REVIEW
Bruce, Brenda. "Nurse in Romeo and Juliet."
Players of Shakespeare. Ed. Philip Brockbank. Cambridge: Cambridge U P, 1985. 91-102. Rptd. in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 187-196.

Thesis: "I determined to tell the story from Nurse's point of view" (189) says Bruce, and her piece is an excellent account of how an intelligent actress works at her craft. Perhaps the most interesting section is her account of how she played the crucial scene in which the Nurse advises Juliet to commit bigamy:

Nurse could advise Juliet to run away with her to Friar Laurence, seek refuge in a nunnery, follow Romeo into Mantua, call her mother and father, confess to them, pray for their understanding and forgiveness, and with their help plead with the Prince to forgive Romeo. If any of these solutions had been in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet the play would be a drama, not a tragedy. As it is, Juliet is unschooled in life -- a fourteen-year-old girl -- and her closest companion is Nurse, with whom she shares her waking and sleeping hours (in 4.3.10 Juliet refers to Nurse not sharing her room as usual, but sitting up with Lady Capulet). Nurse is incapable of sending Juliet out into the world; Juliet's parents are moreover full of grudge against the Montagues, a 'continuing rage'. Nurse has only one answer and it is immoral and against the law. It is damnation in the eyes of the church, but better than starving on the streets. Her solution is bigamy. How to begin to give this advice? I wrote earlier of a director who gives space for subtext. Ron Daniels gave it to me. I've written beside the speech to Juliet, 'Take all the time in the world.' 'Faith, here it is.'
Romeo is banished; and all the world to nothing
That he dares ne'er come back to challenge you.    (3.5.213-14)
There must be no hint of emotion in the voice, no attempt at physical comfort. Those two lines are a simple statement of fact.
Then, since the case so stands as now it doth,
I think it best you married with the County.    (3.5.216-17)
Anything is better than family rejection, starvation. There would be nothing for a girl, alone in the world -- only begging on the streets. Parental control and approval and marriage were the only possibilities for a woman. Independence for the Juliets of that time was out of the question. As though to soften the shock for Juliet of 'I think it best you married with the County', Nurse says,
Oh he's a lovely gentleman!
Romeo's a dishclout to him.    (3.5.218-19)
If Nurse sounds as though she believed this, she will get a laugh from the audience. What I wanted was a reaction of shock. When I play well I often get this reaction. I would like the audience to feel let down by someone whose motives they have trusted. Nurse carries on to the end of the speech with her advice, not believing a word of it in her heart. Then Juliet asks, 'Speakest thou from thy heart?' And Nurse answers, 'And from my soul too. Else beshrew them both.' In an attempt to make the advice acceptable, Nurse fusses about, making the bed, trying to make everything 'sensible and acceptable'. But Juliet answers, 'Amen' -- in other words, 'Devil take you!'   (194-195)

Bottom Line: Insightful.


PAGE INFO:
   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 27 March 2002