49. North Marked the “Description of Sorrow” in his “Dial” That He Used in “Romeo and Juliet”

In North’s own copy of his translation of the 1582 edition of The Dial of Princes, the translator adds a marginal note highlighting the “description of sorrow (Fol. 296 in 1582 edition; 475 in 1619 ed.) The passage describes how people act when they are depressed: they crave solitude, hate the day, love the night, and their sighs go upward to the heavens while their tears water the earth below:

“For truly the man which is sorrowful, sigheth in the day, watcheth in the night, delighteth not in company, and with only care he resteth. The light he hateth, the darkness he loveth, with his bitter tears he watereth the earth, with heavy sighs he pierceth the heavens.”

(The “Description of Sorrow” passage marked in North’s Dial)

This passage is similar to one that appears just eight pages later—in which, again, it is stressed that the sorrowful want to be alone (“lock themselves into their own chambers”), and again their tears fall to the earth while sighs move upward:

to hide and withdraw themselves within their houses, and to lock themselues into their own chambers: and they think it their duties, to water their plants with tears, and importune the heavens with sobs and sighs (483)

Still another page in The Dial uses this same imagery:

that with his deep sighs he pierceth the heavens on high, and with his flowing tears he moisteneth the earth below (590)

These are precisely the ideas and images the playwright uses to describe the despondent Romeo, who seems almost to have been crafted as an exemplar of North’s sorrowful man:

Montague: Many a morning hath he there been seen,

With tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew,

Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs

Away from light steals home my heavy son

And private in his chamber pens himself,

Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out,

And makes himself an artificial night.…

Benvolio: Have you importuned him by any means?

Fr. Laur: The sun not yet thy sighs from heavens clears

Romeo & Juliet, 1.1.131-33, 137-45; 2.3.73

The following table lists the correspondences:

The Dial’s “Description of Sorrow”The Description of Romeo’s Sorrow
to water their plants with tearsWith tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew
with his deep sighs he pierceth the heavensAdding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs;
The sun not yet thy sighs from heavens clears
to hide and withdraw themselves within their houses
and to lock themselves into their own chambers
sigheth in the day, watcheth in the night
The light he hateth, the darkness he loveth
Away from light steals home my heavy son
And private in his chamber pens himself
locks fair daylight out
And makes himself an artificial night.
 heavy importuneheavy importuned

The parallels are pointed and numerous. Both describe tears falling to the earth, while sighs float upward toward the clouds and heavens.[1] North’s passage even notes that tears water the plants—just as Romeo’s tears are compared to dew (which, of course, waters plants). Both discuss hating the day and light, while preferring darkness and night. And in both cases, the sorrowful “lock themselves into their own chambers”/ “in his chamber pens himselflocks fair daylight out.”  (Notice also that in Richard III, the dramatist juxtaposes pierce, clouds, heaven: “Can curses pierce the clouds and enter heaven?” [1.3.195])

Perhaps, most surprisingly, just the word-string with his deep sighs confirms the obligation. This is a fingerprint phrase of North’s, occurring nowhere else in EEBO except for The Dial and Romeo and Juliet.

An EEBO search for “{with his deep sighs].” The curly brackets ensure the search includes variations in spelling.

[1] Montague refers to sighs reaching clouds rather than piercing the heavens, but elsewhere in the tragedy, Friar Laurence describes Romeo’s sighs as rising to heaven (2.3.73). The same language appears in 1 Henry IV (3.1.9-10).

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