Real Time on the Double

Between the wedding arrangements from Act 2 and Act 3 time passes on stage at the same pace as in the gallery. And in the process Shakespeare rapidly gains ground in his effort to close, before the play is finished, the gap between the first scene’s midst of July and the audience’s here and now.

One just has to come across a scene that repeats itself, to know where to look for ‘double time’. Which is Shakespeare’s drama enhancing technique of compressing time without making it shorter. 1  As it happens, Act 3 features three repetitions of earlier scenes. In the original order even, which places the one on inviting guests at the centre. And, of all places, this is where Paris is complementary to Romeo in the necessary steps towards a proper marriage. Between them is a strict division of the courting’s to-do list that is never overruled. Not even in the only scene (4 ; 1) from the entire play that brings Paris face to face with his worshipped lady. 2  And where Paris combines efforts with Romeo’s to make Juliet a perfect groom, time is divided in itself as well. This is what double time looks like :

1 ; 2 Enter Capulet, Countie Paris, and the Clowne.
Capulet : But Mountague is bound as well as I,
…. In penaltie alike, and tis not hard I thinke,
…. For men so old as we to keepe the peace.

In a long lasting feud a skirmish like the one that opens the play is a triviality, and in scene 1 ; 2 old Capulet is quite philosophical about its future consequences. To bring it up while discussing the matter of marrying one’s single surviving child off, therefore makes it a fresh incident. How fresh can be measured a little later in the same scene, when two Montagues enter the stage ; still discussing what they started to discuss (at nine) at their exit from scene one.

The next skirmish is in scene 3 ; 1. And with Capulet blood on his hands, Romeo escapes town early next morning in scene 3 ; 5. Which makes the gap between skirmish and old Capulet’s comment as narrow as at the previous occasion. But old Capulet is already quite philosophical about the death of a beloved cousin :

3 ; 4 ………… Enter old Capulet, his wife and Paris.
Capulet : Things haue falne out sir so vnluckily,
…. That we haue had no time to moue our daughter,
…. Looke you, she lou’d her kinsman Tybalt dearely
…. And so did I. Well we were borne to die.
Capulet : … But soft, what day is this?
Paris : Monday my Lord.
Capulet : Monday, ha ha, well wendsday is too soone,
…. A thursday let it be, a thursday tell her
…. She shall be married to this noble Earle:

Shakespeare must have written some brilliant comedy here, if it manages to make old Capulet laugh shortly after Tybalt had been murdered. But is it not a familiar symptom of grief to lose track of time in the weeks following such a blow, rather than on the day itself? What the time-line seems to define as Monday the fifteenth, is definitely much later, and Monday the twenty-ninth stands to reason. Next day Juliet takes the drug about midnight.

hours later she revives : at the time of the final scene in Wednesday’s late night show.

hours later she revives : at the time of the final scene in Thursday’s afternoon show.




A comprehensive description of double time in Romeo and Juliet is in The Modern Language Review  vol. 44 (3 July 1949). Author : Raymond Chapman.

Scene 4 ; 1. Yet, if the love of Paris for Juliet is not as sincere as Romeo’s, why then would he promise to visit her grave every night? And why would his dying wish be to lay beside her, if his love was not as great as Romeo’s? In fact his behavour is consistent with that of a youth in his mid teens, who behaves like an adult. Or at least like his perception of an adult who had suffered a great loss. When he meets Juliet on stage, he therefore behaves as to be expected from a bridegroom who had never wooed a woman in his life. It is a beginner’s mistake, but Paris had apparently so far courted the father only.