Romeo and Juliet
Dr. Michael Delahoyde
Washington State University
ROMEO AND JULIET
The chorus recaps the situation in sonnet format. Some emphasis is placed on Romeo’s transformation, in generational terms: “Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie, / And young affection gapes to be his heir” (1-2).
“Night will be the setting for all the play’s crucial private moments” (Garber 195). And “The walled orchard, like the biblical enclosed garden, the hortus conclusus, was a traditional iconographic emblem of virginity in poetry and art” (Garber 199). Romeo hops the orchard wall to catch another glimpse of Juliet after the ball. Benvolio and Mercutio call after him and discuss him, but eventually give up on him, not knowing about his new passion. Mercutio is loquacious and bawdy, as always:
Now will he sit under a medlar tree,
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.
O, Romeo, that she were, O that she were
An open-arse, thou a pop’rin pear!
“Mercutio’s reference is to Rosaline…. The medlar, rotten with ripeness, popularly was believed to have the likeness of the female genitalia, and ‘to meddle’ meant to perform sexual intercourse. Mercutio happily also cites a popular name for the medlar, the open-arse, and the slang name for a French pear, the Poperingale (named for a town near Ypres)” (Bloom 95-96).
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun” (II.ii.2-3). Romeo is in the orchard under Juliet’s window. This is the so-called “balcony scene,” even though the text mentions only a window. It may express the “boldness of outraged pride and loyalty” of Oxford, vs. Elizabeth the “envious moon” (Ogburn and Ogburn 308, cf. 1088). Note the Tudor livery colors, white and green (Ogburn and Ogburn 405):
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious;
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
Juliet appears and soliloquizes her love for Romeo: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? / Deny thy father and refuse thy name” (II.ii.33-34). “It is irritating in the extreme that the first line of this passage, taken by itself, is so often treated in popular quotation as though Juliet were saying ‘Where are you, Romeo?’ and were looking for him…. ‘Wherefore’ means ‘why,’ and Juliet is asking the absent Romeo why he is a Montague. Oh, if only he weren’t” (Asimov 487). But, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet” (II.ii.43-44).
What can Romeo be thinking as he hears this? We might speculate that left to himself he might have approached his father and urged him to talk to Capulet, under a flag of truce if necessary, and try to arrange a reconciliating marriage…. Who but Tybalt shows any signs of anything but weariness with the feud, and he could be beaten into submission…. However, Romeo may well have recognized the romanticism of the young girl who feels the thrill of loving the family enemy; who loves the risk and danger and sadness of it; and perhaps he would not dream of throwing cold water on that feeling. (Asimov 488)
Romeo reveals his presence and asserts, “My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself, / Because it is an enemy to thee; / Had I it written, I would tear the word” (II.ii.55-57) — an echo of The Two Gentlemen of Verona. “Thus he commits himself to the full gamut of romantic folderol as seen through the eyes of a dramatic fourteen-year-old, and the catastrophe is under way” (Asimov 488).
Romeo declares his love for her and she frets about the danger he’s in and the possibility that she’s coming off too easy. Romeo is about to swear something when Juliet interrupts: “O, swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon, / That monthly changes in her circled orb, / Lest that thy love prove likewise variable” (II.ii.109-111). “What shall I swear by?” asks Romeo (II.ii.112); “he may seem touchingly puzzled… — the poor boy is doing his best” (Wells 80).
With lots of “light” imagery they continue an impassioned coversation, Juliet eloquently saying, “And yet I wish but for the thing I have. / My bounty is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite” (II.ii.132-135). “If romantic little Juliet wants secret messages, and clandestine word, and even an exciting forbidden marriage — then she shall have them” (Asimov 489). Juliet’s idea of calling Romeo’s name into a cave and listening for the echo reminded J. Thomas Looney of de Vere’s “Echo Poem” (Farina 176; cf. Ogburn and Ogburn 392). The echo of Romeo is E. O. (Ogburn and Ogburn 219).
During one of Juliet’s temporary disappearances, Romeo offers this contorted remark:
Love goes toward love, as schoolboys from their books,
But love from love, toward school with heavy looks.
Amid the Nurse’s calls to Juliet, the lovers agree to meet again, and near dawn they part: “Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, / That I shall say good night till it be morrow” (II.ii.184-185).
Friar Lawrence gathers herbs, meditating on their potentialities as poisons or medicines. Romeo joins him, and Friar Lawrence deduces that he “hath not been in bed to-night” (II.iii.42). He’s glad to hear that Romeo has not been with Rosaline, but when Romeo asks that he marry him and Juliet, Friar Lawrence rants about Romeo’s quick changeability, being so obsessed so recently with Rosaline. Soon, though, he realizes that the love could help end the family feud. “He seems, however, to prefer the indirect and hidden approach to the direct one; he is as romantic as Juliet” (Asimov 490).
In the character of Friar Lawrence, Oxford is probably immortalizing his learned tutor, Sir Thomas Smith, an enthusiastic gardener and pharmacologist, among many other things. Notice that Friar Lawrence at one point calls Romeo “pupil” (II.iii.82). Young Edward de Vere was under Smith’s care from the age of four until moving to Burghley’s household at the age of twelve. See Stephanie Hopkins Hughes, “‘Shakespeare’s’ Tutor: Sir Thomas Smith (1513-1577).” The Oxfordian 3 (2000): 19-44. Oxford may be memorializing both Smith and Laurence Nowell, another tutor, as both were “notoriously adept at concocting tinctures and tonics” (Anderson 24, cf. 73). Otherwise no papist authorities are “treated with respect or dignity” in Shakespeare (Anderson 375). But also “There is reason to believe that Friar Laurence’s fatherly concern for Romeo was much like that of Sussex for Oxford” (Ogburn and Ogburn 411).
Benvolio and Mercutio wonder where Romeo disappeared to last night. He has been “stabbed with a white wench’s black eye” (II.iv.14) — a reference to “dark lady” Anne Vavasour (Ogburn and Ogburn 406). Benvolio reports that Tybalt, “Prince of Cats” (II.iv.19), has sent a letter to Romeo’s home, probably a challenge. The cat reference, supplemented by the term “rat-catcher” (III.i.75), would refer to a tomcat, perhaps to Thomas Knyvet, Oxford’s attacker. E.T. Clark shows the similarity of names between Thomas Knyvet and Tybalt (466-467). Mercutio’s rant about “their bones” (II.iv.36) may be punning on the name of Bonetti, the Italian fencing master whose school was part of the Blackfriars Theater lease in the area where some of the fights between de Vere’s men and Knyvet’s took place (Farina 177; cf. Ogburn and Ogburn 251). “Romeo and Juliet pays tribute to the innovations in swordsmanship that Bonetti introduced to England…. Bonetti had famously boasted that he could ‘hit any Englishman with a thrust upon any button'” — and Mercutio mentions the “silk button” (Anderson 179).
“Here comes Romeo….” “Without his roe” (II.iv.36-37), which leaves “Me-O” (Ogburn and Ogburn 393-394). Romeo enters and Mercutio exercises his wit, declaring of Romeo’s own, “O, here’s a wit of cheverel, that stretches from an inch narrow to an ell broad!” (II.iv.83-84).
‘Cheveril’ in the original (“First Folio”) is spelt ‘cheverell,’ and ‘inch’ in Elizabethan spelling is either ‘inche’ or ‘ynche.’ It will be noticed, therefore, that the word, ‘cheverell’ ends with an ‘ell’ and it commences with a ‘che.’ ‘Che’ is three fifths of the word ‘inche’ and is therefore ‘an inche narrow.’ … We find the word ‘ver’ stretching from the ‘inch narrow’ to ‘ell broad.’ Vere, or Ver, is the Earl of Oxford’s own name, and thus no doubt is left as to whom the line refers. (Holland, qtd. in Clark 474; cf. Ogburn and Ogburn 394)
Mercutio and Romeo continue exchanging bawdy witticisms until the Nurse arrives, at which point Mercutio exasperates her with his gibes. “The Nurse and Mercutio, both of the audience favorites, are nevertheless bad news, in different but complementary ways” (Bloom 89). “To begin with, they hate each other on instinct, as two rival talkers generally do, showing how akin they are under the skin” (Goddard, I 121). Romeo excuses Mercutio as “A gentleman, nurse, that loves to hear himself talk” (II.iv.147-148). He tells the Nurse to have Juliet meet him at the Friar’s place for their marriage. He’ll send a rope ladder so he can climb to Juliet’s room later.
At the end of the scene, the Nurse praises Juliet and suddenly asks, “Doth not rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?” (II.iv.206-207). Romeo replies, “Ay, nurse, what of that? Both with an R” (II.iv.208). “Ah, mocker, that’s the dog’s name. R is for the — no, I know it begins with some other letter — and she hath the prettiest sententious of it, of you and rosemary, that it would do you good to hear it” (II.iv.209-212). What’s this all about?
Juliet, waiting three hours for news, is annoyed by the Nurse’s typical game-playing. The Nurse does arrive finally and, after stalling with complaints of various aches and pains, reveals that Juliet needs to go to Friar Lawrence to be married to Romeo. The Nurse must fetch the rope-ladder.
Friar Lawrence is still worried about how rapid all this has been, but he and Romeo await Juliet. Romeo’s happiness is so extreme he dares death itself to try to destroy it: “Then love-devouring death do what he dare, / It is enough I may but call her mine” (II.vi.7-8). The Friar warns, “These violent delights have violent ends” (II.vi.9), and coaches moderation. Juliet arrives and the couple are led off to be married: “Holy Church [will] incorporate two in one” (II.vi.37).
Much of Act II has focused on names, so this promised unity is reflected thus: “Names in this play are, it seems, deliberately symmetrical, like so many other structural elements: the dactylic rhythms of MON-ta-gue and CAP-u-let echo each other, as do the names of RO-me-o and JU-li-et” (Garber 199).