Where’s Romeo? And what’s all this blood? (5.3.139-144)

FRIAR                                                  Romeo!

                        [Friar stoops and looks on the blood and weapons.]

                        Alack, alack, what blood is this which stains

                        The stony entrance of this sepulchre?

                        What mean these masterless and gory swords

                        To lie discoloured by this place of peace?

                                                [Enters the tomb.] (5.3.139-144)

Ages ago I noted that both Juliet and Romeo, but especially Romeo, are often called for by name by their friends and family, and latterly by each other; this is especially the case with Romeo, for whom the question where’s Romeo? is a repeated one, from his parents, Benvolio, Mercutio, and now the Friar. The Friar hopes for an answering shout, but already fears that none will come… The first stage direction is only found in the first quarto, and it’s a bit tricky: is there really going to be blood? After all, the particularities of this sepulchre and its stony entrance are imaginary, at least in their stoniness, and the status of the entrance seems quite vague. There may well be swords left lying (which would suggest, given that Romeo still has his dagger, that he and Paris did fight with rapiers). But it’s meant to be dark. Exchanging Romeo’s sword for a gory one (probably the usual way of presenting such a thing: pre-bloodied rather than bloodied on stage) would be unnecessarily fussy, too. And it seems vanishingly unlikely that any stage blood would be splashed around, endangering costumes (no opportunity to strip to their shirts to fight) for such a brief effect. No, this is a textbook example of how blood and bleeding are displaced into language in Shakespeare’s theatre, and this speech of the Friar’s is a clear counterbalancing of the Nurse’s description of Tybalt’s gory death-wound, which makes the audience ‘see’ it retrospectively. Even the Alack, alack sounds like the Nurse. The second stage direction is editorial, but it could be that the Friar enters the tomb from the churchyard via one of the side stage entrances, and immediately re-enters, as it were into the interior of the tomb, through the central entrance to the discovery space. Oh dear… Poor Friar Lawrence – he did his best, and he’s in for a terrible time for the rest of the play.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *