Vault and Monument

Now when the Bridegroome in the morning comes,
To rowse thee from thy bed, there art thou dead:
Then as the manner of our countrie is,
Is thy best robes vncouered on the Beere,
Be borne to buriall in thy kindreds graue:
Thou shall be borne to that same auncient vault,
Where all the kindred of the Capulets lie.
………………………………………………………….. Act 4 ; scene 1 (Q2)

In the final scene of Romeo and Juliet three men arrive at the door of the Capulet tomb without a key. The first one, bridegroom Paris, has no need for one, as he is there to perform a sad lover’s rite of strewing flowers on this ‘bridal bed’. When done so, Romeo enters the scene to perform a desperate lover’s rite of making the tomb a bridal bed indeed. The third visitor, friar Lawrence, comes to Juliet’s rescue, and having timed his arrival on the exact hour of her return to life, he finds Paris and Romeo both dead. To get access, Romeo has brought an wrenching iron with him, the friar an iron crow. And, a typical Shakespearean riddle, they arrive with spade and mattock as well.

Shakespeare’s riddles have a reputation of baffling the audience. But riddles are there to be solved. Some are even invented for the purpose, and this one makes a particular fine sample of that challenging class :

Romeo and Juliet  was performed on the first day of thanksgiving after the great plague of 1592 – 94 : as a monument for its victims. This monument is buried below the play’s surface, and within the Capulet monument an epitaph on two young victims of God’s judgment marks the spot to dig for it. Its words are written by the play’s ruler over life and death, and spoken by a less powerful counterpart, whose name spells out ‘Asclepius’. If that is a name to go by, ‘this morning’ can’t be in real time. And it makes a nice challenge indeed to calculate from Shakespeare’s story when exactly the sun for sorrow really didn’t show his head :

Prince Escalus  : .. A glooming peace this morning with it brings,
…. The Sun for sorrow will not shew his head:
…. Go hence to haue more talke of these sad things,
…. Some shall be pardoned, and some punished.
…. For neuer was a Storie of more wo,
…. Then this of Iuliet and her Romeo.