To die, and lie with Juliet (5.3.286-290)

PRINCE           This letter doth make good the Friar’s words,

                        Their course of love, the tidings of her death;

                        And here he writes that he did buy a poison

                        Of a poor pothecary, and therewithal

                        Came to this vault to die, and lie with Juliet. (5.3.286-290)

Realism is, as ever, a dodgy position to which to default, but it might reasonably be intuited here that a) the Prince reads the letter very quickly, unless there’s a pause after the Page speaks, in the process not paying much attention to the Page, b) the letter is very short, and c) the Prince believes the Friar anyway and this is mostly just corroboration. That last is what’s prioritized, and we might imagine the Friar’s expression of relief, when he hears that the letter doth make good his version of the story. And there’s a quick sketch of the essentials – their course of love, the tidings of her death – the latter corroborating Balthasar’s story – and then the final detail, the last missing piece: the poison. There’s a flash of psychological realism in the otherwise irrelevant detail of the poor pothecary – it makes no difference to the import of the letter, where Romeo obtained the poison – but we’ve seen already how vividly he recalled the apothecary’s shop, and how intense that brief encounter was, with the penetrating, worldly, world-weary emphasis Romeo gave to the apothecary’s poverty, knowing that it would mean that the man would sell him what he asked for, even if it were illegal. And so, therewithal, with the poison, Romeo came to this vault to die, and lie with Juliet. Here the Prince echoes Romeo’s own words: Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight; we might imagine that after paraphrasing or summarising, here the Prince is actually reading the letter aloud, quoting Romeo’s words exactly. A ghostly, final echo of his voice, not least of the familiar, latently erotic lie/die. A bittersweet recollection of Romeo’s own breathless, joyous summary to the Friar, the morning after the balcony scene: When and where and how we met, we wooed, we made exchange of vow… Now that the facts are known, now that at least the outline of the story has been told, the Prince must act.

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