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feast. He, seeing Mercutio, accused him bluntly of associating with
Romeo, a Montague. Mercutio, who had as much fire and youthful blood in
him as Tybalt, replied to this accusation with some sharpness; and in
spite of all Benvolio could say to moderate their wrath, a quarrel was
beginning, when Romeo himself passing that way, the fierce Tybalt
turned from Mercutio to Romeo, and gave him the disgraceful appellation
of villain. Romeo wished to avoid a quarrel with Tybalt above all men,
because he was the kinsman of Juliet, and much beloved by her; besides,
this young Montague had never thoroughly entered into the family
quarrel, being by nature wise and gentle, and the name of a Capulet,
which was his dear lady's name, was now rather a charm to allay
resentment, than a watchword to excite fury. So he tried to reason with
Tybalt, whom he saluted mildly by the name of good Capulet, as if he,
though a Montague, had some secret pleasure in uttering that name: but
Tybalt, who hated all Montagues as he hated hell, would hear no reason,
but drew his weapon; and Mercutio, who knew not of Romeo's secret
motive for desiring peace with Tybalt, but looked upon his present
forbearance as a sort of calm dishonourable submission, with many
disdainful words provoked Tybalt to the prosecution of his first
quarrel with him; and Tybalt and Mercutio fought, till Mercutio fell,
receiving his death's wound while Romeo and Benvolio were vainly
endeavouring to part the combatants. Mercutio being dead, Romeo kept
his temper no longer, but returned the scornful appellation of villain
which Tybalt had given him; and they fought till Tybalt was slain by
Romeo. This deadly broil falling out in the midst of Verona at noonday,
the news of it quickly brought a crowd of citizens to the spot, and
among them the old lords Capulet and Montague, with their wives; and
soon after arrived the prince himself, who being related to Mercutio,
whom Tybalt had slain, and having had the peace of his government often
disturbed by these brawls of Montagues and Capulets, came determined to
put the law in strictest force against those who should be found to be
offenders. Benvolio, who had been eyewitness to the fray, was commanded
by the prince to relate the origin of it, which he did, keeping as near
the truth as he could without injury to Romeo, softening and excusing
the part which his friends took in it. Lady Capulet, whose extreme
grief for the loss of her kinsman Tybalt made her keep no bounds in her
revenge, exhorted the prince to do strict justice upon his murderer,
and to pay no attention to Benvolio's representation, who, being
Romeo's friend and a Montague, spoke partially. Thus she pleaded
against her new son-in-law, but she knew not yet that he was her
son-in-law and Juliet's husband. On the other hand was to be seen Lady
Montague pleading for her child's life, and arguing with some justice
that Romeo had done nothing worthy of punishment in taking the life of
Tybalt, which was already forfeited to the law by his having slain
Mercutio. The prince, unmoved by the passionate exclamations of these
women, on a careful examination of the facts, pronounced his sentence,
and by that sentence Romeo was banished from Verona.

Heavy news to young Juliet, who had been but a few hours a bride, and
now by this decree seemed everlastingly divorced! When the tidings
reached her, she at first gave way to rage against Romeo, who had slain
her dear cousin: she called him a beautiful tyrant, a fiend angelical,
a ravenous dove, a lamb with a wolf's nature, a serpent-heart hid with
a flowering face, and other like contradictory names, which denoted the
struggles in her mind between her love and her resentment: but in the
end love got the mastery, and the tears which she shed for grief that
Romeo had slain her cousin, turned to drops of joy that her husband
lived whom Tybalt would have slain. Then came fresh tears, and they
were altogether of grief for Romeo's banishment. That word was more
terrible to her than the death of many Tybalts.

Romeo, after the fray, had taken refuge in friar Lawrence's cell, where
he was first made acquainted with the prince's sentence, which seemed
to him far more terrible than death. To him it appeared there was no
world out of Verona's walls, no living out of the sight of Juliet.
Heaven was there where Juliet lived, and all beyond was purgatory,
torture, hell. The good friar would have applied the consolation of
philosophy to his griefs: but this frantic young man would hear of
none, but like a madman he tore his hair, and threw himself all along
upon the ground, as he said, to take the measure of his grave. From
this unseemly state he was roused by a message from his dear lady,
which a little revived him; and then the friar took the advantage to
expostulate with him on the unmanly weakness which he had shown. He had
slain Tybalt, but would he also slay himself, slay his dear lady, who
lived but in his life? The noble form of man, he said, was but a shape
of wax, when it wanted the courage which should keep it firm. The law
had been lenient to him, that instead of death, which he had incurred,
had pronounced by the prince's mouth only banishment. He had slain
Tybalt, but Tybalt would have slain him: there was a sort of happiness
in that. Juliet was alive, and (beyond all hope) had become his dear
wife; therein he was most happy. All these blessings, as the friar made
them out to be, did Romeo put from him like a sullen misbehaved wench.
And the friar bade him beware, for such as despaired, (he said) died
miserable. Then when Romeo was a little calmed, he counselled him that
he should go that night and secretly take his leave of Juliet, and
thence proceed straightways to Mantua, at which place he should
sojourn, till the friar found fit occasion to publish his marriage,
which might be a joyful means of reconciling their families; and then
he did not doubt but the prince would be moved to pardon him, and he
would return with twenty times more joy than he went forth with grief.
Romeo was convinced by these wise counsels of the friar, and took his
leave to go and seek his lady, proposing to stay with her that night,
and by daybreak pursue his journey alone to Mantua; to which place the
good friar promised to send him letters from time to time, acquainting
him with the state of affairs at home.

That night Romeo passed with his dear wife, gaining secret admission to
her chamber, from the orchard in which he had heard her confession of
love the night before. That had been a night of unmixed joy and
rapture; but the pleasures of this night, and the delight which these
lovers took in each other's society, were sadly allayed with the
prospect of parting, and the fatal adventures of the past day. The
unwelcome daybreak seemed to come too soon, and when Juliet heard the
morning song of the lark, she would have persuaded herself that it was
the nightingale, which sings by night, but it was too truly the lark
which sang, and a discordant and unpleasing note it seemed to her; and
the streaks of day in the east too certainly pointed out that it was
time for these lovers to part. Romeo took his leave of his dear wife
with a heavy heart, promising to write to her from Mantua every hour in
the day; and when he had descended from her chamber-window, as he stood
below her on the ground, in that sad foreboding state of mind in which
she was, he appeared to her eyes as one dead in the bottom of a tomb.
Romeo's mind misgave him in like manner: but now he was forced hastily
to depart, for it was death for him to be found within the walls of
Verona after daybreak.

This was but the beginning of the tragedy of this pair of star-crossed
lovers. Romeo had not been gone many days, before the old lord Capulet
proposed a match for Juliet. The husband he had chosen for her, not
dreaming that she was married already, was count Paris, a gallant,
young, and noble gentleman, no unworthy suitor to the young Juliet, if
she had never seen Romeo.

The terrified Juliet was in a sad perplexity at her father's offer. She
pleaded her youth unsuitable to marriage, the recent death of Tybalt,
which had left her spirits too weak to meet a husband with any face of
joy, and how indecorous it would show for the family of the Capulets to
be celebrating a nuptial feast, when his funeral solemnities were
hardly over: she pleaded every reason against the match, but the true
one, namely, that she was married already. But lord Capulet was deaf to
all her excuses, and in a peremptory manner ordered her to get ready,
for by the following Thursday she should be married to Paris: and
having found her a husband, rich, young, and noble, such as the
proudest maid in Verona might joyfully accept, he could not bear that
out of an affected coyness, as he construed her denial, she should
oppose obstacles to her own good fortune.

In this extremity Juliet applied to the friendly friar, always her
counsellor in distress, and he asking her if she had resolution to
undertake a desperate remedy, and she answering that she would go into
the grave alive rather than marry Paris, her own dear husband living;
he directed her to go home, and appear merry, and give her consent to
marry Paris, according to her father's desire, and on the next night,
which was the night before the marriage, to drink off the contents of a
phial which he then gave her, the effect of which would be that for
two-and-forty hours after drinking it she should appear cold and
lifeless; and when the bridegroom came to fetch her in the morning, he
would find her to appearance dead; that then she would be borne, as the
manner in that country was, uncovered on a bier, to be buried in the
family vault; that if she could put off womanish fear, and consent to
this terrible trial, in forty-two hours after swallowing the liquid
(such was its certain operation) she would be sure to awake, as from a
dream; and before she should awake, he would let her husband know their
drift, and he should come in the night, and bear her thence to Mantua.
Love, and the dread of marrying Paris, gave young Juliet strength to
undertake this horrible adventure; and she took the phial of the friar,
promising to observe his directions.

Going from the monastery, she met the young count Paris, and modestly
dissembling, promised to become his bride. This was joyful news to the
lord Capulet and his wife. It seemed to put youth into the old man; and
Juliet, who had displeased him exceedingly, by her refusal of the
count, was his darling again, now she promised to be obedient. All
things in the house were in a bustle against the approaching nuptials.
No cost was spared to prepare such festival rejoicings as Verona had
never before witnessed.

On the Wednesday night Juliet drank off the potion. She had many
misgivings lest the friar, to avoid the blame which might be imputed to
him for marrying her to Romeo, had given her poison; but then he was
always known for a holy man: then lest she should awake before the time
that Romeo was to come for her; whether the terror of the place, a
vault of dead Capulets' bones, and where Tybalt, all bloody, lay
festering in his shroud, would not be enough to drive her distracted:
again she thought of all the stories she had heard of spirits haunting
the places where their bodies were bestowed. But then her love for
Romeo, and her aversion for Paris returned, and she desperately
swallowed the draught and became insensible.

When young Paris came early in the morning with music to awaken his
bride, instead of a living Juliet, her chamber presented the dreary
spectacle of a lifeless corset What death to his hopes! What confusion
then reigned through the whole house! Poor Paris lamenting his bride,
whom most detestable death had beguiled him of, had divorced from him
even before their hands were joined. But still more piteous it was to
hear the mournings of the old lord and lady Capulet, who having but
this one, one poor loving child to rejoice and solace in, cruel death
had snatched her from their sight, just as these careful parents were
on the point of seeing her advanced (as they thought) by a promising
and advantageous match. Now all things that were ordained for the
festival were turned from their properties to do the office of a black
funeral. The wedding cheer served for a sad burial feast, the bridal
hymns were changed for sullen dirges, the sprightly instruments to
melancholy bells, and the flowers that should have been strewed in the
bride's path, now served but to strew her corset Now, instead of a
priest to marry her, a priest was needed to bury her; and she was borne
to church indeed, not to augment the cheerful hopes of the living, but
to swell the dreary numbers of the dead.

Bad news, which always travels faster than good, now brought the dismal
story of his Juliet's death to Romeo, at Mantua, before the messenger
could arrive, who was sent from friar Lawrence to apprise him that
these were mock funerals only, and but the shadow and representation of
death, and that his dear lady lay in the tomb but for a short while,
expecting when Romeo would come to release her from that dreary
mansion. Just before, Romeo had been unusually joyful and
light-hearted. He had dreamed in the night that he was dead (a strange
dream, that gave a dead man leave to think), and that his lady came and
found him dead, and breathed such life with kisses in his lips, that he
revived, and was an emperor! And now that a messenger came from Verona,
he thought surely it was to confirm some good news which his dreams had
presaged. But when the contrary to this flattering vision appeared, and
that it was his lady who was dead in truth, whom he could not revive by
any kisses, he ordered horses to be got ready, for he determined that
night to visit Verona, and to see his lady in her tomb. And as mischief
is swift to enter into the thoughts of desperate men, he called to mind
a poor apothecary, whose shop in Mantua he had lately passed, and from
the beggarly appearance of the man, who seemed famished, and the
wretched show in his show of empty boxes ranged on dirty shelves, and
other tokens of extreme wretchedness, he had said at the time (perhaps
having some misgivings that his own disastrous life might haply meet
with a conclusion so desperate), 'If a man were to need poison, which
by the law of Mantua it is death to sell, here lives a poor wretch who
would sell it him.' These words of his now came into his mind, and he
sought out the apothecary, who after some pretended scruples, Romeo
offering him gold, which his poverty could not resist, sold him a
poison, which, if he swallowed, he told him, if he had the strength of
twenty men, would quickly despatch him.

With this poison he set out for Verona, to have a sight of his dear
lady in her tomb, meaning, when he had satisfied his sight, to swallow
the poison, and be buried by her side. He reached Verona at midnight,
and found the churchyard, in the midst of which was situated the
ancient tomb of the Capulets. He had provided a light, and a spade, and
wrenching iron, and was proceeding to break open the monument, when he
was interrupted by a voice, which by the name of vile Montague, bade
him desist from his unlawful business. It was the young count Paris,
who had come to the tomb of Juliet at that unseasonable time of night,
to strew flowers and to weep over the grave of her that should have
been his bride. He knew not what an interest Romeo had in the dead, but
knowing him to be a Montague, and (as he supposed) a sworn foe to all
the Capulets, he judged that he was come by night to do some villanous
shame to the dead bodies; therefore in an angry tone he bade him
desist; and as a criminal, condemned by the laws of Verona to die if he
were found within the walls of the city, he would have apprehended him.
Romeo urged Paris to leave him, and warned him by the fate of Tybalt,
who lay buried there, not to provoke his anger, or draw down another
sin upon his head, by forcing him to kill him. But the count in scorn
refused his warning, and laid hands on him as a felon, which Romeo
resisting, they fought, and Paris fell. When Romeo, by the help of a
light, came to see who it was that he had slain, that it was Paris, who
(he learned in his way from Mantua) should have married Juliet, he took
the dead youth by the hand, as one whom misfortune had made a
companion, and said that he would bury him in a triumphal grave,
meaning in Juliet's grave, which he now opened: and there lay his lady,
as one whom death had no power upon to change a feature or complexion,
in her matchless beauty; or as if Death were amorous, and the lean
abhorred monster kept her there for his delight; for she lay yet fresh
and blooming, as she had fallen to sleep when she swallowed that
benumbing potion; and near her lay Tybalt in his bloody shroud, whom
Romeo seeing, begged pardon of his lifeless corse, and for Juliet's
sake called him cousin, and said that he was about to do him a favour
by putting his enemy to death. Here Romeo took his last leave of his
lady's lips, kissing them; and here he shook the burden of his cross
stars from his weary body, swallowing that poison which the apothecary
had sold him, whose operation was fatal and real, not like that
dissembling potion which Juliet had swallowed, the effect of which was
now nearly expiring, and she about to awake to complain that Romeo had
not kept his time, or that he had come too soon.

For now the hour was arrived at which the friar had promised that she
should awake; and he, having learned that his letters which he had sent
to Mantua, by some unlucky detention of the messenger, had never
reached Romeo, came himself, provided with the pickaxe and lantern, to
deliver the lady from her confinement; but he was surprised to find a
light already burning in the Capulets' monument, and to see swords and
blood near it, and Romeo and Paris lying breathless by the monument.

Before he could entertain a conjecture, to imagine how these fatal
accidents had fallen out, Juliet awoke out of her trance, and seeing
the friar near her, she remembered the place where she was, and the
occasion of her being there, and asked for Romeo, but the friar,
hearing a noise, bade her come out of that place of death, and of
unnatural sleep, for a greater power than they could contradict had
thwarted their intents; and being frightened by the noise of people
coming, he fled: but when Juliet saw the cup closed in her true love's
hand, she guessed that poison had been the cause of his end, and she
would have swallowed the dregs if any had been left, and she kissed his
still warm lips to try if any poison yet did hang upon them, then
hearing a nearer noise of people coming, she quickly unsheathed a
dagger which she wore, and stabbing herself, died by her true Romeo's

The watch by this time had come up to the place. A page belonging to
count Paris, who had witnessed the fight between his master and Romeo,
had given the alarm, which had spread among the citizens, who went up
and down the streets of Verona confusedly exclaiming, A Paris! a Romeo!
a Juliet! as the rumour had imperfectly reached them, till the uproar
brought lord Montague and lord Capulet out of their beds, with the
prince, to inquire into the causes of the disturbance. The friar had
been apprehended by some of the watch, coming from the churchyard,
trembling, sighing, and weeping, in a suspicious manner. A great
multitude being assembled at the Capulets' monument, the friar was
demanded by the prince to deliver what he knew of these strange and
disastrous accidents.

And there, in the presence of the old lords Montague and Capulet, he
faithfully related the story of their children's fatal love, the part
he took in promoting their marriage, in the hope in that union to end
the long quarrels between their families: how Romeo, there dead, was
husband to Juliet; and Juliet, there dead, was Romeo's faithful wife;
how before he could find a fit opportunity to divulge their marriage,
another match was projected for Juliet, who, to avoid the crime of a
second marriage, swallowed the sleeping draught (as he advised), and
all thought her dead; how meantime he wrote to Romeo, to come and take
her thence when the force of the potion should cease, and by what
unfortunate miscarriage of the messenger the letters never reached
Romeo: further than this the friar could not follow the story, nor knew
more than that coming himself, to deliver Juliet from that place of
death, he found the count Paris and Romeo slain. The remainder of the
transactions was supplied by the narration of the page who had seen
Paris and Romeo fight, and by the servant who came with Romeo from
Verona, to whom this faithful lover had given letters to be delivered
to his father in the event of his death, which made good the friar's
words, confessing his marriage with Juliet, imploring the forgiveness
of his parents, acknowledging the buying of the poison of the poor
apothecary, and his intent in coming to the monument, to die, and lie
with Juliet. All these circumstances agreed together to clear the friar
from any hand he could be supposed to have in these complicated
slaughters, further than as the unintended consequences of his own well
meant, yet too artificial and subtle contrivances.

And the prince, turning to these old lords, Montague and Capulet,
rebuked them for their brutal and irrational enmities, and showed them
what a scourge Heaven had laid upon such offences, that it had found
means even through the love of their children to punish their unnatural
hate. And these old rivals, no longer enemies, agreed to bury their
long strife in their children's graves; and lord Capulet requested lord
Montague to give him his hand, calling him by the name of brother, as
if in acknowledgment of the union of their families, by the marriage of
the young Capulet and Montague; and saying that lord Montague's hand
(in token of reconcilement) was all he demanded for his daughter's
jointure: but lord Montague said he would give him more, for he would
raise her a statue of pure gold, that while Verona kept its name, no
figure should be so esteemed for its richness and workmanship as that
of the true and faithful Juliet. And lord Capulet in return said that
he would raise another statue to Romeo. So did these poor old lords,
when it was too late, strive to outgo each other in mutual courtesies:
while so deadly had been their rage and enmity in past times, that
nothing but the fearful overthrow of their children (poor sacrifices to
their quarrels and dissensions) could remove the rooted hates and
jealousies of the noble families.


Gertrude, queen of Denmark, becoming a widow by the sudden death of
King Hamlet, in less than two months after his death married his
brother Claudius, which was noted by all people at the time for a
strange act of indiscretion, or unfeelingness, or worse: for this
Claudius did no ways resemble her late husband in the qualities of his
person or his mind, but was as contemptible in outward appearance, as
he was base and unworthy in disposition; and suspicions did not fail to
arise in the minds of some, that he had privately made away with his
brother, the late king, with the view of marrying his widow, and
ascending the throne of Denmark, to the exclusion of young Hamlet, the
son of the buried king, and lawful successor to the throne.

But upon no one did this unadvised action of the queen make such
impression as upon this young prince, who loved and venerated the
memory of his dead father almost to idolatry, and being of a nice sense
of honour, and a most exquisite practicer of propriety himself, did
sorely take to heart this unworthy conduct of his mother Gertrude:
insomuch that, between grief for his father's death and shame for his
mother's marriage, this young prince was overclouded with a deep
melancholy, and lost all his mirth and all his good looks; all his
customary pleasure in books forsook him, his princely exercises and
sports, proper to his youth, were no longer acceptable; he grew weary
of the world, which seemed to him an unweeded garden, where all the
wholesome flowers were choked up, and nothing but weeds could thrive.
Not that the prospect of exclusion from the throne, his lawful
inheritance, weighed so much upon his spirits, though that to a young
and high-minded prince was a bitter wound and a sore indignity; but
what so galled him, and took away all his cheerful spirits, was, that

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Online LibraryCharles LambTales of Shakespeare → online text (page 19 of 23)