The Every-day Juliets: 1883


In killing off Juliet, Shakespeare for once at least, sacrificed nature to dramatic effect. A strong minded, obstinate, self-willed young woman like Juliet, would never have killed herself. What would probably have happened would have been this: Juliet would have fallen down fainting, and after lying in a state of syncope for a quarter of an hour or twenty minutes would have revived, and would have run away from such a scene of horror as fast as her legs could carry her. She would have gone home, told her mamma and papa the whole story, and would have remained in strict seclusion until after the funeral was over and her mourning had come home from the dressmaker’s. Then she would have appeared as the disconsolate young widow, in a set of bewitching weeds. Then she would have taken to devotion. She would have risen at an unearthly hour to go to six o’clock mass, to the great disgust of her lady’s maid, whom she would have compelled to accompany her.

In a few weeks’ time this little habit would have been followed by a remarkable “revival” amongst the young men of the place, who would also have taken to going to mass, with small pocket prayer books, the spick and span newness of which would have betrayed the fact that their owners were not in the habit of using them very frequently. By and by one or more of them would have lurked about the church porch until Juliet’s arrival, and would then have offered her the holy water brush. After one or two of such incidents had occurred, Juliet would have acknowledged the attention with a sweet sad smile, as who should say, “I see your devotion, and I pity you— but it is hopeless— my heart is buried in the grave of my dead love.” Then the young men would begin to call on papa and mamma, and take intense delight in papa’s stories, and mamma’s interesting reminiscences of her other babes who had “gone before.” By-and-bye one of the young men would begin to speak to Juliet of the necessity of not allowing herself to be so entirely absorbed by her grief. She would shake her head sadly, and give another pitying smile. Then she would begin to think of half mourning, and interviews with the dressmaker would take place with suggestions from the latter of a little less crape, and a speck or two of white or mauve. Juliet would comply, but with reluctance.

Then the young man, if he were a wide-awake young man, would speak out a little more plainly, for it does not do to be undecided and hesitating with pretty young widows and Juliet would burst into tears, which she would mop up with a handkerchief deeply fringed with lace, and ask him “How he could be so cruel, so soon after (sob-sob-sob!).” The young man would, of course, humbly apologise, and repeat the offence at the earliest opportunity. At length the necessary consent would be given, and a year and a day after Romeo’s death, Mrs Romeo would doff her last remnants of mourning and be led to the hymeneal altar by some body else, and Romeo would for a time be forgotten.

But not entirely forgotten. Oh, dear no; these re-married widows never do entirely forget number one. When number two objects to the milliners’ bills, then would come the time when Juliet would remember Romeo, and vow that “her first husband would never have been such a brute, and would have paid any milliner’s bill, however large, without grumbling.” Which might be true, only that Romeo never had to pay any milliner’s bills.

This is a horribly common-place view of the whole affair, and would have spoilt the play as a tragedy, but as a matter of fact healthy young women never kill themselves for love; they know that there are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it.

I had the honour of escorting home a very matter-of-fact young person of the age of thirteen, and naturally asked her what she thought of the play. “Oh, Miss Pomeroy was delightful,” &c. &c. But what did she think of Romeo and Juliet as characters? And the matter-of-fact young person briefly remarked, “Oh, they were a couple of fools,” and then proceeded to discuss the incidents of the play.

Star 24 November 1883: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: This week marks the 400th anniversary of the day that the death of William Shakespeare is celebrated. Mrs Daffodil cannot take the fuss entirely seriously. “Bardolotry” or the worship of the Swan of Avon, was a feature of some fulsome literary circles, suggesting that there never had been, nor never would be, another author so Enlightened or Sublime. The Spiritualists, too, could not leave Shakespeare in peace, calling his spirit back from the vasty deeps to channel rather indifferent poetry and feeble wit. There were also, of course, the many Bacon/Shakespeare controversies, including mysterious ciphers, raids on church-yards in search of vaults, and an improbable tale of Bacon’s murder and decapitation of Shakespeare, which you will find in this grewsome post by that collector of cranial curiosities over at Haunted Ohio.

Mrs Daffodil has always preferred comedy to tragedy and suspects that the Immortal Bard, who did, after all, pen some excruciatingly broad puns, would enjoy the humorous posts for to-day and Saturday. Mrs Daffodil has also previously shared a post about a young man’s Shakespearian enthusiasm, unshared by his family.


Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


2 thoughts on “The Every-day Juliets: 1883

  1. Pingback: A Shakespearean Contretemps: 1830s | Mrs Daffodil Digresses

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