Page images

the Nurse as to Juliet's birthday place near the middle of July, when it wants “a fortnight and odd days” to Lammastide-loafmass, the 1st of August, time of the presentation in church of loaves baked from the new corn of the harvest. Daybreak in the middle of July is about four in the morning. If Juliet took the potion at 4 a.m. on the night between Tuesday and Wednesday, the forty-two hours of her death-like trance would end at 10 p.m. on Thursday night, and the events in the churchyard cover the hours from about ten o'clock on Thursday night—the coming of Paris with his offering of flowers would be towards bedtime-until the dawn of Friday morning, for the play closes with daybreak.

The swiftness of action is meant to associate the story with the rash passions of youth. It prompts Friar Laurence's warning (Act II., Scene 6)

“ These violent delights have violent ends,

And in their triumph die : like fire and powder,
Which as they kiss consume. The sweetest hoạey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness,
And in the taste confounds the appetite :
Therefore love moderately ; long love doth so :
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow."

But though an impetuous love passion in young spirits impatient of delay, a stir of quick Italian blood in the hot July weather, it is young love, fresh in the morning, radiant with colours of the dawn, in direct contrast-and among Shakespeare's plays in designed contrast-to the middle-aged sensualism of Antony and Cleopatra. It is marked by a tender spirit of reverence. Juliet is Romeo's

sweet saint;" all the divine beauty of the love wherewith God binds the innocence of young men and young maidens for joint conquest of the evils of the world, is shown by the master poet in sharp contrast with the quick passions of hate. As Romeo says in the first scene of the fray whose sound has reached him, “Here's much to do with hate, but more with love." Shakespeare ofter, builds the story of a play upon a discord that he may show how it is turned to harmony. There are the two discords between pairs of brothers in As You Like It-one brought to music by man's love to his neighbour, and the other by his love to God. There is the discord between Jew and Christian in the Merchant of Venice tuned in the last act to music of the spheres, as the son of the Christian and the daughter of the Jew exchange responses in their litany of love. It was, in the treacheries of Proteus in The Two Gentlemen of Verona, made love again upon the instant by a true repentance. It was in the cruelty of those who set Prospero adrift upon the waters, and whom he brought into his power by a magic Tempest, only that he might use his art to bring them to repentance and return with them in love and human fellowship. It is in Romeo and Juliet. The feuds of Capulet and Montague stand for the discords of the world, that raise the storms in which young love is wrecked. But even here love bears its proper fruit. From each of the contending factions that represent the strength of hate, young love flutters to find its mate in the opposing rank. Of hate comes death; but of the innocent love, even in death, springs life that wears the laurel crown. The death of the young lovers is the death of the old hate. Juliet's dower after death is the hand of her father knit in friendship with the hand of his old enemy

O brother Montague, give me thy hand :
This is my daughter's jointure, for no more
Can I demand."

Old Montague will raise a statue of gold to the daughter of the Capulets. Old Capulet will pay equal honour to the son of the Montagues. Shakespeare thus closes his play as he had foreshadowed it in the opening Chorus, which said that the star-crossed lovers

Do with their death bury their parents' strife."

The play, properly acted, would end with the old heads of opposing faction, Capulet and Montague, mourning with joined hands over the dead lovers whom their strife has slain. The play, improperly acted, leaves out that most essential part of the tale in order that the curtain may fall while the audience is applauding the elaborate stage-death of the Star Actor. That luminary has taken care to fall as far as may be from the body of Juliet, in order that he may wriggle himself with a pathetic eel-like motion across the intervening space, and there must be no old Capulet and old Montague to catch the applause at the fall of the curtain merely because they have essential business to do after the Star Actor and Moon Actress have got through their business of dying. When shall we all understand our Shakespeare well enough to be impatient of these ignorances of stage managers ? Every self-styled “practical" man who treads the boards is ready to play Tybalt to Shakespeare's Mercutio, and often--as here, in cutting out the reconciliation of the Capulets and Montagues over the bodies of Romeo and Juliet-he makes a wound “not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve." It lets the soul out of the play.

In the division of the story of the play the First Act ends with the love at first sight on Sunday night; the Second Act ends with the marriage on Monday afternoon, and includes provision of a rope ladder for Romeo's entrance to his wife's chamber on Monday night. The Third Act brings into the streets the fray that parts the lovers. Mercutio is killed by Tybalt, and Tybalt by Romeo, an hour after the secret marriage to Juliet. Romeo is banished and will go to Mantua after his wedding night, when Romeo and Juliet meet to part for ever in this world, while old Capulet is planning the marriage of Juliet to the Count Paris, and she resists compulsion put on her to marry what would be a second husband on Thursday. In the Fourth Act Friar Laurence invents his plan of the potion, which is carried out; and in the Fifth Act comes the thwarting of the plan, with all the tragic issues. But there is God's Providence in these, for the lovers wake to heaven and leave a legacy of love on earth in the extinction of the fouds between the Capulets and the Montagues.

In the opening of the play with marking of the feud, the growth of the strife from servants upward, till the heads of the two houses are involved, prepares for the entrance of Romeo with a young passionate yearning to love and be loved that spends itself in vain on Rosaline; and here there is an indication of the time. It is “but new struck nine." In the next scene we pass from Montague to Capulet, and preparation for the "old accustomed feast.” Capulet speaks of his daughter's youth in answer to the suit of Paris, “She hath not seen the change of fourteen years”; the Nurse afterwards, in her calculations with Lady Capulet, makes that more exact; and suggests also,—what accords with bygone customs—that she was three years old when she was weaned. No stress should be laid on the quotation of an earthquake to remember by. That is the way of an old nurse's talk. There was an earthquake in England on the 6th of April, 1580,. when Shakespeare was sixteen years old, and he may actually have heard old women reckon from the earthquake. But to infer from this mention of eleven years since the earthquake, as Tyrwhitt did, and Malone half supported him in doing, that Shakespeare wrote Romeo and Juliet in 1591, is building upon sand.

When Lady Capulet, speaking of the suit of Paris, says to Juliet -

“I was your mother much upon these years
That you are now a maid,'

we find that the age of Lady Capulet is under thirty. But the old age of her husband is marked delightfully in the next scene, when his talk of the past with an old kinsman is brought into immediate juxtaposition with Romeo's first words upon seeing Juliet. In like manner the fiery hate of Tybalt, when he detects Romeo in the house of his enemies, is expressed in words that stand next before the first utterances of Romeo's love. The deep sense of reverence in those first utterances is also strongly marked. To touch Juliet is to profane a shrine; she is to Romeo his “ dear saint," and the same phrase recurs in the balcony

-“My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself.” Friar Laurence is first shown when he has returned to his cell from gathering herbs in the early morning, and his knowledge of the powers of herbs is marked at the outset for dramatic purpose, while his moralising on them fits the spirit of the story


“Two such opposéd kings encamp them still
In man as well as herbs, grace and rude will ;
And where the worser is predominant
Full soon the canker doth eat up that plant."

The Nurse sent out at nine to Romeo, finds him at noon, each hour being marked in the dialogue of the play. The animal character of the Nurse, as well as her infirmity, makes her serve admirably as foil to Juliet. Her earthly views of love and marriage, marked by sexual suggestion and low thought, bring out into vivid expression the fine spirit of youth and glow of young imagination that melts the flesh into the spirit, instead of burying the spirit in the flesh. This difference leads to a complete severance of the old ties that had bound them together from the days when Juliet lay at her nurse's breast. Love opens the girl's eyes

« PreviousContinue »