One of Shakespeare’s basic theatrical techniques is scene juxtaposition as is evident when 3.2 and 3.3 are compared. In 3.2 we had Juliet with her (elder) confidant, the Nurse; in 3.3, we have Romeo and his (elder) confidant, Friar Laurence. Thus the audience is invited to compare and contrast Romeo and Juliet (and to a lesser degree, the Nurse and the Friar) in these two scenes. Friar Laurence’s opening line of 3.3 also makes plain how we should view Romeo–“come forth, thou fearful man. / Affliction is enamoured of thy parts, / And thou art wedded to calamity.” These are not words associated with a brave hero! Moreover, Romeo’s own words are laden with self-pitying self-indulgence as epitomized in the excessive “What less than doomsday is the Prince’s doom?” Indeed, excessive wallowing repetition of words characterizes much of Romeo’s speech as even a cursory glance at his speech at lines 17-23 reveals, the tone being signalled by “There is no world without Verona’s walls.” Moreover, Romeo is ignoring the Friar’s sound observation that Romeo should really be thankful for “the kind Prince, / Taking thy part, hath rushed aside the law, / And turned that black word ‘death’ to banishment. / This is dear mercy, and thou seest it not.”
What appears to be a measure of self-recognition by Romeo is turned into an almost farcical moment in his speech beginning line 64–“Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel.” That is the petulant cry of every adolescent who has ever felt the world does not understand him (or her). True, Romeo does admit to being “doting” and therefore not rational. But then comes the almost farcical moment when he falls on the ground, but not before announcing this action “And fall upon the ground, as I do now.” (As an aside, this is one of numerous examples of how Shakespeare provides stage directions for his actors; here, I would argue the “direction” serves a dual purpose.) Symbolically, this is also Romeo associating himself with a low level in the chain of being, the ground/earth, and thus lacks all the higher attributes belonging to rational humans. His foolish behaviour is compounded by his refusal to heed the Friar’s injunctions to get up, and by the Nurse’s witnessing his condition when she enters at the mid-point of the scene. Interestingly, the Nurse says that “O, he is even in my mistress’ case”–that is, Juliet is doing the same thing as Romeo. However, the audience sees Romeo on the ground, and only hears about Juliet (“Even so lies she, / Blubb’ring and weeping, weeping and blubb’ring”), and seeing carries far more impact when it comes to judging the two characters.
What really crystallizes Romeo’s character for us is his attempt to stab himself (108), given the current situation (banishment rather than a death penalty). Friar Laurence’s words capture what we should think of Romeo: “Hold thy desperate hand. / Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art; / Thy tears are womanish, thy wild acts denote / The unreasonable fury of a beast. /Unseemly woman in a seeming man! / And ill-beseeming beast in seeming both!” Not being oneself, “seeming” to be something else, reality versus illusion–always crucial notions in Shakespeare. And so the Friar delivers a long speech of “good counsel” to Romeo, and begins to devise a plan of action whereby Romeo will go to Mantua to serve out his banishment until perhaps more favourable conditions prevail at home. However, R & J will have one night of connubial bliss together.
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