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Romeo and Juliet

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ACT IV SCENE III Juliet's chamber. 
[Enter JULIET and Nurse]
JULIETAy, those attires are best: but, gentle nurse,
I pray thee, leave me to myself to-night,
For I have need of many orisons
To move the heavens to smile upon my state,
Which, well thou know'st, is cross, and full of sin.
LADY CAPULETWhat, are you busy, ho? need you my help?
JULIETNo, madam; we have cull'd such necessaries
As are behoveful for our state to-morrow:
So please you, let me now be left alone,
And let the nurse this night sit up with you;10
For, I am sure, you have your hands full all,
In this so sudden business.
Get thee to bed, and rest; for thou hast need.
[Exeunt LADY CAPULET and Nurse]
JULIETFarewell! God knows when we shall meet again.
I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins,
That almost freezes up the heat of life:
I'll call them back again to comfort me:
Nurse! What should she do here?
My dismal scene I needs must act alone.
Come, vial.20
What if this mixture do not work at all?
Shall I be married then to-morrow morning?
No, no: this shall forbid it: lie thou there.
[Laying down her dagger]
What if it be a poison, which the friar
Subtly hath minister'd to have me dead,
Lest in this marriage he should be dishonour'd,
Because he married me before to Romeo?
I fear it is: and yet, methinks, it should not,
For he hath still been tried a holy man.
How if, when I am laid into the tomb,30
I wake before the time that Romeo
Come to redeem me? there's a fearful point!
Shall I not, then, be stifled in the vault,
To whose foul mouth no healthsome air breathes in,
And there die strangled ere my Romeo comes?
Or, if I live, is it not very like,
The horrible conceit of death and night,
Together with the terror of the place,--
As in a vault, an ancient receptacle,
Where, for these many hundred years, the bones40
Of all my buried ancestors are packed:
Where bloody Tybalt, yet but green in earth,
Lies festering in his shroud; where, as they say,
At some hours in the night spirits resort;--
Alack, alack, is it not like that I,
So early waking, what with loathsome smells,
And shrieks like mandrakes' torn out of the earth,
That living mortals, hearing them, run mad:--
O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environed with all these hideous fears?50
And madly play with my forefather's joints?
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud?
And, in this rage, with some great kinsman's bone,
As with a club, dash out my desperate brains?
O, look! methinks I see my cousin's ghost
Seeking out Romeo, that did spit his body
Upon a rapier's point: stay, Tybalt, stay!
Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee.
[She falls upon her bed, within the curtains]

Next: Romeo and Juliet, Act 4, Scene 4


Explanatory Notes for Act 4, Scene 3

From Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.

1. those attires are best, those are the best dresses, etc., for the occasion.

3. orisons, prayers; O. F. orison, prayer, ultimately from Lat. orare, to pray.

4. my state, sc. of mind.

5. cross, perverse, not willing to acquiesce in God's will.

7. cull'd, picked out, selected; Lat. colligere, to collect.

8. behoveful for our state, appropriate to the pomp, splendour, of to-morrow's ceremony; such as it behoves us to use; to 'behove' is literally to be necessary.

9. So please you, if you will be so good; provided it pleases you.

11. full all, thoroughly, very fully, occupied.

12. In this ... business, in these preparations that have so unexpectedly come upon us.

14. God knows ... again, possibly we may never meet again. Juliet is determined to kill herself, rather than marry Paris, if the potion does not work as the Friar assured her it would, and at the same time she has a suspicion that the potion may be a fatal poison.

15. thrills, which thrills; for the omission of the relative, see Abb. 244.

16. the heat of life, the warmth which life sends through the body; not the heat that belongs to life.

18. What should ... here? but what is the use of my calling the Nurse back? she can be of no use in that which I have to do.

19. My dismal ... alone. Shakespeare's figurative use of terms of the stage is, as might be expected, very frequent; the words act, scene, stage, proloque, part, etc., being thus employed by him. Cp. e.g. A. Y. L.ii. 7. 139-4.3, "All the world's a stage. And all the men and women merely players: They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages."

21. What if ... all? supposing this mixture has no such effect as the Friar promised, what will happen then?

23. forbid, prevent.

Stage Direction. Laying down her dagger. Steevens has shown that "knives were formerly part of the accoutrement of a bride," but it does not follow that the dagger here was such part, for we have seen above, iv. 1. 62, that she is provided with a "bloody knife," though without any thought of decking herself for marriage with Paris.

25. Subtly ... dead, has cunningly provided in order to make sure of my death; to 'minister a poison' would in modern parlance mean rather 'cause it to be taken,' than merely furnish it.

28. it should not, it is not likely to be.

29. tried, sc. and proved; proved by trial, test. After this line there follows in the first quarto "I will not entertain so bad a thought," and this has been incorporated by a majority of the editors. Ulrici, however, points out, with great force as it seems to me, that Juliet's loftiness of resolve and the depth of her love and fidelity are shown more clearly if her suspicion of the Friar remains not wholly allayed.

32. a fearful point, a thing terrible to contemplate.

34. To whose ... in, into whose foul mouth no wholesome air finds its way.

35. strangled, suffocated, choked; the modern sense of choked by external compression is more accurate, the word coming from the Gk....a halter.

36. is it not very like. The construction, interrupted here, is taken up in 1. 45, again interrupted, and finally otherwise shaped in 1. 49.

37. The horrible ... night, the horrible thoughts of death which the tomb will force upon me, those thoughts being intensified by the terror that belongs to night.

38. the terror of the place, the terror which is naturally inspired by such a place.

39. As in a vault, I finding myself in a vault.

40. this many hundred years, this period of many, etc., though this gives an idea of vagueness; so M. M. i. 3. 21, "this nineteen years"; Macb. v. 5. 37, "Within this three mile"; Cor. iv. 1. 55, "but one seven years." Also below, v. 2. 25, v. 3. 175.

41. pack'd, so closely mixed, stored in such numbers; the number of the dead, like the antiquity of the place (1. 39) adds to the horror.

42. yet but ... earth, so lately buried: as we should say 'hardly cold in his grave.'

43. festering, rotting, corrupting.

46. So early waking, waking before daylight has come.

46, 7. what with ... earth, with the combined effect upon my senses of the loathsome smells and the shrieking, gibbering, of the spirits as though they were mandrakes being plucked from the earth; what with, as we now say, 'what with one thing and another,' i.e. such was the result of all the circumstances: mandrakes, the plant mandragora, supposed to resemble a man's figure, and sometimes represented with a duck's head (man-drake). "An inferior degree of animal life," says Nares, "was attributed to it, and it was commonly supposed that when torn from the ground it uttered groans of so pernicious a nature that the person who committed the violence went mad or died. To escape that danger, it was recommended to tie one end of a string to the plant and the other to a dog, upon whom the fatal groan would then discharge its full malignity." It was also said to he especially found in graveyards in which animals had been buried. The references to the superstition are frequent in old writers; and in ii. H. VI. iii. 2. 310, we have "Would curses kill, as doth the mandrake's groan, I would invent as bitter-searching terms, As curst, as harsh and horrible to hear."

49. O, if I wake, again taking up the construction, and now completing it: distraught, distracted; mentally torn asunder, the feelings, as it were, tearing and rending the frame. So, Lear, iii. 2. 57, 8, "close pent-up guilts, Rive your concealing continents," i.e. burst through the bodies in which you are enveloped.

51. madly, in my madness.

53. great kinsman's, "compounded like great-nephew, great-grandfather and the like" (Delius); i.e. great in distance of time.

56. spit, thrust through as with a spit, skewer, on which meat is roasted; cp. H. V. iii. 3. 38, "Your naked infants spitted upon pikes."

57. stay, Tybalt, stay, "she does not call upon Tybalt to remain, but to hold. In her vision she imagines he is going to hurt Romeo" (Delius).

58. this do ... thee, I pledge you in this potion.

Stage Direction. within the curtains. "Some explanation of the business of the old stage may perhaps here be necessary. The space 'within the curtains' where Juliet's bed is placed, was the space at the back of the stage proper, beneath the raised stage or gallery which served for a balcony, or the walls of a besieged town as the case required; this was divided from the stage proper by a traverse or curtain. The curtain closing before Juliet's bed, the stage was now supposed to represent a hall in Capulet's house (Sc. 4) where Capulet busies himself with the preparations for the wedding. On his hearing of the arrival of Paris he summons the Nurse to call forth Juliet, which, he being gone, she proceeds to do, and opening the curtains the scene again becomes Juliet's chamber (Sc. 5) where she is discovered dead apparently on her bed. After the general lamentations which take place on this occasion, 'They all but the Nurse goe foorth casting Rosemary on her (Juliet) and shutting the curtens' (Q1); and then follows the scene with Peter and the Musicians, the stage then again being supposed a hall or some other apartment in Capulet's house" (Daniel).


How to cite the explanatory notes:

Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < >.


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