Shakespeare's Romeo's Better Half

Ezra Azra

Copyright 2023 by Ezra Azra

Drawing by Christina Malman.  Courtesy of the Smithsonian.
Drawing by Christina Malman.  Courtesy of the Smithsonian..

 From the play, "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare, in the year 1596:
"Friar Laurence: God pardon sin! Wast thou with Rosaline?
Romeo: With Rosaline, my ghostly, father? No. I have forgot that name, and that name's woe."

In the year 1303, in the city of Verona in Italy, Rosaline was fast asleep in her bedroom. She was sixteen years old. She had no family. She worked in a bakery. She rented the two rooms and the bathroom above the bakery. One room was her bedroom.

The window of her bedroom overlooked an extension of the bakery's flat stone roof. She was content with her life. She was earning enough money to be independent enough to be happy, most of the time.

The population in Verona was strictly hierarchical. The hereditary aristocracy was the highest class. Next in order down were the army, the merchants, the commoners, and the poor. Rosaline was fortunate that she had a steady-paying job. It was only because of her job that she was content and happy as a commoner; otherwise, from birth, she would have been poor.

Poor people in Verona were continually miserable, forever.

On this warm summer night, she was particularly content because the next day was the one day of the week which was her paid holiday. The bakery was closed. She was planning to spend most of the day in a picnic in one of Verona's beautiful public parks.

It was about two o'clock in the morning. There was no electricity in the world, as yet. Most of Verona, like most of every other city in the world, was in complete darkness.

Romeo, an aristocrat, seventeen years old and besottedly in love with Rosaline, had climbed to the bakery's flat stone roof under Rosaline's bedroom window.

Over the last week or so, he had flirted with her in the bakery where she worked behind the counter, selling bakery goods. He had purchased more freshly baked cakes and pastries from her than he could eat by himself. Most of his purchases he gave to her as gifts, which she eagerly and innocently accepted. That he had romantic feelings for her, never crossed her mind because from his clothing she knew him to be an aristocrat.

In Verona, a romantic relationship between an aristocrat and a commoner was unheard of, and would not be allowed. If the owner of the bakery suspected that Rosaline had romantic motives about Romeo, he would have been obliged by law to report it to the authorities. The authorities would sell Rosaline into slavery far away from Verona.

Rosaline enjoyed Romeo's flirting because she knew he knew it was only and merely boy-meets-girl frivolous empty fun that could not go anywhere beyond inside the bakery. She enjoyed it all the more because Romeo was spending so much money in the bakery while he flirted. Romeo's money made the owner of the bakery very, very happy.

Indeed, Romeo was spending so much money in the bakery at Rpsaline's counter that Rosaline secretly opined she would be given a raise in pay in the very near future. Then, too, lately, she was spending far less on food for herself.

In his flirting, Romeo had learned, in passing, that Rosaline's bedroom window overlooked the extension of the bakery's flat stone roof, and that Rosaline had, so far, been unsuccessful in getting the owner of the bakery to put a lock on the window.

Hence, on a night, Romeo entered Rosaline's bedroom. He sat in a chair at the far end of the room at the footside of her bed, as she slept.

After sitting a while in the dark in increasing-palpitating silence, he began calling out her name, in whispers. Sooner or later, she awoke, startled. She hastily lit the oil lamp on her headside
small table.

"Romeo?" "Yes, Rosaline. Do not be alarmed. I will stay far away. I had to see you, Rosaline." "Romeo, this is not right. I am naked." "Stay under the blanket, Rosaline."

"Romeo, if the night patrol street guards find you here, they will blame me, because you are an aristocrat. I will lose my job."

"I will leave immediately, Rosy. I had to see you like this so that you will know I am serious about loving you." She was terrified!

"Romeo, no! Please, no! You are an aristocrat. The Duke, Governor, will either put me in jail, of banish me. Or sell me into slavery!

"Rosy, I am not my father's eldest son. He will not forbid me from marrying you. He will send us away from Verona to another city, and have nothing to do with us; but, Rosy, he will not forbid me from marrying you."

Rosaline was in desperate tears. She spoke at almost a whisper, and in pain.

"Romeo, I do not want to leave Verona. I am sorry. Please, Romeo, you can easily find someone else to love. Verona has no shortage of beautiful and rich aristocrat girls my age and younger."

They were silent. He asked, quietly; slowly.

"Rosy, do you love me?" The question stunned her into silence. She tried unsuccessfully a few times to speak. Eventually she replied, hoarsely, "I dare not, Romeo! It has never occurred to me to, to, to think about love with you."

"Rosy, would you prefer I do not visit you in the bakery?" "Romeo, Romeo, please do not stop coming to buy stuff." A long uncomfortable silence for tense seconds.

"Rosy, why is your window so easy to open? You are not safe, Rosy." "The landlord has promised to put a latch on it as soon as he has the time." "I could come up here in the daytime and put a latch on it for you." "Thank you, Romeo. But, please, let the landlord do it."

"I am sorry for frightening you, Rosy. I will not do it again." "Thank you, Romeo.

Will you be leaving, now? Please."

"Yes." He did not move out of the chair. They were silent and still. "Switch the lamp off, Rosy." "Romeo,---." "Just so that nobody will be able to see me leave through the window, Rosy."

Much, and obviously, relieved, "Oh." She switched the lamp off. He silently and slowly made his way to the window, and climbed out. He carefully shut the window from the outside, and instantly disappeared in the darkness.

She catapulted herself out of the bed, not caring about being naked. She hastily lit the oil lamp, and ran to a small cupboard. She rummaged around for a hammer and nails and a piece of plank, all of which she had long ago carefully stashed there, purposefully.

She went to the window and proceeded to hammer the plank into the wood frame of the window and into the wood of the wall.

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