In this scene, Juliet is talking to Friar Lawrence. She had just conversed with Paris, who had come to make arrangements for his marriage to her and has left. She is desperate at this point, for she has already married Romeo, who has been banished for killing Tybalt. Her meeting with the friar is to devise a plan to be with her love. Her tone is urgent and pleading when she asks the priest to let her do the following as alternatives to marrying the prince:
- O, bid me leap, rather than marry Paris,
From off the battlements of yonder tower;
A modern-day equivalent would be jump from a high building -- a suicidal act.
- Or walk in thievish ways;
She would rather slink around like a thief, a common criminal, and be treated with disdain and suspicion. Alternatively, it could mean that she would rather keep company with such characters and be in constant danger, than wed Paris. A current equivalent would be to become a gangster's moll or be a member of a gang.
- or bid me lurk
Where serpents are;
Serpents are deemed dangerous and serve as a metaphor for those who cannot be trusted -- malevolent creatures (human and animal) that constantly pose a threat. She would rather be exposed to such risk than be the prince's bride. The same would apply in a modern-day context.
- chain me with roaring bears;
Bears are wild, dangerous creatures. In Shakespeare's time, particularly, they were seen as the epitome of menace and were tied to a stake where dogs would be set upon them for the public's entertainment. The suggestion that she should be tied up with such menacing creatures and probably be torn to shreds as an alternative to marrying the prince, emphasizes her desperation. A contemporary version would be to tie her up and expose her to such creatures maybe in a zoo or in the wild.
- Or shut me nightly in a charnel-house,
O'er-cover'd quite with dead men's rattling bones,
With reeky shanks and yellow chapless skulls;
The idea of keeping nightly company with the remains of the dead was a terrifying one, especially in a society rooted in suspicion and myth. Charnel houses were used to store the remains of those who had been buried for five (or more) years. They were a type of storage space for bodies which had been disinterred to make space when burial ground was needed. The practice is hardly used today and is only applied in cultures living in extremely dry or rocky places.
A modern equivalent would be shutting her up in a mortuary or a funeral parlor every night, surrounded by dead bodies.
- Or bid me go into a new-made grave
And hide me with a dead man in his shroud;
Juliet suggests that it would be better for her to be enveloped with a corpse in its shroud in its burial chamber. A present-day equal would be to inter her with a newly-buried individual in a mausoleum, lying next to it and covered in its burial cloth.
Juliet states that she would perform these awful alternatives without any doubt or fear, for her desire is to remain untainted and pure for her "sweet love," Romeo.
Ironically, much of what Juliet states is actually a premonition of the tragic circumstances she will face later.
In lines 77 - 85, Juliet describes dramatically what she is prepared to do rather than marry Paris. She says,
1. "...bid me leap...from off the battlements of any tower" (in present day, she would be willing to leap off a tall building)
2. "or walk in thievish ways" (she would walk on dangerous roads where thieves are known to accost passersby, like walking in a dangerous, crime-ridden neighborhood in the dark of night)
3. "Or bid me lurk where serpents are" (she would hang out where there are snakes)
4. "Or chain me with roaring bears"
5. Or hide me nightly in a charnel house...with dead men's rattling bones" (a charnel house if a place where dead bodies and body parts are stored; in Shakespeare's time, there was a dearth of burial ground, so people were allowed to be buried in cemeteries for only a certain amount of time, after which their bones were unearthed and stored in charnel houses, so others could have a turn to be laid in the ground)
6. Or bid me go into a new made grave and hide me with a dead man in his tomb".
I'd say Juliet was pretty desperate not to marry Paris!