The Plan for Romeo and Juliet to consummate their marriageWhen the Nurse explained the plan—a rope ladder, “the cords,” would be placed from Juliet’s bedroom, “the highway to her bed,” so that Romeo and Juliet could have sex and thereby consummate their marriage—Romeo responded by saying “bid my sweet prepare to chide.”
What does "to chide" mean?I’ve never been fully confident that I understood this line. What does “to chide” mean in this context? Why should Juliet “prepare to chide”?
I’ve never seen the line analyzed or glossed, but it is the pivotal moment in the drama. Up to this point, alternatives are possible. The marriage has not been consummated and can be easily annulled. Juliet still could marry Paris, and Romeo find another Rosalind or Juliet. Or Romeo and Juliet could announce that they have married and accept the ire of their families and banishment. Their marriage might, as Friar Lawrence planned all along, put an end to the enmity between their families and soften the Prince against banishment. This is the point of no return—a secret marriage followed by a clandestine consummation and a cloak-and-dagger plan for resurrection and return—and this is the line which marks the point of no return: “bid my sweet prepare to chide.”
The dictionary definition of "to chide"The dictionary definition of “to chide” is “to scold or rebuke” and the word is used elsewhere in the play with this meaning, but what could Romeo possibly mean by saying “Juliet should prepare to scold or rebuke”? From the context of the dialogue, we would expect Romeo to say something like “Juliet should prepare to be my lover” or some more poetic Shakespearian equivalent. Basically, in the simplest of terms, he must be saying “tell her to prepare to have sex.” But why does he say it this way or, more to the point, why does Shakespeare have him say it this way?
Shakespeare's pun on chide/chafeI have long suspected that “to chide” was, in this context, a pun suggesting “to chafe.” Finding this web page which compares “to chide” and “to chafe” <http://wikidiff.com/chafe/chide>, my suspicions were confirmed, my prophecy fulfilled. The verb “to chafe” means “to excite heat by friction; to rub in order to stimulate and make warm.” More telling for our purposes, Shakespeare uses “to chafe” and “to chide” in ways that bring their meanings close together. For example, compare:
“the troubled Tiber chafing with her shores” from Shakespeare’s Julius Cesar
“As doth a rock against the chiding flood” from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII