‘Romeo!’ Come out of there. Come out.’ Friar Lawrence had just returned from Verona, dismayed at the events there that afternoon, He stood in front of the stone altar before which he had married the young couple. Romeo had crawled underneath it and he lay now, pressing himself into the darkest corner.
‘You poor fellow,’ said Friar Lawrence. ‘So overwhelmed by unhappiness.’
Romeo edged out slowly, His face was pale. He did not get up. ‘Father, have you any news? What is the Prince’s sentence? What’s going to happen to me?’
‘It’s not so bad,’ said the Friar, ‘I’ve brought you news of the sentence.’
‘What could be ‘not so bad’ about a death sentence?’
‘A less harsh sentence: not death but banishment.’
‘Banishment?’ Romeo rose to his knees and clutched the Friar’s robes. ‘Oh be merciful, Father. Say ‘death’. Exile is far more terrifying to me than death. Don’t say ‘banishment’.’
‘You’ve been banished from Verona. That’s all. Be grateful. Verona’s not everything: the world’s a big place.’
‘There’s nothing beyond the walls of Verona,’ said Romeo. ‘Only torture – hell itself. So banished means banished from the world, and that means death. ‘Banished’ is only another word for death.’
‘Oh sinner,’ said Friar Lawrence. ‘You ungrateful boy.’ You don’t know how lucky you are. The law calls for your death but the kind Prince has taken your side and ignored the law: he’s converted your sentence to banishment. He’s being merciful and you can’t see it.’
Romeo was crying. He flopped down again. ‘Torture, not mercy. Heaven is here where Juliet is, and every cat and dog, and little mouse – every insignificant thing – can see her but I can’t. Even flies have more rights than I have: they can touch her hand and kiss her lips. But I can’t: I’m banished. Flies can do this but I have to abandon it: they are free men but I am banished. And you say it’s better than death?’ Romeo ‘s eyes were red and his cheeks were wet. ‘Haven’t you got some poison or any way of sudden death no matter how nasty? It would be better than banishment. Banished? Oh Friar, the damned use that word in hell. How can you have the heart – a priest, one who calls himself my friend – to hack at me with that word ‘banished’?’
‘You crazy, foolish young man, listen to me.’ The Friar gripped his shoulders.
Romeo put his hands over his ears. ‘Oh! you’re going to talk about banishment again.’
‘Be philosophical,’ the Friar told him. It will comfort you even though you’re banished.’
‘There you are, Still going on about banishment. To hell with philosophy. Unless philosophy can make a Juliet, move a town, change a prince’s mind, it’s useless. So don’t keep on!’
‘Oh,’ said the Friar. ‘You won’t listen. I see that madmen have no ears.’
‘How could they when wise men have no eyes?’
‘No,’ said the Friar. ‘I have to disagree with you. I will eventually persuade you.’
‘Never! You can’t talk about something you haven’t felt,’ said Romeo. ‘Look here. If you were my age, and Juliet your love, and you had been married for only an hour and Tybalt had been murdered – in love like me and like me banished – then you could talk. You would also tear your hair and grovel on the ground like me, thinking of only one thing: your grave.’
There was a loud, rapid knocking on the door.
‘Quick, ‘ said the Friar. ‘Get up! Hide! Quick!’
‘No,’ said Romeo. ‘I don ‘t care what happens to me, I’m not hiding unless I can lose myself in a mist made of my own groans.’
The knocking was louder now.
‘Listen to that! Who’s there? Get up, Romeo, they’ll catch you!’
‘Run to my study. And perhaps…’ Friar Lawrence shook his head when Romeo refused to get up ‘What stupidity is this?’ He turned to the door. ‘I’m coming, I’m coming!’
The knocking continued. The Friar hurried to the door and pressed his ear to it.
‘Who’s that? What do you want?’
‘Let me in,’ a voice called, ‘And I’ll tell you. The Lady Juliet sent me.’
The Friar slid the bolts back. ‘Welcome, then,’ he said.
‘O holy Friar, O tell me holy Friar,’ said the Nurse. ‘Where ‘s my lady ‘s husband? Where ‘s Romeo?’
The Friar pointed to the interior of the chapel ‘He’s here, drunk with his own tears.’
‘Oh, it’s the same with Juliet,’ said the Nurse. Just the same.’ She followed the Friar to the altar where Romeo lay, distraught. ‘She’s. lying there just like that, blubbering and crying, crying and blubbering.’ She jabbed Romeo with her toe. ‘Get up. Get up if you’re a man!’ She bent down and took his hand. ‘For Juliet’s sake, get up.’
Romeo rose unsteadily to his feet. ‘Nurse, Did you say Juliet’s name? How is she? Doesn’t she think I’m a murderer now that I’ve killed her cousin? Where is she? How is she? What does she say about the end of our love?’
‘She doesn’t say anything,’ said the Nurse. ‘She cries and cries – just throwing herself on her bed then getting up again, calling “Tybalt”, then “Romeo”, then falling on her bed again.’
‘As if my name was like a bullet,’ said Romeo. ‘As though my name’s hand had murdered her cousin.’ He grabbed the Friar’s arm. ‘Please tell me Friar, whereabout in my body is my name? Tell me so that I can cut it out.’ He pulled out his dagger. Both the Nurse and the Friar leapt at him, He struggled to get his hand free and tried to stab himself. The Friar got him in an arm lock and the Nurse snatched the dagger.
‘What are you doing?’ said the Friar, ‘What kind of man are you? You look like a man but your tears are a woman’s and your wild acts are an animal’s. I’m surprised at you. I really thought you more grown up. Perhaps you’ve killed Tybalt but are you going to kill yourself too? And kill the wife who only lives for you?’ The Friar’s voice was raised, ‘Why are you cursing your birth and heaven and earth? They’re all part of you. Do you want to lose them all by killing yourself?’
The Friar could see that Romeo really wanted to die. He tried to reason with him, speaking fast, telling him that if he killed himself he would be sinning against the love he shared with Juliet as well as against himself, breaking his promise to look after her. ‘What, man? Pull yourself together. Think about it. It’s all positive. Juliet is alive – the one you want to die for. That’s a plus. Tybalt wanted to kill you but you killed him instead. That’s a plus. The law that condemned you to death became your friend and turned it to exile. Another plus.’
The Nurse was smiling, gazing at the Friar. Romeo had stopped crying and was listening with bowed head.
‘You see?’ said the Friar, ‘It’s all pluses. Happiness follows you and what do you do? You behave like an ungrateful, spoilt child. Be careful, my boy. People like that die miserable.’
He could see that he was getting through to Romeo at last. The young man was standing up properly now! even nodding at his words. The Nurse’s hands were clasped as though in prayer.
‘Go on,’ continued the Friar, ‘Go to Juliet, climb up to her room and comfort her.’
‘Wait,’ said the Friar, ‘Make sure you don ‘t stay until the Watch goes on duty because then you won’t be able to get away. Go to Mantua. That’s where you’re going to live until we get the chance to announce your marriage. We’ll beg the Prince’s pardon and you’ll be able to come back. Joyfully. Go on Nurse. Run ahead and tell her to try and get everyone to go to bed early – which they’ll probably do anyway because of their grief. Tell her Romeo is on his way.’
‘Oh Lord!’ said the Nurse. I could stand here all night listening to good advice like this. What it is to have an education! Here.’ She held a ring out to Romeo. ‘She told me to give this to you. Hurry now, because it’s getting late.’
‘I’m alright now.’ Said Romeo when the Nurse had gone.
‘Go on,’ said the Friar. ‘Good night. And listen. Either set off before the Watch comes or leave in disguise. Stay in Mantua. I’ll keep you informed: I’ll send your man as soon as there’s any news.’