«by JANE ELIZABETH KINGSLEY-SMITH A thesis submitted to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Birmingham for the degree of DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY The ...»
In this speech Juliet juxtaposes words and matter, ornament and substance. Where Romeo is happy to define love within poetic structures such as the sonnet, Juliet seeks a poetry that becomes action. The sonnet ends in a kiss. The orchard scene ends in a promise of marriage.
Literally, she desires the incarnation of love, the word made flesh.
In the orchard, Romeo first discovers Juliet defying the word that makes him her enemy (and
by implication the conventional feud between their families):
Here Juliet tries to suggest that words are insubstantial and can therefore have no relation to Romeo's divine but also mortal and physical perfection. The name is no part of his anatomy and therefore it ought to be easy to cast off. When Romeo interrupts her reverie she reveals a similar carelessness about the conventions for courtship. Having lost the necessary inscrutability by her confession, Juliet tells him, 'Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny/What I have spoke' (130-1). She refuses to play the role expected of her now, to 'frown, and be perverse, and say thee nay' (138) and thus releases Romeo from courtship defined as a long and fruitless assault upon her chastity. Throughout this scene Juliet interrupts Romeo when he tries to make her a fulsome, conceited declaration of love. All Romeo need say is 'Ay' and Juliet says that for him. She seeks 'an ideal communion of love at a level beyond idle breath'. 17 17 Shakespearean Melodrama, 91.
Similarly, when it comes to vows, there is no prewritten form that will substantiate their love or make Juliet more convinced of its permanence. She knows what it is without naming it.
gracious self,/ Which is the god of my idolatry' (155-6) - yet even this she interrupts. Juliet's desire to make their union nameless recurs in her epithalamium when she imagines the lovers finding one another without light or speech: 'and Romeo/ Leap to these arms untalked of and unseen' (3.2.6-7). In her incisive study of bodies in the play, Catherine Belsey explores the
implications of Juliet's fantasy:
These isolated, unnamed bodies (and roses) are only imaginary. The human body is already inscribed: it has no existence as pure organism, independent of the symbolic order in which desire makes sense. In the sixteenth-century text Juliet's imagined act of love is paradoxically defined in a densely metaphoric and tightly structured instance of signifying practice [...] The text specifies a wish in a tissue of formally ordered allusions, comparisons and puns, which constitute a poem, the zenith of signification, self-conscious, artful, witty. 18 This paradox is a crucial element in the tragedy. Where the characters appear to seek a private universe and a secret language, they are deeply conventional. Juliet's attitude towards names is immediately contradicted in the balcony scene by her delight in uttering Romeo's name and by her need to summon him. The lovers are inevitably defined by their names as by the language they use and are thus implicated in civic and poetic tradition. Juliet's speech in the orchard both rejects the debased airy language of love and opts for an even more public and
She goes on to propose marriage to Romeo who finds that the courtship is over before it has begun. Juliet's use of the term 'contract' reminds us that she is as conventional as Romeo but that her book is that of civic custom rather than Petrarch's Rime. A private vow may not realise their love but a socially recognised vow may do so. Not only does Juliet use the word 'contract' but she refers to their speech as 'unadvised', suggesting that they need the approval of other people. This is of course what both lovers seek. Romeo prepares the Friar to marry them whilst Juliet breaks with the Nurse and uses her to arrange the meeting with Romeo.
The strongest words of love Juliet can imagine are those of matrimony, witnessed by the Church and by society. It is through this language that she will seek to define their relationship. Thus Juliet strengthens their bond with the community. The marriage may remain private but the fact that they have entered into it within Verona's walls testifies to their definition by the city and by its rituals. 19 Hence, the convention by which Romeo and Juliet should hate one another is legitimated by their marriage. This is dramatically represented by Romeo's appearance in the marketplace after his wedding. At first, Romeo attempts to contain Capulet and Montague within himself and to reconcile them within his flesh, now Juliet's. He speaks almost lovingly to Tybalt and denies the relevance of that insult villain', suggesting that Tybalt is merely mistaken in naming him thus. But this position is impossible for Romeo to maintain. Tybalt's 19 Ann Jennalie Cook argues that although the marriage is performed privately and remains a secret, in the context of Renaissance betrothals and elopements it is a legitimate union. She suggests also that Shakespeare has deliberately voiced the fears of an audience about the rashness of their betrothal through Juliet in order to allay them. See Making a Match: Courtship in Shakespeare and His Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991X208-12.
anachronistic but no less passionate hatred of the Montagues makes reconciliation impossible whilst even Mercutio is willing to fight for Romeo's name, though he has no personal stake in the feud. Moreover, Romeo himself is not entirely reconciled to the union of the two houses.
He responds to the news of Mercutio's death: 'O sweet Juliet,/ Thy beauty hath made me effeminate' (3.1.113-4). The murder of Tybalt is an act of revenge but it is also a form of selfassertion. Romeo rejects the feminine Capulet in his nature for the masculine Montague. 20 The legacy of Mercutio is tragedy. His death and Romeo's subsequent revenge transform the play from comedy to tragedy.21 Mercutio has a notion of this himself as he delivers a curse upon Capulets and Montagues: 'A plague o' both your houses./ They have made worms' meat of me./ I have it, and soundly too. Your houses!' (3.1.106-8).22 The prologue has already promised that the punishment incurred by the two families will be the violent deaths of Romeo and Juliet. The Prince explicitly refers to the tragedy at the end of the play as a 'scourge [...] laid upon your hate' (5.3.291). Yet there is also a sense of Romeo and Juliet bringing about their own curse. Brooke begins his narrative poem by blaming the lovers for their tragedy and using them as moral exempla for his readers. 23 I want to examine the curse as a linguistic rather than a moral phenomenon in the play and as a reflection of the social discourse which creates and may destroy its citizens.
20 See Coppelia Kahn's seminal article on gender in the play, 'Coming of Age in Verona' in The Woman's Part:
Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare ed. by Carolyn Lenz, Gayle Greene and Carol Thomas Neely (Urbana, Chicago and London: University of Illinois Press, 1980), 171-93.
21 See Susan Snyder, The Comic Matrix of Shakespeare's Tragedies (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 57, and Nicholas Brooke, Shakespeare's Early Tragedies (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd.. 1968), 83.
22 See Shakespeare's Wordplay on Mercutio's dying curse, 69-70.
2:5 In his preface, Brooke describes the lovers 'thralling themselves to unhonest desire, neglecting the authoritie and advise of parents and frendes, conferring their principal! counsels with dronken gossyppes. and superstitious friers (the naturally fitte instrumentes of unchastitie) [...] fmallye, by all meanes of unhonest lyfe, hastyng to most unhappye deathe', Narrative and Dramatic Sources. 284-5.
A curse necessarily posits the incarnation of a word. Calderwood suggests that Mercutio's 'plague' on both households is realised when it is a plague that prevents the Friar's letter from reaching Romeo. 24 I would argue that Mercutio's curse also signals the vulnerability to language from which Romeo and Juliet will suffer in this second half of the play. Until this point language has been performative in a positive sense for the lovers. As they abandon a purely Petrarchan self-expression, they speak words which unite them under civil and religious law. Yet this dialogue, this reciprocity of words, is their last before the murder of Mercutio releases the fatal dissonance between their names. In the rest of the play, the lovers imagine themselves stabbed, poisoned and murdered by words as if the words were become both the expression and the instrument of a curse. The curse with which Mercutio leaves the lovers is that of banishment.
The destructive potential of language was realised at the beginning of the play in the word which led to a blow and again in the scene of Mercutio and Tybalt's deaths (3.1.39). It is also
alluded to in the Petrarchan conceit of death by a harsh word from a lady. Romeo tells Juliet:
'My life were better ended by their hate/ Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love' (2.1.119-120). Mercutio responds to the news of Tybalt's challenge:
Alas, poor Romeo, he is already dead stabbed with a white wench's black eye, run through the ear with a love song, the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft. (2.3.12-5) The image of Romeo killed by listening to a love song anticipates the change following the death of Tybalt when wordplay becomes tragic. Even the word 'Ay' is thus empowered. From
the Nurse's confused lamentation in 3.2. Juliet assumes Romeo is both murderer and victim:
-4 Shakespearean \Ltadrama, 96.
The word which told Juliet of Romeo's love, 'I know thou wilt say "Ay"', would now poison her with his death. This transformation of 'Ay' endorses Juliet's nominalist instinct that words were too unstable and too general to describe her lover or her love. But whilst this multiplicity of meaning implied the insubstantiality of language before, Juliet now finds that words are reified into weapons that attack the lovers' own substance. When the Nurse joins Juliet in vilification of the Montague, Juliet repents at once. She answers the Nurse's curse, 'Shame come to Romeo!' with her own, 'Blistered be thy tongue/ For such a wish! He was not born to shame' (3.2.90-1). Juliet reclaims the essential Romeo, the rose that exists despite the name of murderer. Yet the slanders (not to mention the increasing number of curses) poured
upon his name have apparently damaged it:
This idea of Romeo misshapen by a word recurs in the next scene where the instrument is 'banished'.
In The Tragicall Historye, Brooke uses the word 'banished' with prodigality. Indeed, considering the fate of the lovers, it seems rather tasteless to bandy it around as he does.
Brooke's Romeus considers that he might recover from his infatuation with Rosaline:
Perhaps mine eye once banished by absence from her sight.
This fyre of myne, that by her pleasant eyne is fed Shall little and little weare away, and quite at last be ded. (86-8) The banishment of care, hope, sorrow or joy, is a familiar metaphor from Italian and English
Renaissance poetry and it recurs several times here. Brooke describes Juliet's insomnia thus:
'an hugy heape of dyvers thoughtes arise/ That rest have banisht from her hart, and slumber from her eyes' (367-8). Perhaps the most callous use of the word occurs after Romeus has learnt of his exile. Brooke describes his recovery from despair as a result of the Friar's good
As blackest cloudes are chaced, by winters nimble winde, So have his reasons chaced care out of his carefull mynde.
As of a morning foule, ensues an evening fayre, So banisht hope returneth home to banish his despayre. (1483-6) Where Brooke deadens the effect of "banished' upon Romeus by such frequent metaphorical use, Shakespeare preserves the power of the word. He only employs it to describe the fate
which befalls Romeo and thus it bursts violently onto the stage:
Juliet's emphasis on speaking the word reminds us how Romeo's exile was performed.
'Banished' in the mouth of the Prince redefined Romeo as an exile, renamed him as such, before he had left the city. Indeed, all the Prince needed to say was that 'Immediately we do exile him hence' (3.1.186). This sentence of exile encompasses the paradox about language we have been considering. It is explicitly referred to in Richard II. The King describes the sentence as verbal and vocal: The hopeless word of "never to return"/ Breathe I against thee, upon pain of life' (1.3.146-7). That such a composition of breath should be limitless as Juliet finds it, is also wondered at by Bolingbroke. When the King grants him a reprieve of six years
This meaning is also inherent in the Friar's use of the word 'vanished' to describe the Prince's sentence, 'A gentler judgement vanished from his lips:/ Not body's death, but body's banishment' (3.3.10-1).25 The New Cambridge edition of Romeo and Juliet gives two possible meanings for 'vanished': 'breathed out like so much air (compare "airy word"... and "airy tongue"...)'or 'issued without possibility of recall'.26 It is here that the insubstantiality and permanence of 'banished' collide. Juliet imagines a word whose power derives from this dreaded collision. As it is limitless so Romeo's exile drives him beyond all recognisable limits. As it is impossible of recall, so Romeo may be permanently lost.
25 This usage is anticipated in The Two Gentlemen of Verona where Lance substitutes the word 'vanished' for 'banished' (3.1.215). In view of Valentine's perception of exile as dissolution and death, it is particularly appropriate. It also confirms the origins of this tragedy in human breath.
26 See Romeo and Juliet ed. by G. Blakemore Evans. 3.3.10n, 136.
Moreover, it is a truism in this act of the play that the mere repetition of the word by Juliet, the Friar, or anyone similarly impotent, empowers that word to murder. In 3.3, Romeo inveighs not against the Prince but against the Friar who keeps repeating the word and thus