THE COURTSHIP OF ROMEO AND JULIET
By: George Fletcher
|The following essay is reprinted from Studies of Shakespeare. George Fletcher. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1847.
WHEN Romeo, in returning from the masquerade, has made his escape from his light-hearted companions, and leaped the wall of Capulet's garden with the exclamation
Can I go forward, while my heart is here!
we find his apostrophe to Juliet, whom he discovers at the balcony, to be at once an amplification and an exaltation of the terms in which he had expressed his admiration on first beholding her, that poetry which is the natural language of passion in a spirit like his, taking a higher and purer charm from that surrounding vernal air and moonlight, the balmy solitude of which immediately succeeds, upon the scene, to the close, torch-lighted atmosphere of the crowded ballroom. And in lieu of
Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
- Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
- Having some business, do entreat her eyes
- To twinkle in their spheres till they return!
- Oh, speak again, bright angel for thou art
- More glorious to this night, being o'er my head.
- Than is a winged messenger of heaven, &c.
Juliet, on the other hand, yet unconscious of Romeo's presence in the garden below, simply breathes out the impulse of her heart towards the man of its choice, in spite of the attendant sense of the formidable bar opposed to their further intercourse:
- O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
- Deny thy father, and refuse thy name;
- Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
- And I'll no longer be a Capulet!
- ROMEO: Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?
- JULIET: Tis but thy name, that is my enemy;
- Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
- What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
- Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
- Belonging to a man. Oh, be some other name!
- What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
- By any other name would smell as sweet;
- So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
- Retain that dear perfection which he owes,
- Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;
- And for that name, which is no part of thee,
- Take all myself!
- ROMEO: I take thee at thy word:
- Call me but love, and I'll be new baptiz'd;
- Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
How beautifully natural is the instant checking of her heart's effusion which we find in Juliet at this totally unlooked-for interruption, like the nightingale startled in the prelude of her song--
- What man art thou, that, thus bescreen'd in night,
- So stumblest on my counsel?
Equally beautiful, again, is the reluctance of Romeo to wound her ear with the name so inseparably associated with the discord between their families, and Juliet's instant recognition of him by the silvery voice:
- ROMEO: By a name,
- I know not how to tell thee who I am:
- My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
- Because it is an enemy to thee;
- Had I it written, I would tear the word.
- JULIET: My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words
- Of that tongue's utterance, yet I know the sound;
- Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?
- ROMEO: Neither, fair saint, if either thee dislike.
Again, how characteristic of the perfect singleness and generosity of feeling in the youthful heroine, is her instant transition to the sense of danger to Romeo from the enmity of her relatives, and her anxious dwelling upon this theme until he has thoroughly satisfied her that none of them are cognizant of his presence within their walls:
- JULIET: How cam'st thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
- The orchard walls are high, and hard to climb;
- And the place death, considering who thou art,
- If any of my kinsmen find thee here.
- ROMEO: With Love's light wings did I o'er-perch these walls;
- For stony limits cannot hold Love out;
- And what Love can do, that dares Love attempt;
- Therefore thy kinsmen are no let to me.
- JULIET: If they do see thee, they will murder thee!
- ROMEO: Alack! there lies more peril in thine eye,
- Than twenty of their swords; look thou but sweet,
- And I am proof against their enmity.
- JULIET: I would not for the world they saw thee here!
- ROMEO: I have night's cloak to hide me from their sight;
- And, but thou love me, let them find me here:
- My life were better ended by their hate,
- Than death prorogued, wanting of thy love!
- JULIET: By whose direction found'st thou out this place?
- ROMEO: By Love's, who first did prompt me to enquire;
- He lent me counsel, and I lent him eyes.
- I am no pilot; yet, wert thou as far
- As that vast shore wash'd with the farthest sea,
- I would adventure for such merchandise!
Being now reassured, by these last sentences of Romeo, both as to his present safety, and as to his passion for herself, her honest enthusiastic heart impels her to keep her lover no longer in suspense, but repeat that avowal to himself which, be it well observed, she knows him to have already overheard her making, as she supposed, in the sole presence of the moonlight heaven. Again, it is "as the new-abashed nightingale," resuming her strain, pouring forth in security her fullest, richest notes, "through all the maze of sweetness running:"
- Thou know'st, the mask of night is on my face;
- Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
- For that which thou hast heard me speak to-night.
- Fain would I dwell on form fain, fain, deny
- What I have spoke. But farewell compliment!
- Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say, Ay;
- And I will take thy word. Yet, if thou swear'st,
- Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries,
- They say, Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
- If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully.
- Or if thou think'st I am too quickly won,
- I'll frown, and be perverse, and say thee nay--
- So then wilt woo--but else not for the world!
- In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond;
- And therefore thou mayst think my 'haviour light:
- But trust me, gentleman, I'll prove more true
- Than those that have more cunning to be strange.
- I should have been more strange, I must confess,
- But that thou overheard'st, ere I was 'ware,
- My true love's passion. Therefore pardon me;
- And not impute this yielding to light love,
- Which the dark night hath so discovered.
In all this, amidst all the flutterings of maiden delicacy and feminine apprehensiveness, how charmingly do we read the boundless confidence in her lover's truth and sympathy which already fills her bosom. In this fulness of trust it is, that we find her checking his every protestation at its very first syllable:
- ROMEO: Lady, by yonder blessed moon I swear,
- That tips with silver all these fruit-tree tops,
- JULIET: Oh, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
- That monthly changes in her circled orb,
- Lest that thy love prove likewise variable!
- ROMEO: What shall I swear by?
- JULIET: Do not swear at all;
- Or, if thou wilt, swear by thy gracious self,
- Which is the god of my idolatry,
- And I'll believe thee!
- ROMEO: If my heart's dear love--
- JULIET: Well, do not swear, &c.
The gush of new-sprung happiness which has come upon her so suddenly and so deliciously, from this full assurance of Romeo's requital of her love, and this frank outpouring of their mutual passion, seems, at the first moment, to the inexperienced heart of Juliet, such all-sufficient bliss, that it spontaneously pauses to take breath, as it were, in the midst of its tremulous transport:
- Although I joy in thee,
- I have no joy of this contract to-night:
- It is too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden;
- Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
- Ere one can say, It lightens. Sweet, good night!
- This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath,
- May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.
- Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest
- Come to thy heart, as that within my breast!
But how brief a pause, and how few more tones from the beloved voice, we see, suffice to teach her that, in a nature like hers, after each momentary ebb, she will find each succeeding wave in the rising tide of passion to swell more full and resistless than the former:
- ROMEO: Oh, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
- JULIET: What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?
- ROMEO: The exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine.
- JULIET: I gave thee mine before thou didst request it
- And yet I would it were to give again!
- ROMEO: Wouldst thou withdraw it? for what purpose, love?
- JULIET: But to be frank, and give it thee again.
- 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!----
- I hear some noise within--Dear love, adieu!----
- Anon, good nurse--Sweet Montague, be true----
- Stay but a little, I will come again.
- ROMEO: O blessed, blessed night! I am afeard,
- Being in night, all this is but a dream,
- Too flattering-sweet to be substantial!
When Juliet re-appears, her first words tell us how far the flow of her feelings has advanced beyond the point at which she could say, "I have no joy of this contract to-night." "This bud of love," to use her own expression, so far from waiting for "summer's ripening breath," to "prove a beauteous flower," expands at once by its internal energy:
- Three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed.
- If that thy bent of love be honourable,
- Thy purpose marriage, send me word to-morrow,
- By one that I'll procure to come to thee,
- Where, and what time, thou wilt perform the rite;
- And all my fortunes at thy feet I'll lay,
- And follow thee my lord throughout the world!
- NURSE: (within). Madam--
- JULIET: I come anon. But if thou mean'st not well,
- I do beseech thee,--
- NURSE: (within). Madam--
- JULIET: By and by, I come.----
- To cease thy suit, and leave me to my grief.
- To-morrow will I send.
- ROMEO: So thrive my soul,
- JULIET: A thousand times good night!
- ROMEO: A thousand times the worse, to want thy light.
- Love goes toward love, as school-boys from their books;
- But love from love, toward school with heavy looks!
This last reflection of Romeo's we find illustrated by Juliet's returning once more to the balcony, and by the following piece of dialogue, so exquisitely expressing the impossibility to part, after such a meeting the pang of separation, the more bitter for the sweetness of their converse:
- Hist! Romeo, hist! Oh for a falconer's voice,
- To lure this tassel-gentle back again!
- Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud;
- Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies,
- And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine
- With repetition of my Romeo's name!
- ROMEO: It is my soul, that calls upon my name:
- How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night,
- Like softest music to attending ears!
- JULIET: Romeo!
- ROMEO: My sweet!
- JULIET: At what o'clock to-morrow
- Shall I send to thee?
- ROMEO: At the hour of nine.
- JULIET: I will not fail 'tis twenty years till then!
- --I have forgot why I did call thee back.
- ROMEO: Let me stand here, till thou remember it.
- JULIET: I shall forget, to have thee still stand there,
- Remembering how I love thy company.
- ROMEO: And I'll still stay, to have thee still forget,
- Forgetting any other home but this.
- JULIET: 'Tis almost morning I would have thee gone
- And yet no farther than a wanton's bird,
- Who lets it hop a little from her hand,
- Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
- And with a silk thread plucks it back again,
- So loving-jealous of his liberty!
- ROMEO: I would I were thy bird!
- JULIET: Sweet, so would I:
- Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing!
- Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
- That I shall say good night, till it be morrow!
- ROMEO: Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast!
- Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!
At the risk even of wearisome repetition, we can liken the dramatic melody of this passage to nothing but the "sweetest, saddest strain" warbled by the bird of spring-time evening amid its balmiest air. How deliciously, again, does it express that perfect unison of soul in sentiment in idea in language in everything which the poet has so peculiarly preserved between this pair, in each successive phasis of their feelings. For, the hearts of these lovers do not rush together with the impetuosity of the torrent, as supposed by those who regard this drama as a painting of peculiarly Italian passion: they glide into one, quickly indeed, but gently, as the softest and pearliest of kindred dewdrops trembling together in the morning's ray.