Pat Heywood as the Nurse.
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Miriam Margolyes as the Nurse.
Image Source: hotflick.net.
"Nurse, where's my daughter? call her forth to me" (1.3.1). Thus Lady Capulet opens the scene that immediately follows the one in which Paris asks Capulet for Juliet's hand in marriage. Lady Capulet is about to urge the marriage upon Juliet, but makes the mistake of first bringing up the topic of Juliet's age. This leads the Nurse into a very long reminiscence about Juliet's weaning and the cute thing that the three-year old Juliet said about falling on her back. [Scene Summary]
At Capulet's feast, almost as soon as Romeo and Juliet kiss, they are parted by the Nurse's words: "Madam, your mother craves a word with you." (1.5.111) Juliet obediently turns away, and Romeo asks the Nurse who Juliet's mother is. The Nurse informs him that her mother is the lady of the house, and that she herself is Juliet's nurse, and that "he that can lay hold of her / Shall have the chinks" (1.5.116-117). Then, as Romeo is leaving, Juliet sends the Nurse to find out who he is. When the Nurse delivers the information, Juliet is dismayed that he is a Montague and for the moment she conceals her feelings from the Nurse. [Scene Summary]
In the balcony scene, after Romeo and Juliet have confirmed their love for one another, the Nurse, who does not appear, calls for Juliet. Juliet tells Romeo to wait for him, and calls to the Nurse that she'll be right in: "I hear some noise within; dear love, adieu! / Anon, good nurse! Sweet Montague, be true. / Stay but a little, I will come again" (2.2.136-138). [Scene Summary]
The day after Capulet's feast, as Romeo and Mercutio are joking with each other, the Nurse appears, accompanied by her servant Peter. These two, as they approach the young men, become the targets for more jokes, starting with Romeo's cry, "A sail, a sail!" (2.4.102), and followed by Mercutio's, "Two, two; a shirt and a smock" (2.4.103). Apparently Romeo and Mercutio consider the Nurse and Peter to be overdressed, so that his shirt and her smock look like ships' sails. The Nurse's business is to find out from Romeo when and where he and Juliet will be married. It takes her a few minutes to get over being upset at the insults that Mercutio has hurled at her, and she is worried that Romeo might be just dallying with Juliet, but when Romeo tells her the plan for the wedding, she is overjoyed. She turns down (or perhaps tries to turn down) Romeo's offer of a money gift, agrees to take delivery of the rope-ladder from Romeo's servant, and begins to prattle on about sweet Juliet. [Scene Summary]
On the evening of her wedding day, Juliet eagerly awaits Romeo. The Nurse comes with the rope ladder that Romeo is to use to ascend to Juliet's room, but throws it down and exclaims, "Ah, well-a-day! he's dead, he's dead, he's dead! / We are undone, lady, we are undone! / Alack the day! he's gone, he's kill'd, he's dead!" (3.2.37-39). The Nurse goes on and on in this way, so that at first Juliet thinks she is talking about Romeo. After she has calmed down a bit, the Nurse comes to the conclusion that no man can be trusted and begins to feel sorry for herself, saying, "Give me some aqua vita; / These griefs, these woes, these sorrows make me old" (3.2.88-89). However, she recovers and promises Juliet that she will find her Romeo and send him to her. [Scene Summary]
The Nurse comes to Friar Laurence's cell and finds Romeo lying on the floor in an agony of despair. She says, "O, he is even in my mistress' case, / Just in her case! O woful sympathy! / Piteous predicament!" (3.3.84-86). "Sympathy" means similarity of feeling; to the Nurse, it's touching to see Romeo "Blubbering and weeping, weeping and blubbering" (3.3.87), just as Juliet was doing when she last saw her. Eventually Friar Laurence talks Romeo into a more hopeful state of mind, and the Nurse exclaims, "O Lord, I could have stay'd here all the night / To hear good counsel [advice, wisdom]: O, what learning is!" (3.3.159-160). She just admires how the Friar can talk! And he's so smart! The Nurse then says she'll run to tell Juliet that Romeo is coming and gives Romeo the ring that Juliet sent as a pledge of love. [Scene Summary]
At dawn, after their first night as husband and wife, Romeo and Juliet are saying farewell to each other when the Nurse rushes in with news: "Your lady mother is coming to your chamber: / The day is broke; be wary, look about" (3.5.39-40). The Nurse immediately rushes out again, then later returns at the side of Capulet. When Capulet threatens and insults Juliet for refusing to marry Paris, the Nurse tries to intervene. She says, "God in heaven bless her! / You are to blame, my lord, to rate [berate] her so" (3.5.168-169), but her courage earns her nothing but insults.
After Juliet's mother and father have left, Juliet turns to the Nurse for advice, saying "What say'st thou? Hast thou not a word of joy? / Some comfort, nurse" (3.5.211-212). However, the Nurse thinks it would be best for Juliet to marry Paris, since Romeo is as good as dead and Paris is better looking anyway. Juliet is outraged, but covers it up in order to buy some time. With a bit of hidden sarcasm, Juliet tells the Nurse that she has been a great comfort. She also tells her to go tell Juliet's mother that "I am gone, / Having displeased my father, to Laurence' cell, / To make confession and to be absolved" (3.5.233). This implies that Juliet has changed her mind about marrying Paris, so the Nurse is pleased with Juliet and hurries away to deliver the message. As soon as the Nurse has turned her back, Juliet reveals her true attitude towards her, exclaiming, "Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend!" (3.5.235). Juliet will never again trust her, never again share with her the secrets of her heart. She says, "Go, counsellor; / Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain" (3.5.239-240). [Scene Summary]
In the course of giving Juliet instructions about his plan for Juliet to take the sleeping potion, Friar Laurence tells her, "To-morrow night look that thou lie alone; / Let not thy nurse lie with thee in thy chamber" (4.1.91-92). The Nurse is in the habit of sleeping in Juliet's room, as she has ever since Juliet was born. [Scene Summary]
Despite the fact that Juliet hasn't agreed to marry Paris, her father proceeds to make the arrangements for her wedding feast, inviting guests, hiring cooks, and grumbling about what a spoiled brat Juliet is. The Nurse is present, but says only "Ay, forsooth" when Capulet asks if Juliet has gone to Friar Laurence, and then, when Juliet shows up, "See where she comes from shrift with merry look" (4.2.15). A little later, Juliet, pretending to be obedient to her father, says she is going to pick out clothes and jewelry for the wedding to Paris, and takes the Nurse with her. [Scene Summary]
Juliet pretends to prepare for her wedding to Paris, but she is really preparing to take the sleeping potion which will bring Romeo back to her. Looking at some clothes, she says to the Nurse, "Ay, those attires are best, but, gentle nurse, / I pray thee, leave me to myself to-night" (4.3.1-2). She claims that she needs time alone to pray for her sins. Then her mother comes in and Juliet gets rid of both of them by asking her mother to let the Nurse help her make the preparations for the wedding. The Nurse has no lines in the scene and leaves with Juliet's mother. [Scene Summary]
Lady Capulet and the Nurse are bustling about, preparing the feast for the wedding of Juliet and Paris, when Lady Capulet thinks of one more thing to be done and says, "Hold, take these keys, and fetch more spices, nurse" (4.4.1). The Nurse doesn't know which way to go, because "They call for dates and quinces in the pastry" (4.4.2). In the midst of all of this bustling about, Capulet comes in and starts giving orders. He says to the Nurse, "Look to the baked meats [pies and pastries], good Angelica: / Spare not for the cost" (4.4.5-6). It's remarkable that he calls the Nurse by her Christian name, Angelica; the last time he spoke to her, he was calling her names such as "mumbling fool." At that time the Nurse was trying keep him from forcing Juliet into the marriage with Paris, but now she's helping prepare Juliet's wedding feast. Capulet is apparently a very jolly fellow when everyone does exactly as he says. The Nurse replies to Capulet, "Go, you cot-quean, go, / Get you to bed; faith, You'll be sick to-morrow / For this night's watching" (4.4.6-8). "Cot-quean," was slang for a man who plays the part of a housewife. The Nurse is fondly teasing her master, and he takes it in good part. The Nurse and Lady Capulet leave on another errand, but at the end of the scene Capulet calls the Nurse in and tells her to go awaken Juliet because Paris has arrived. [Scene Summary]
On the morning that Juliet is supposed to marry Paris, the Nurse is sent to awaken her. As soon as she enters the room the Nurse starts calling to Juliet: "Mistress! what, mistress! Juliet! -- Fast [i.e, fast asleep], I warrant her, she. -- / Why, lamb! why, lady! fie, you slug-a-bed!" (4.5.1-2). She calls Juliet affectionate nicknames and jokes about what Paris is going to do with her in bed, but Juliet still doesn't wake up, so she draws the bed-curtains and discovers that Juliet is dead. (Only we know that she is not.) Upon making this discovery, the Nurse calls for help, calls for whisky, and calls for Juliet's mother and father. Lady Capulet and Capulet come, soon followed by Paris and Friar Laurence. Amidst all of the grieving for Juliet's death, the Nurse's is the simplest, just a long wail in words, beginning with "O woe! O woeful, woeful, woeful day!" (4.5.49), and ending with "O woeful day, O woeful day!" (4.5.54). [Scene Summary]
At the tomb of the Capulets, Prince Escalus orders Friar Laurence to tell all he knows about the tragic events. Friar Laurence does, and, coming to the end of his story, says, "All this I know; and to the marriage / Her nurse is privy" (5.3.265-266). The Friar's point is that the Nurse (who is not present) can corroborate his assertion that Romeo and Juliet were married. [Scene Summary]