Wisely and slow? (2.3.81-94)

ROMEO           Thou chid’st me oft for loving Rosaline.

FRIAR              For doting, not for loving, pupil mine.

ROMEO           And bad’st me bury love.

FRIAR                                                              Not in a grave,

                        To lay one in, another out to have.

ROMEO           I pray thee chide me not. Her I love now

                        Doth grace for grace and love for love allow;

                        The other did not so.

FRIAR                                                  O she knew well

                        Thy love did read by rote that could not spell.

                        But come, young waverer, come go with me,

                        In one respect I’ll thy assistant be:

                        For this alliance may so happy prove

                        To turn your households’ rancour to pure love.

ROMEO           O let us hence, I stand on sudden haste.

FRIAR              Wisely and slow, they stumble that run fast.         Exeunt. (2.3.81-94)

Look at that: a fourteen-line exchange, with a classic turn (But come) between lines 8 and 9, when the Friar says that yes, he’ll do as Romeo asks. This crucial moment in the plot is being played out in another not-quite-sonnet: the whole scene has been in rhyming couplets, but this final movement overlays that with a fourteen-line unit, with lots of stichomythia and shared lines. So it’s quite reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet’s sonnet, which makes sense with a kind of weird retrospective logic: this is a relationship of trust and intimacy between Romeo and the Friar; they get each other; they tease each other; they have a long history of conversations and shared jokes. We might overlay that dynamic on to Romeo and Juliet’s relationship too: because it’s an almost-sonnet, it now sounds like the sort of thing that they’d say too.

What about the detail? The immaturity of Romeo’s crush on Rosaline is reinforced: Romeo is reminded that he’s recently been a schoolboy (chiding is what you’d do to a child; pupil mine; read by rote; could not spell: all that second-hand stuff that Romeo’s been regurgitating without really knowing or understanding what he was saying). There is of course a horrible irony in the idea of (not) burying love in a grave, but we probably overlook it in the levity of the moment. And Romeo comes back to the chiding: chide me not, because this is proper grown-up love, and it’s mutual and requited, which is reinforced by the balanced repetitions, grace for grace and love for love. And, despite how quick-witted I’m being, I have never been more serious about anything in all my life. The Friar takes it seriously too – and that’s, perhaps, the point of all the trust and intimacy that’s been so quickly established. He knows and loves this boy; he is all too aware of the family feud that blights his life, and the lives of so many others. So it’s worth the risk: it may prove happy, and not just happy but fortunate, for many more people than just the two of you. His intentions are good.

Romeo can’t quite believe it, and he’s off at a run again; I stand on sudden haste, we’ve got to do this as fast as possible. But the Friar’s got one more aphorism: more haste, less speed. He’s right, of course.

Something I didn’t comment on at the beginning of this scene is the role that the Friar’s first speech has in giving Romeo a breather after the balcony scene. If there’s any change in scenery there’s a bit of time, but if not (as in the original theatre space), it’s Romeo out one door at the end of the balcony scene and the Friar in through the other (assuming two or three entrances at the rear of the stage), and no time elapsing. Always worth thinking about the purely practical theatrical rationale for 30 lines of conventional wisdom on plants…

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