Brooke on Morality

Did someone say that teenage children can’t make lovers? Brooke did : in lines 1650 – 54. But not because he is disgusted by the thought of twelve as a girl’s legal age of consent. To the contrary even. It is the generally accepted standard. As it was in the beginning of human civilization, is now, and ever shall be : at least until the Victorian standard of decency begins to interfere. But that moment lies still more than two centuries in the future

Brooke’s real concern is laid out in the preface. One that makes Romeus and Juliet examples of the bad that happens when people ignore good advice and become prisoners to their desires. And, according to a code of honour that still rules Islamic life, Juliet brings shame over her family on pain of death. In such a context Juliet can’t make decisions she will live to regret. She simply has no choice :

When he had told at length the wife what was her due,
His duty eke by ghostly talk the youthful husband knew;
How that the wife in love must honour and obey,
What love and honour he doth owe, and debt that he must pay.
The words pronouncéd were which holy church of old
Appointed hath for marriage, and she a ring of gold
……………………………………………………………………. (lines 763 – 768)

At the wedding ceremony a wife promises to follow her husband wherever he must go. In good times and in bad. But in this case she is prevented :

“Ah, Juliet,” quoth he, “the mistress of my heart, …………… (1635)
(1636 – 1643)
Thou shalt undo thyself for aye, and me thy trusty friend.
For why, thy absence known, thy father will be wroth,
And in his rage so narrowly he will pursue us both,
That we shall try in vain to ‘scape away by flight,
And vainly seek a lurking place to hide us from his sight.
Then we, found out and caught, quite void of strong defence,
Shall cruelly be punishéd for thy departure hence;
I as a ravisher, thou as a careless child,
I as a man who doth defile, thou as a maid defiled;
Thinking to lead in ease a long contented life,
Shall short our days by shameful death: but if, my loving wife,
Thou banish from thy mind two foes that counsel hath,
That wont to hinder sound advice, rash hastiness and wrath;
If thou be bent t’obey the lore of reason’s skill
And wisely by her princely power suppress rebelling will,
If thou our safety seek, more than thine own delight,
Since surety stands in parting, and thy pleasures grow of sight,
Forbear the cause of joy, and suffer for a while,
So shall I safely live abroad, and safe turn from exile,
So shall no slander’s blot thy spotless life distain,
So shall thy kinsmen be unstirred, and I exempt from pain.
And think thou not, that aye the cause of care shall last;
These stormy broils shall overblow, much like a winter’s blast.
…………………………………………………………………. (lines 1644 – 1666)

Staying behind leaves her depressed. When her worried parents suggest to find her a husband (a patent remedy against her prolonged mourning for Tybalt), Juliet denies to have a lover already. Not that she has much of a choice, but Brooke has her accountable for the consequences all the same. 1  In the Shakespeare version, however, she is ‘star crossed’, and has no say in the wedding negotiations. Which leaves her a victim of unlucky circumstances.

The same for that zealous preacher who was prepared to die fighting for his Lord, but who avoided the chains when the opportunity to die a martyr presented itself :  ‘I tell thee, Peter, the cock shall not crow this day…’