Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 1: Mercutio taunts Romeo

Romeo and Juliet Act 2, Scene 1: Mercutio taunts Romeo

BENVOLIO
He ran this way, and leap’d this orchard wall:
Call, good Mercutio.
MERCUTIO
Nay, I’ll conjure too.
Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover!
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh:
Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied;
Cry but ‘Ay me!’ pronounce but ‘love’ and ‘dove;’
Speak to my gossip Venus one fair word,
One nick-name for her purblind son and heir,
Young Adam Cupid, he that shot so trim,
When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid!
He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not;
The ape is dead, and I must conjure him.
I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes,
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh
And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,
That in thy likeness thou appear to us!
BENVOLIO
And if he hear thee, thou wilt anger him.
MERCUTIO
This cannot anger him: ‘twould anger him
To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle
Of some strange nature, letting it there stand
Till she had laid it and conjured it down;
That were some spite: my invocation
Is fair and honest, and in his mistress’ name
I conjure only but to raise up him.
BENVOLIO
Come, he hath hid himself among these trees,
To be consorted with the humorous night:
Blind is his love and best befits the dark.
MERCUTIO
If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
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.
Romeo, that she were, O, that she were
An open et cetera, thou a poperin pear!
Romeo, good night: I’ll to my truckle-bed;
This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep:
Come, shall we go?
BENVOLIO
Go, then; for ’tis in vain
To seek him here that means not to be found.
Exeunt

Form:

Apart from the odd interjection from everyone’s favourite peace-seeker Benvolio, this entire scene is a Mercutio-launched verbal assault directed squarely at his lovesick best friend, Romeo. The scene is a short interlude that sits between the excitement of Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting and their exchange of love’s true vows in the balcony scene. Fair enough. On a plot level not much happens at all – all we get is Romeo being asked by his mates to leave Juliet alone for the night, which he promptly refuses to do and runs off to breach enemy walls, armed with love’s light wings.

Dramatically, however, the scene is a chance for Mercutio to do what he does best: hog the limelight, say some outrageous things and prance about.

Language and Imagery:

First things first, Mercutio is what we can safely call a Dirty Bastard. His taunting speeches are riddled with what we might nowadays call ‘dick jokes’, sort of semi-disguised in thin puns and double entendres. He starts off fairly tame, goading Romeo with images of Rosaline’s body – her ‘high forehead, scarlet lip, straight leg and quivering thigh’. When that doesn’t work, he takes it to the next level and goes balls out crude with sexual innuendo, starting with a sly reference to the ‘demenses’ (‘land’) that lies adjacent to her quivering thigh. Yes kids, that does mean her vagina.

And it gets worse. When Benvolio diplomatically says ‘and if he hear thee thou wilt anger him’ (translate: ‘man, shut the cuff up, you’re gonna piss him off!’) Mercutio responds with some fairly tasteless references to Romeo’s sexual frustrations:

This cannot anger him: ‘twould anger him
To raise a spirit in his mistress’ circle
Of some strange nature, letting it there stand
Till she had laid it and conjured it down;
That were some spite.

Here, ‘raising a spirit’ is a reference to ‘getting it up’, or having an erection, which Mercutio says Romeo wants to do in his mistress’ ‘circle’. Yes kids, that does mean her vagina. Now, while there is reference here to some mumbo-jumbo folklore about raising spirits from a circle drawn on the ground, Mercutio is actually talking sex. He is saying that Romeo would feel ‘spite’ if some other ‘strange’ guy got the chance to ‘stand’ in Rosaline’s ‘demenses’ before he did. And oh yeah, ‘spirit’ is 16th century slang for ‘semen’. So there you go.

The imagery in all of this is clear enough, but Mercutio ramps it up when he starts to get all fruity. Literally. Have a look at this picture of a medlar fruit:

A small, round fruit with an apricot-like cleft that opens up when ripe and ready to eat. Mercutio equates this with… lady parts, which remain closed until said lady is ready to ‘open up’. Yep, exactly. Now, Mercutio says that a) Romeo wants to be around medlars, (horny) b) Romeo wishes his mistress was like a medlar (ie: ripe and ready to ‘open up’) and c) that maids call their ‘fruit’ medlars when they ‘laugh alone’ (ie: in the privacy of their bedrooms doing what young men fantasise about girls doing alone). Are you getting how rude all of this is? Well it gets worse when he then goes on to state that Romeo wishes he was a ‘poperin pear’, which, to get to the point, is late 16th century slang for penis. Simply because the Poperinghe pear is reminiscent in shape of the male sexual member and looks like it would fit snugly into the medlar’s cleft. It’s worth mentioning that a particularly ribald player could pronounce it “pop her in” pear, for added laffs. Get it?

(also, ‘open et cetera’ is originally ‘open arse’ – the actual slang term used to describe the medlar fruit. I guess modern editors are just squeamish)

Rhythm and Tone:

During this short and undeniably filthy scene, Shakespeare ramps up the innuendo from fairly innocuous references to Rosaline’s body to full blown mental images of sexual organs, represented by bits of fruit. For an audience, little chuckles of acknowledgement could develop into yelps of shock as Mercutio’s puns get increasingly more base. The scene is brief and adds little to the story, but it injects a spike of humour into rapid plot development and makes for a nice contrast to the intensity of the balcony scene that follows.

Obviously, Shakespeare plays it for laughs, but the extremity of Mercutio’s taunts suggests something more complex in tone. We know that Romeo’s adventures in love are going to end in ultimate tragedy and there is a sense of desperation in Mercutio’s efforts to stop him from breaching the house of Capulet. Also, as Juliet later attests to, Romeo is literally risking his life to see her, a fact that Romeo’s mates would also be aware of. Yes, Mercutio is getting a few laughs and trying to get a rise out of his best bud, but he just might also be trying to protect him from danger.

Subject matter:

On the one hand, this scene is about sex and the strength of Romeo’s sexual urges, but it also highlights the conflict between different types of love in the play. Unbeknownst to his friends, Romeo has gotten over the melancholy of his ‘courtly love’ (medieval convention of unrequited love where you act like a moody teenager and write poems about lovesickness etc) and is not even thinking about the high forehead of Rosaline. He has developed a deep and spiritual connection with Juliet, a true love that is leading him towards his tragic fate.

Mercutio may not know that it will all end in death, but he has a deep-seated fraternal love for Romeo. This makes it difficult for him to accept Romeo’s decision to choose a girl over his mates, and it is unsurprising that the strength of his feelings is manifested in wild and outrageous sexual banter. So, as always with old Billy Bard, there are serious undertones at play, even during a seemingly ‘light’ scene. You could even argue that Mercutio’s feelings towards Romeo go beyond fraternal love into something more intimate – feelings that he can’t express openly.

On this note, it is telling that the scene ends not with a crowd-pleasing punchline, but with sober resignation. After all the laughs and energy, Mercutio simply gives up, accepting that any efforts to help Romeo are in vain. From ‘haha’ to ‘eww’ to ‘aww…’, in 40 lines.

-Unseen Flirtations

Click here for a detailed analysis of Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss: Act 1, scene 4.

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Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, Act One, Scene Four

Romeo and Juliet’s first kiss, Act One, Scene Four

ROMEO [To JULIET]

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO

Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.

Form:

The 14 lines in question form a sonnet, a perfect Shakespearean sonnet in fact, with three ABAB quatrains and a rhyming couplet at the end. Easy to miss when seen/ heard and even quite subtle when read. This is the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet at the Capulet ball. Shakespeare goes to pains to write the encounter as a sonnet. As you know, the sonnet is traditionally associated with love, so it’s no surprise that Shakespeare chose this form to detail the first exchange of words between our young lovers. Ahh.

Romeo takes the lead with the first quatrain, Juliet the second, they share the third (Romeo taking three lines and Juliet one) and the final couplet is split evenly between the two. Why? Well, what we get is a gradual intermingling of speech, a conversational to-and-fro that culminates with two people perfectly in sync, speaking in a shared rhyming couplet. The fact that the sonnet so naturally fits into the dialogue of the scene highlights just how compatible these two are – they speak in shared verse, complementing each other to create a fixed meter and rhyme scheme.

Language:

The conflict in this sonnet is basically between sex and religion – the body and the spirit. You get two semantic fields with the vocabulary of the body (hand, lips, kiss, palm et cetera) meeting the vocabulary of religion (holy, shrine, sin, Pilgrims, saints, devotion et cetera). The combination is electrifying.  Our young lovers are seething with physical desire and lust whilst simultaneously discussing their religious concerns. This religious language also attests to the seriousness of their relationship. Their love is not limited to physical attraction – it transcends into the realms of agape. We are meant to take them and their love seriously.

Romeo, the bold lover, kicks off the sonnet with a sly conflation of physical and religious language. In his metaphorical description of his lips as ‘blushing Pilgrims’ he is attempting to convince Juliet of the purity of his intentions. Yes he wants to get physical, but he is overtly spiritual in his request. Juliet, coy and intelligent, picks up on this and extends the metaphor, using her own metaphor to describe the act of prayer (joined palms) as a ‘kiss’. Romeo clearly has his work cut out for him.

By the end of the poem, they have reached an understanding. A kiss is a prayer and vice versa, so they can kiss without problem. On this note it is telling that Juliet repeatedly calls Romeo (a hard-headed romantic from a rival tribe) a ‘Pilgrim’. This label validates his love and tells her, and the audience, that he is worthy of a kiss. (Romeo immediately calls this kiss a ‘sin’, playfully perhaps, but also in acknowledgement of the inappropriateness of snogging on a first date).

The rhyme in this poem is more than simply out of necessity. Key words are linked by rhyme, one example being the rhyming of ‘prayer’ and ‘despair’ in the third quatrain. Here, Shakespeare is making reference to the tragedy that will befall the couple – the ‘prayer’ of their sacred kiss will ultimately lead to ‘despair’ and grief. The audience knows this already (thanks to the Prologue) and are reminded in this initial exchange.

Imagery:

As discussed above, the sonnet is replete with images of prayer and kissing – two very contrasting actions. The former is carried out in isolation, seeking personal enlightenment. The latter is an act of shared intimacy between two people. That said, prayer does also involve the recipient of that prayer, suggesting that both positions are intimate in different ways.

What is worth noting is the way in which Shakespeare subverts imagery. ‘Palm to palm’ prayer is an innocent, entirely religious image that we are invited to equate with lip to lip kissing, when Romeo says ‘let lips do what hands do’. The prayer becomes the kiss.

Rhythm:

As all sonnets go, this is written in clear iambic pentameter. This natural, flowing rhythm is undisturbed and subsequently, a sense of steadiness is achieved. These two people are on the same beat, so to speak. They speak in rhythm and are constant in pace. Admittedly, all of Shakespeare’s plays are written as such but in the context of a shared sonnet, the effect is highlighted.

Tone:

On the one hand we have a gentle conflict and tension between Romeo and Juliet, the young Montague trying to persuade Juliet to allow him his ‘gentle sin’. There is nothing excessively shocking in this however, and the language of the sonnet is only quietly shocking.

After the first two quatrains, taken by Romeo and Juliet respectively, the sharing of the third quatrain introduces a sense of urgency. The exchange becomes more passionate and fluctuates, as the pair move closer towards their kiss. Also, in keeping with the nature of the sonnet, there is a turn (or volta) after the octet. Romeo asks a question that highlights a fundamental problem in the religion/ physical conflict –‘Have not Saints lips and holy Palmers too?’ Don’t spiritual types have physical, sexual urges? This turn could potentially lead to disaster if Juliet refuses to play along, but, thankfully, she doesn’t. We overcome this hiccough and reach an assured, content resolution.

Subject matter:

So what is this sonnet about? Easy – Love. Love in the broadest sense – love that spans physical attraction and sexuality to religious adoration and a deeper, spiritual connection. Romeo and Juliet have both from the outset, and this sonnet serves as evidence of this fact.

-Unseen Flirtations

(Click here for a detailed breakdown of Act 2, scene 1, where Mercutio taunts Romeo)