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Detailed Summary of Act 2, Scene 5

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Enter Juliet:
As far as plot is concerned, the whole business of this scene could be accomplished in seven words from the Nurse: This afternoon. Friar Laurence's cell. Be there. But the scene is about anticipation, not information.

Juliet has been waiting and waiting and waiting. The Nurse left at nine and promised to be back in half an hour, but now it's a little past noon, so Juliet has waited the half hour, then another, then two more. For a moment she worries that the Nurse has not found Romeo, but dismisses that thought and decides that "she is lame!" (2.5.4). Juliet doesn't mean that the Nurse is crippled, just stiff and slow. But "Love's heralds should be thoughts, / Which ten times faster glide than the sun's beams" (2.5.4-5). In Shakespeare's time, when there were actual heralds, Juliet's imagery would be more vivid. Nowadays a V.I.P. is preceded by the security personnel in dark glasses, but in Shakespeare's time heralds, galloping along on horses and blowing trumpets, announced the joyful arrival. Juliet wants the joy of Love to come to her now, even as she is thinking about it, and she believes that what she wants is what ought to be: "Therefore do nimble-pinion'd doves draw love, / And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings" (2.5.7-8). Juliet is referring to paintings, common at the time, of doves pulling the chariot of Venus and of Cupid flying through the sky with his bow, ready to shoot the arrow of love. Juliet's thought is that because Love is painted as swift, it ought to be swift. Instead, she is still waiting for the slow Nurse, who can't possibly care as much as Juliet does, because she's old. If she weren't old, "Had she affections and warm youthful blood, / She would be as swift in motion as a ball; / My words would bandy her to my sweet love, / And his to me" (2.5.12-15). The "ball" in Juliet's metaphor is a tennis ball, bandied back and forth between young folks. But the Nurse is one of the "old folks -- many feign as they were dead; / Unwieldy, slow, heavy and pale as lead" (2.5.16-17).

Enter Nurse and Peter:
As Juliet is thinking about how terribly old and slow the Nurse is, she appears. Juliet exclaims, "O God, she comes! O honey nurse, what news? / Hast thou met with him? Send thy man away" (2.5.18-19). Peter is sent away, so that the Nurse can deliver her news privately to Juliet, but instead of delivering the news the Nurse uses every trick she can think of to hold it back.

[Note: Because Peter is told to "stay at the gate," not the door, and because later in the scene Juliet says that her mother is "within," editors often locate this scene in Capulet's garden.]

If you have ever seen a quiz show host frown a bit before delivering the news that the contestent has just won a fabulous amount of money, you'll have a general idea of what the Nurse is up to. Why does the Nurse do it? Perhaps to be the center of her beloved Juliet's attention, and perhaps to make the delicious moment last as long as possible.

The Nurse starts in on Juliet by pulling a long face, and it stops Juliet in mid-sentence: "Now, good sweet nurse,--O Lord, why look'st thou sad?" (2.5.21). Then Juliet tells her that if the news is bad, she ought to put a good face on it, and if it's good news it's just wrong to have a sad face. But none of this makes the Nurse change her face or deliver the news that Juliet is so eagerly awaiting. Instead, the Nurse starts complaining about how she feels: "I am a-weary, give me leave awhile: / Fie, how my bones ache! what a jaunce have I had!" (2.5.25-26). "Give me leave awhile" means "give me a few minutes," and a "jaunce" is a jouncing or jolting; the nurse is talking as though she can't say a word because she's spent the whole day in a carriage bouncing over rough roads. Juliet again asks for the news, and the Nurse replies that she's out of breath. At this point Juliet seems to understand that the Nurse is teasing. She says that if the Nurse has enough breath to say she is out of breath, she has enough breath to deliver the news, and that delivering the news would take less time than making excuses for not delivering it. Then Juliet asks for just one little word. She says, "Is thy news good, or bad? answer to that; / Say either, and I'll stay the circumstance: / Let me be satisfied, is't good or bad?" (2.5.35-37). "Stay the circumstance" means "wait for the details"; all the explanations can come later if Juliet gets just that one little word.

The Nurse does not give Juliet the one word she's begging for. Instead she puts a new twist in her loving torture of Juliet. She says, "Well, you have made a simple [foolish] choice; you know not how to choose a man" (2.5.38-39). This is the sort of happy irony we use when we say that something wonderful is "sick" (or whatever slang term serves the same purpose at the time you read this). The Nurse then goes on in the same way to praise Romeo's leg, hand, foot, body, and courtesy, then ends her speech as though there's nothing more to talk about except lunch: "Go thy ways, wench; serve God. What, have you dined at home?" (2.5.44-45). Thus the Nurse dangles in front of Juliet the wonderfulness of Romeo and the idea that he is already hers, all without delivering the news that will actually tell Juliet that Romeo is indeed hers.

For a second -- more like a nanosecond -- Juliet falls for the question about lunch. She says, "No, no! But all this did I know before. / What says he of our marriage? what of that?" (2.5.46-47). At this, the Nurse returns to complaining about how she feels. Her head aches, her back aches, and it's all Juliet's fault for sending her on such a trip. Then Juliet makes nice, saying "I' faith, I am sorry that thou art not well. / Sweet, sweet, sweet nurse, tell me, what says my love?" (2.5.53-54). The Nurse, as though she is going to finally answer the question, replies, "Your love says, but then she teasingly wanders off, saying "like an honest gentleman, / And a courteous, and a kind, and a handsome, / And, I warrant, a virtuous,--Where is your mother?" (2.5.55-57). This drives Juliet to distraction. She says her mother is inside and wonders where else her mother would be and why the Nurse would say that Romeo's message is "where is your mother?" For her part, the Nurse goes back to complaining. She says that Juliet's impatience doesn't do any good for her aching bones, and from now on Juliet can just be her own messenger.

Juliet has had as much as she can take. In frustration, she exclaims, "Here's such a coil! A "coil" is a fuss, a confusing hubbub, which is what is going on in Juliet's head. Then she says simply, "Come, what says Romeo?" (2.5.65). Finally, the Nurse gives Juliet what she wants. She asks if Juliet has permission to go to confession today. Juliet says she does, and the Nurse tells her that she should go to Fiar Laurence's cell, where she will become a wife. Juliet's reaction is described in the Nurse's next words: "Now comes the wanton blood up in your cheeks, / They'll be in scarlet straight at any news" (2.5.70-71). Juliet is blushing, and the Nurse says that if she says more, Juliet's cheeks will soon be scarlet. At the same time, the Nurse's use of the word "wanton" is a sly comment on why Juliet is blushing. Her blood is wanton because it comes into her cheeks on its own accord; in other words, Juliet can't keep from blushing. But "wanton" is also a word for a person who has sex freely, and the Nurse is suggesting that it's the thought of having sex that's making Juliet blush. Then, as the Nurse delivers the rest of her news, she makes two more comments along the same line. She says Juliet should go to church, but she herself has to go fetch the rope ladder, "by the which your love / Must climb a bird's nest soon when it is dark" (2.5.73-74). "Bird's nest" is the Nurse's metaphor for Juliet's bedroom, but it also probably refers to an intimate part of Juliet's body. The Nurse adds that she must do a lot of work for Juliet's pleasure, but it is Juliet who "shall bear the burden soon at night" (2.5.76). "Bear the burden" means "do the work," with an obvious sexual meaning.

Finally, the Nurse sends Juliet off: "Go; I'll to dinner [lunch]: hie [hasten] you to the cell" (2.5.77). Juliet needs no more urging, and as they leave she is saying "Hie to high fortune! Honest nurse, farewell" (2.5.78).

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