore may reflect early performances; the presence of the Musicians, having entered with Paris and the Friar, is indicated in a later text and often incorporated, although some editions have them entering at this point, after Paris, the Capulets and the Friars have left. That the Nurse remains behind is common to all editions, however, and it’s a poignant detail – not just that she can’t bear to leave her girl immediately, but also that she, unlike the Friar, is no longer in Juliet’s confidence; she too believes that Juliet is dead. And in fact, unless a director and actors make the choice to bring her back, silently, in the final scene in the tomb (as Erica Whyman’s current RSC production does, to devastating effect) this is the Nurse’s last appearance in the play. The rosemary is strewn (another wedding-to-funeral transformation, not just in that rosemary was common to both occasions as a favour distributed to guests, but also specifically that bridal beds could be decorated with flowers: ‘I thought thy bride-bed to have decked, sweet maid, and not have strewed thy grave’, Gertrude says at Ophelia’s burial in Hamlet. Juliet herself said, seeing Romeo, My grave is like to be my wedding bed, and, of his banishment, I’ll to my wedding bed, and death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead. And Lady Capulet, of Juliet’s initial refusal to marry Paris: I would the fool were married to her grave. The actions of the exiting characters here, and the Nurse and perhaps even the musicians too, materialise this connection between bridal and burial, bed and grave, even though we know that Juliet is not dead, and that her marriage to Romeo was consummated in that very bed. Rosemary, of course, has a pungent scent; some in the audience might be able to smell it, especially if it were crushed underfoot, and be reminded of other weddings, and especially funerals.

The Friar can’t quite resist a final moralising couplet: some ill is clearly the family feud, but although he invokes the heavens, and calls on the Capulets (and Paris, presumably) not to anger them any further, his expression of this as crossing their high will echoes the star-crossed lovers of the Prologue. Everything is fated, pre-ordained, and there is nothing to be done. Redundant moralising aside, however, the Friar is touchingly practical, and again pastoral. He gives them precise instructions: Sir, go you in, and, madam, go with him, and go, Sir Paris. All three of you need to go now, Capulet and Lady Capulet together, and Paris separately. And you all need to get ready to take Juliet’s body to the church. The small, achievable action: this is what you need to do now, in this moment. I can tell how shocked you are, so here are just the very next steps you need to take.

And the bed curtains are shut– probably to facilitate the moving of the bed off-stage – and Juliet can take a deep breath and scratch her nose and do something about the cramp in her left foot.

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