Angelic(a), My Arse

In Romeo and Juliet, Juliet’s Nurse’s name is mentioned exactly once. In Act Four, Scene Four, we hear this exchange:

Look to the baked meats, good Angelica:
Spare not for the cost.

Go, you cot-quean, go,
Get you to bed; faith, You'll be sick to-morrow
For this night's watching.

— IV.iv.5-8

Capulet uses the name Angelica and the Nurse responds to it.

Angelica. Like an angel.


Sure, if angels are bawdy:

  • her repeated joke of her husband, Juliet, and women having wit enough to “fall backward” (I.iii.42)
  • “Seek happy nights to happy days” (I.iii.105)
  • referring to Paris as one who would like to “lay knife aboard” (II.iv.190) Juliet; a reference to taking a slice of a dish, with the knife also being a phallic reference
  • “I am the drudge, and toil in your delight; // But you shall bear the burden soon at night” (II.v.75-76)
  • “Stand up, stand up; stand, and you be a man. // For Juliet’s sake, for her sake, rise and stand! // Why should you fall into so deep an O?” (III.iii.88-90), though granted these are unintentional sexual references
  • “Sleep for a week; for the next night, I warrant, // The County Paris hath set up his rest, // That you shall rest but little” (IV.v.5-7)

Do angels betray trust? I would think not, but the Nurse does, on two different levels. The first is the one most notice: her instant advice to Juliet to forget her marriage to Romeo, and be married again to Paris:

I think you are happy in this second match,
For it excels your first; or if it did not,
Your first is dead -- or 'twere as good he were
As living here and you no use of him.

— III.v.224-227

Juliet wants “comfort” (III.v.214), but the Nurse provides none and counsels Juliet to go against her love, a betrayal of all the help she herself had offered the girl up to this point.

The second betrayal is more insidious and heartbreaking, and rarely discussed. When Lady Capulet begins to tell Juliet of the wedding plans with Paris, she first tells her daughter of their plot for “vengeance” (III.v.88), in which they will “send to one in Mantua, // Where that same banished runagate doth live” (89-90), and they will then poison Romeo. How does Lady Capulet know that Romeo is going to Mantua. The Friar tells Romeo of the plan to have him “sojourn in Mantua” (III.iii.169). But the only other person to hear of this plan is the Nurse who is with them when the Friar first mentions the plan. There is no other way for Lady Capulet to learn of Romeo’s destination than by the Nurse.

In defense of the Nurse, was her betrayal of Romeo the lesser of two evils?  After Capulet decides that Juliet will marry Paris, he tells his wife, “Go you to Juliet ere you go to bed; // Prepare her, wife, against this wedding day” (III.iv.31-32). This scene takes place “very late” (III.iv.5) on the night of Romeo and Juliet’s wedding, but Lady Capulet does not come into Juliet’s chamber until after the next “day is broke” (III.v.40). Did the Nurse, in an attempt to keep Juliet’s marriage secret, decide to stall Lady Capulet’s entrance into Juliet’s room with the only information that would give Lady Capulet pause: the location of the man who slew her kinsman?  By the time Lady Capulet enters the room, they already have the vengeance plotted; this would take time, the time between “very late” on Monday and daybreak on Tuesday.

Angelic? I don’t think so. Incredibly ironic is more like it…

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