Loose Ends

March 14, 2010 at 4:16 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's Plays) (, , , , , , , , )

I’m winding down on my thoughts about Romeo and Juliet (for now). I have a couple more film versions in my Netflix queue that I will watch soon, but I think I’ve covered what I want (for now). I think with this blog, as I read through more plays, I may feel the need to revisit plays as I see things in a new context. So, I reserve the right to return to Romeo and Juliet!

And I would love if any readers come back to Romeo and Juliet at any time! Please feel free to rifle through old posts and comment on anything at any time. I’ll be happy for the input and eager to return to this play for more discussion.

Today marks one month since I started posting about Romeo and Juliet on Valentine’s Day. I really have no plan regarding how long I will spend on each play or how many posts I’ll make about each one. It’s kind of random and I have no idea if I’ll spend a month on future plays or want to move on faster (or spend even more time on each!). Stick around with me to see!

Anyhow, as my thoughts wind down on Romeo and Juliet, there are a few things I want to put out there before I move on to A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

More on Mercutio
First, I want to thank blog reader Ted. When I commented early on that I thought new readers might want to “yada yada” through Mercutio… he pointed out that he could never ignore Mercutio, who he found a fascinating character. That comment made me re-think Mercutio, and you can see I found quite a few things to post about him the last week or so.

It’s this kind of input that I am so excited to get from this blog. Because if I were just reading on my own, I might really have done more yada-yadaing than I should have. I find reading Mercutio’s parts very challenging. The puns are constant and complex, but I do think he’s a fascinating character if you let him under your skin.

One thing about Mercutio that I find really interesting… he is related to the Prince (and possibly to Paris, who is also related to the Prince). This seems so unnecessary to the plot. Why give him this connection? When I started this blog by watching the Zeffirelli version, I actually thought Mercutio was a Montague—maybe a cousin of Romeo’s; I didn’t give the relationship much thought. But as I read the text, I realized he was the Prince’s kinsman.

Another thing—Mercutio was invited to the Capulet feast! That’s so interesting to me, because doesn’t it seem like he could have easily snuck his buddies in, since he was invited? Yet they’re all worried about how to get in, and he plays right along as if he’s one of the party crashers.

Further on that note, Count Paris seems like such a “catch” for Juliet because he’s an aristocrat. Yet I wonder if Mercutio isn’t just as high in rank and stature. He certainly doesn’t give off any royal airs, does he? He’s one of the guys. Not at all the feeling I get from Paris, although we never see Paris in a casual setting with his buds.

Rosaline was a Capulet!
Rosaline was also on the invitation list to the Capulet feast! See, it’s interesting to me, because Shakespeare never needed to share with us the actual invites to the party—that’s a level of detail that would never be missed in a play. Yet, there’s a whole scene set aside for Romeo to read through the entire list! So, it seems somehow important that we learn that Mercutio is invited and also Rosaline (of course, that gives Romeo the idea to crash the party, but we didn’t need to hear the whole list for that idea to get in his head).

Rosaline is Capulet’s niece, and therefore Juliet’s cousin. I find this detail interesting, because later when Romeo realizes that Juliet is a Capulet, it takes on such weighty meaning to him.

                          Is she a Capulet?
O dear account! my life is my foe’s debt.

Why is it a big deal? He was already doting on a Capulet (Rosaline) before this and her family connections didn’t seem to concern him a bit!

The Nurse
Lastly, I want to mention a couple things about Juliet’s nurse. She is a really interesting character to me. As I’ve said in earlier posts, she is stupid/savvy. Capulet treats her with great disrespect when he is angry with Juliet.

God in heaven bless her!
You are to blame, my lord, to rate her so.

And why, my lady wisdom? hold your tongue,
Good prudence; smatter with your gossips, go.

I speak no treason.

O, God ye god-den.

May not one speak?

Peace, you mumbling fool!
Utter your gravity o’er a gossip’s bowl;
For here we need it not.

Wow, what a nice guy! He has such a bad temper and is so rude to the Nurse here. She does not back down. She talks right back! (“May not one speak?”) She holds her own with the Lord and Lady of the manor. I never note subservience in her tone around them. Interesting!

And her love for Juliet is obvious. Juliet, to her ultimate ruin, loves and trusts the Nurse with her whole heart. I mentioned in an earlier post how the Nurse’s switcharoo from singing the praises of Romeo to singing the praises of Paris causes the tragic switcharoo in Juliet that sends her to the Friar and starts in motion the events that lead to the tragic ending.

The nurse is a pivotal character. It’s interesting, because it would be easy to dismiss her as a fool, as Capulet does. You could mistake her for a somewhat small character. She is not. She is central to the plot. She enables Juliet to pursue the relationship with Romeo. She serves as messenger to set up the wedding and doorguard so they can consummate their marriage. Then her switch to Paris pushes Juliet out the door toward her death. The plot revolves around the nurse!

Parallels: Nurse and Friar
So, in addition to holding her own as a character (in every sense of the word!) and being central to the plot, I find interesting parallels between the nurse and two other characters. She serves as friend and trusted confidant to Juliet in the same way the Friar does to Romeo. Both the nurse and the Friar are enablers of the Romeo/Juliet relationship and marriage. Both should know better! These kids are dumb and acting in a hormone-induced haze—if either the Friar or the nurse had put the kibosh on it at any step of the way, things might have ended differently.

Parallels: Nurse and Mercutio
I find parallels between the nurse and Mercutio, as well. Both are windy, tending to get carried away with themselves and run on at the mouth. Both are pretty hilarious and prone to dirty jokes and puns. And each serves as a best friend. We are aware of no friend other than the nurse in Juliet’s life. She appears to exist within the walls of the Capulet house and have little human contact other than her parents and the nurse. Romeo is out and about in the world and has friends, and Mercutio stands out as his closest friend, willing in the end to fight for and die for that friendship.

And that concludes my thoughts (for now) on reading Romeo and Juliet! Let me know what you think, and stay tuned for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

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Mercutio, the Messenger

March 11, 2010 at 7:17 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , , , , , )

Here again is the (modern) meaning of the name Mercutio: “The name comes from Mercury, the Roman messenger god. It may also be related to the vocabulary word “mercurial,” originally designating someone with the characteristics of eloquence, shrewdness, swiftness, and thievishness attributed to the god Mercury, or more commonly with an unpredictable and fast-changing mood.” (Source: ParentsConnect)

I’m fascinated by this, because I keep looking for how Shakespeare wove the name’s meaning into the character. In my edition’s notes, I believe it said there was a character named Mercutio in the sources used by Shakespeare, but that the character was not fully developed. Shakespeare just ran with the name. And I note the modern meaning, because Shakespeare didn’t have access to the Internet to look up name meanings, so who knows what he was really assuming.

But so far, we’re doing pretty well: Mercutio was eloquent, shrewd, and had a swift wit. I don’t see theivishness. I’ve stated that he seems less mercurial to me than many of the characters with their quick switcharoos. That’s not to say that Mercutio doesn’t have a changeable quality to him. He’s certainly unpredictable! He’s a nut! You never know what will come out of his mouth next. It’s just not the flip-of-a-switch kind of changes that I see in other characters.

Notably, in his final scene, I can see his temperature rise as he talks to Tybalt. I don’t know if mercury was used in Renaissance thermometers, but I can see him about to blow a gasket with Tybalt as things heat up that hot summer day. He has a temper.

For me, the biggest change in Mercutio is the most mysterious. When we meet him, he spouts the long Queen Mab speech. I have been reading this speech for over a week now, and I still don’t get it. I just finished watching it performed in the BBC video; I still don’t get it. It is so completely different from every other word out of Mercutio’s mouth. For one, there is not any sexual punning. There’s really not that much wordplay at all here… not compared to the later Mercutio.

ROMEO I dream’d a dream to-night.

MERCUTIO And so did I.

ROMEO Well, what was yours?

MERCUTIO That dreamers often lie.

ROMEO In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.

MERCUTIO O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
 She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
 In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
 On the fore-finger of an alderman,
 Drawn with a team of little atomies
 Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep;
 Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders’ legs,
 The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
 The traces of the smallest spider’s web,
 The collars of the moonshine’s watery beams,
 Her whip of cricket’s bone, the lash of film,
 Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
 Not so big as a round little worm
 Prick’d from the lazy finger of a maid;
 Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
 Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
 Time out o’ mind the fairies’ coachmakers.
 And in this state she gallops night by night
 Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
 O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on court’sies straight,
 O’er lawyers’ fingers, who straight dream on fees,
 O’er ladies ‘ lips, who straight on kisses dream,
 Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
 Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
 Sometime she gallops o’er a courtier’s nose,
 And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
 And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig’s tail
 Tickling a parson’s nose as a’ lies asleep,
 Then dreams, he of another benefice:
 Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
 And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
 Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
 Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
 Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
 And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
 And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
 That plats the manes of horses in the night,
 And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
 Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
 This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
 That presses them and learns them first to bear,
 Making them women of good carriage:
 This is she–

ROMEO                   Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
 Thou talk’st of nothing.

MERCUTIO True, I talk of dreams,
 Which are the children of an idle brain,
 Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
 Which is as thin of substance as the air
 And more inconstant than the wind, who wooes
 Even now the frozen bosom of the north,
 And, being anger’d, puffs away from thence,
 Turning his face to the dew-dropping south.

It’s baffling to me. It’s so unlike the Mercutio I come to know later in the play. So, that signals to me a purpose to the speech. What is it?

I won’t make a habit of reading analyses of Shakespeare’s works, but this one had me so completely confused that I Googled it. I was getting nowhere figuring it out on my own, so I looked at SparkNotes. I still don’t feel like I get it!

But I feel like there must be a message in these words—a message for Romeo. And Mercury is the messenger, befitting his name. But, what’s the message? I guess I can see what the SparkNotes essay says at the end… that Mercutio is cynical/pragmatic and bursting the dreamy romantic bubble that Romeo lives in.

But… I’m just not satisfied! Does anyone have a better explanation for me? I feel like the Queen Mab speech must be very important, and it bothers me that I don’t get it!

The other reason I feel like there’s a message to Romeo here is the way that Mercutio interrupts him when Romeo mentions having a bad dream. There is so much foreshadowing throughout the play; a big dark cloud hung over all of Verona that week. But here, Mercutio filibusters Romeo out of really talking about his bad dream. Why? Someone, please shed light!

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Fun in the Pun

March 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Stop it!  Stop it!
That’s enough, sir.
I can’t say such silly stuff, sir.
    Mr. Knox, Fox in Socks, by Dr. Seuss

Sorry for all the Seuss references. He’s a big part of my life right now! Anyhow, as I read through all the puns in Romeo and Juliet I keep thinking of Fox in Socks and sometimes I feel like Mr. Knox. Stop it! Stop it! That’s enough, sir!

Romeo and Juliet is just filled with sexual puns. I’m sure they were obvious and right out there to the Renaissance audience. It’s all slang and double entendres and many/most go right over my head unless I stop to decipher them in the footnotes. It takes a lot of effort for me to get them, and after a while, I find them mind-numbing. I mentioned in an earlier post, I thought a new reader might want to “yada, yada” through much of Mercutio since he is so dense with puns.

I’m sure that the audience back then did not have to work to get the joke, and so the joke was funnier. That being the case, the “tragedy” of Romeo and Juliet was at many times a light-hearted comedy and witfest. I’m sure people were on the floor laughing at all the clever back and forth and anatomical references. I really think I lose out in needing to have the jokes excruciatingly explained to me, and then still not really getting them a lot of the time. It must have been really funny in an Animal House kind of way. Right?

So, let’s take it from the top, because that’s what Shakespeare did. He starts right out by laying it on thick. Act I, Scene 1, and the servants Sampson and Gregory are on a witty roll. Geez, as I look at it now, I don’t even know where to start. Whenever they use words like “stand,” “take the wall,” “thrust,” “heads,” “piece of flesh,” yada yada… sorry, I get glazed over right from the start. It’s just too much! Stop it, stop it, Mr. Fox, sir!

Seriously, I have trouble with that aspect of the play (not offended… it just bores me after a while!). “Draw thy tool,” “My naked weapon is out.” Hello? This is all in the first 32 lines of the play! I’m tired reading the footnotes already, and I haven’t even met Mercutio yet.

Alrighty then. So, I’m sure that whole thing set the tone for the rest of the play for the bawdy audience way back when. They’re into it. They’re getting it. They’re loving it. Enter Mercutio.

Here’s the (modern) meaning of the name Mercutio: “The name comes from Mercury, the Roman messenger god. It may also be related to the vocabulary word “mercurial,” originally designating someone with the characteristics of eloquence, shrewdness, swiftness, and thievishness attributed to the god Mercury, or more commonly with an unpredictable and fast-changing mood.” (Source: ParentsConnect)

As I mentioned in my last post, I find Mercutio one of the least mercurial of the characters in this play. But he sure has a swift wit and eloquence. Tybalt may be the King of Cats, but Mercutio is the King of Puns. Maybe Act II, Scene 4 shows him at his finest. Every word out of Mercutio’s mouth is perfectly-pointed. Jab! Jab! His death may come from swordplay, but wow, in life he is a master of wordplay.

It’s dizzying. Romeo is up to the task and keeps right up with Mercutio (boy, you’d have to watch yourself around these guys… I bet I set myself up there using the word “up” if they’d been around to pun off me!). They’re having a lot of fun. Romeo (playing on Mercutio’s last words) says:

Swits and spurs, swits and spurs! or I’ll cry a

My edition’s note says that means “keep your horse (wit) running fast” or Romeo will claim victory (“cry a match”). Whew!

Benvolio always seems a bit left out of the back and forth and uncomfortable with it. He finally sees Mercutio going off too far (involving “bauble in a hole”) and says “Stop there, stop there!” (II.4.92). It makes me think of poor Mr. Knox again:

I can’t blab such blibber blubber!
My tongue isn’t made of rubber.

And just like Seuss’s fox, Mercutio is a man possessed and CANNOT BE STOPPED. He goes on punning off of poor Benvolio’s own innocent words (“whole depth of my tale”). Yee gods.

And then! And then… oh my, Juliet’s Nurse arrives on the scene! Seriously, I can hardly catch my breath from all the wordplay and dirty jokes and then she comes in and Mercutio is just merciless on her. She is dumb (like a fox?) and plays unknowingly (?) right into Mercutio’s jokes (II.4.100-142). Oh my, oh my. “Saucy merchant” and “scurvy knave,” indeed! Whew! (By the way, I find this scene in the Zeffirelli movie really funny.)

Oh. My. Oh. My. And the Nurse is no innocent herself when it comes to sexual puns. She has many bawdy lines, although the notes in my edition say these are often unintentional puns. I wonder about the Nurse. She plays an interesting stupid/savvy character. Anyhow, look at her go!

O, he is even in my mistress’ case,
Just in her case! O woeful sympathy!
Piteous predicament! Even so lies she,
Blubb’ring and weeping, weeping and blubb’ring.
Stand up, stand up! Stand, an you be a man.
For Juliet’s sake, for her sake, rise and stand!
Why should you fall into so deep an O?

The puns are on words like “O,” “case,” “rise and stand,” etc. Yep.

They sure are all having a lot of fun in the pun. I find them funny/tiresome. It’s just too much for me, in many ways. But again, I wonder if that’s mainly because it’s so much work for me to decipher them and I’m sure I still don’t appreciate the jokes the way they were intended back then. How do you all like the puns?

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March 4, 2010 at 11:43 pm (Analysis and Discussion, Romeo and Juliet) (, , , , )

mercurial \(ˌ)mər-ˈkyu̇r-ē-əl\
Date: 14th century
1 : of, relating to, or born under the planet Mercury
2 : having qualities of eloquence, ingenuity, or thievishness attributed to the god Mercury or to the influence of the planet Mercury
3 : characterized by rapid and unpredictable changeableness of mood <a mercurial temper>
4 : of, relating to, containing, or caused by mercury
Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary (my emphasis added)

Here’s what I’m really fascinated by as I read Romeo and Juliet: the quick switcharoo. The plot moves forward due to sudden, capricious changes. Let’s talk about some of them.

One minute it’s Rosaline. SHING! Next it’s Juliet. The chorus catches the quick switch:

Now old desire doth in his deathbed lie,
   And young affection gapes to be his heir;
That fair for which love groaned for and would die,
   With tender Juliet matched, is now not fair.

It’s a bit mind-boggling. Friar Laurence can’t believe his ears the next morning. He cracks me up. He’s pretty hard on Romeo about it (II.3.65-88). At least he explains here that Rosaline didn’t return Romeo’s affection because she was smart enough to see through him.

                                      O, she knew well
Thy love did read by rote, that could not spell.

The note in my edition says this means “like a child, who cannot read, pretending to read by learning by heart.” This is how Laurence says Rosaline saw Romeo’s tru luv! Oh well, we’ll never know if he was more sincere about Juliet or if Juliet was just not as savvy as Rosaline.

Friar Laurence
Oh dear. Now we see the good Friar do the quick switcharoo right before our eyes. One second he is chiding Romeo for this foolishness. SHING! The next he’s offering to marry Romeo and Juliet. Remember, this is probably less than 12 hours after R&J met at the feast. He’s offering the equivalent of the Las Vegas chapel for these two lovebirds. At least he has an ulterior motive:

For this alliance may so happy prove
To turn your households’ rancor to pure love.

So, Friar Laurence thinks maybe if he marries these two youngins it will end the feud between the families. This is the reason for his quick switcharoo, but it’s still a bit crazy. He’s been Romeo’s mentor, chiding him often for his immature doting on Rosaline, yet he quickly decides the end justifies the means here if the marriage brings peace.

As I mentioned in a comment to an earlier post (by the way, I’m looking forward to many more conversations like this comment… they really get me thinking in different directions, and this is what I hope for with this blog!), I’m intrigued by the sudden change in Juliet’s father.

When he first meets with Paris, he is in no hurry to marry Juliet off. She’s too young (not yet 14!). He doesn’t know if she wants to be married yet. He doesn’t know how she likes Paris. He tells Paris to woo her and to wait a few years. He says his own opinion is only part of the deal—Juliet needs to want the marriage.

SHING! Fast forward (a day?) to their next meeting, and Capulet is handing his dear daughter off to Paris with no delay! Take her tomorrow! No, maybe that’s too soon, make it Thursday!

More than that, the sudden change of mind occurs literally on stage. We witness it. Act III, Scene 4 opens with Capulet telling Paris he’s had no time to talk to Juliet about marriage and has no idea how she feels, and what’s more he’s tired and would have gone to bed an hour before if Paris hadn’t been there (how rude!). He and Lady Capulet are literally shuffling Paris out the door.

SHING! And then Capulet calls him back:

Sir Paris, I will make a desperate tender
Of my child’s love. I think she will be ruled
In all respects by me; nay more, I doubt it not.

Really? Cuz Juliet has never given any inkling that this would be the case. This switch confuses me more than the first two I mentioned. After all, Romeo is Romeo, and Rosaline wasn’t answering. So… on to #2! And Friar Laurence thinks he sees a way to end the strife in Verona.

But what’s in it for Capulet making this switch? Can anyone help me understand? I don’t get it.

I’ll put out my little theory I’ve been hatching. Let me know what you think. Capulet seems to really be sure of himself. He seems genuinely amazed at Juliet not going along with his plan to marry her off to Paris in a couple days. He’s incredibly angry and shows a very ugly side, telling Juliet she’s a spoiled brat and will basically be disowned if she doesn’t do as she’s told and marry Paris (III.5.142-197).

In the comment I linked to above, I noted this feeling I have that Capulet is a man who cares very much about outward appearances. I see this in his worrying over the preparations for the feast and wedding and in how he threatens Tybalt at the feast when Tybalt wants to fight Romeo for crashing it (I.5.77-89). Capulet seems very, very concerned with being a good host and leaving a good impression.

And I wonder if this somehow leads him to the quick switch with Paris. Because uncharacteristically, Capulet is actually being short and a bit rude with Paris at this meeting. When does a host tell a guest that he’d have been in bed an hour before if not for the meeting!

It’s like SHING! Capulet realizes he’s been rude to an important person and that he has to make up for it right then and there. In a Big Way. Paris is a count and a relative of the Prince, and really Capulet has been a bit cavalier with him to that point. He convinces himself that Juliet will be proud of the match! He’s doing her a favor!

Anyone agree with my ideas here?

Juliet has two sudden switcharoos that I can think of. One is on the balcony. It’s hormones. She goes from ‘this is crazy and we should take it slower’ to SHING! I’ll marry you tomorrow and follow you all the days of my life. Here she’s saying let’s take it a little slower.

                                    Although I joy in thee,
I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, 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 flow’r when next we meet.

So, within a couple dozen lines, her love goes from a “bud” to SHING! call me in the morning and tell me where to go to get married!

And all my fortunes at thy foot I’ll lay
And follow thee my lord throughout the world.

Wowza! Romeo never had luck like that with Rosaline! He must be shocked!

Thanks to blog reader Jamie who commented below about the Nurse’s huge switcharoo. It’s true, and I didn’t give her switch the full credit it deserves, so I’m fixing it now and giving her her own section here. The Nurse’s switch is really pivotal to the plot.

Juliet’s nurse is Romeo’s biggest cheerleader and the prime enabler of Juliet’s relationship with him. Then SHING! she switches on a dime and tells Juliet she’ll be better off with Paris. She’s being pragmatic. Romeo is banished and as good as dead to Juliet. Capulet has threatened to disown Juliet if she doesn’t marry the county. Paris is a good catch! See Jamie’s comment below for more detail on this huge switcharoo.

Juliet, Part II
Juliet’s second switcharoo is sad. It stems from the deep betrayal she feels when the Nurse switches from Romeo’s cheerleader to being all about Paris. Juliet does not take this switcharoo well. She feels it is the ultimate betrayal. She trusted her nurse with all her heart, and when she sees how it is, her switcharoo is signaled with a single word. “Amen!” (III.5.230).

She’s acting like she’s agreeing with the nurse, and will marry Paris, when really she’s made up her mind to go to Friar Laurence’s cell to find a (maybe the ultimate) way out. (In the discussion in the comments linked above, blog reader Ted notes this is a climax in the play, as opposed to the more obvious climax when Romeo kills Tybalt. It’s this moment that leads directly to the tragic ending.)

Well, I would love to hear your comments about any or all of these ideas. I find it interesting that Mercutio is one of the least mercurial of the characters in the play. I have a feeling his name is more about meaning #2 in the definition: eloquence and ingenuity. I plan to blog about Mercutio soon.

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