In response to Gil's point that the company of Benvolio and Mercutio return Romeo to himself, I will quibble. Gil writes in his "Surrogate Dads" response that "It is not the spell of Juliet that has changed Romeo: It is the company of Benvolio and Mercutio" and in his "Thou talk'st of nothing" post that "Romeo was realigned with the Montague boys, out from under Juliet's spell." I would point out first that Romeo has not been himself since before he even met Juliet. He's mooning around at the beginning of the play. So there is also Rosaline's spell to consider.
That said, if it is Benvolio and Mercutio who return him to himself, I would ask why they are unable to do so before (when he's under Rosaline's spell) and immediately after (when he's under Juliet's spell) the Capulets' party? Given the opportunity to trade rude puns and fantasies about dreams, Mercutio bests Romeo so completely that an entire page and a half of monologue goes by in my text before Romeo can get a word in edge-wise. And when he does, all he can manage is the lame, "Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace. Thou talk'st of nothing." Now there's a put-down. Even Benvolio does better than that.
Romeo is still muttering petulantly after the party. Overhearing Mercutio making bawdy fun at his expense, he stays hidden and grumbles, "He jests at scars that never felt a wound," a defensive comment if I ever heard one -- "up yours, Mercutio; you don't know what it's like." Gil's argument that he is notRomeo at this point is extremely compelling; I had never read the "doff thy name" lines in that way. But that implies that he is still notRomeo when he runs into Mercutio and Benvolio in the street in Act 2, scene 4, that they then transform ("change," "realign") Romeo from his notSelf to his Self. Let's look:
Good morrow to you both. What counterfeit did I give you?
The slip, sir, the slip. Can you not conceive?
Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great, and in such a case as mine a man may strain courtesy.
That's as much to say such a case as yours constrains a man to bow in the hams.
Meaning, to curtsey.
Thou hast most kindly hit it.
A most courteous exposition.
Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy.
"Pink" for flower.
Romeo responds here like someone learning to work a pun the way children learn to read using the phonics method; he seems to be sounding it out: "meaning, to curtsey," "'pink' for flower." It's almost like he has flash cards, with the word on one side and its rude connotations on the back. He even loses the perfect opportunity for a pun on Mercutio's use of "conceive." His response should be, "Not unless I were a woman, but I won't accuse myself of that until the next act." If you continue with Gil's interpretation, Romeo's change begins to come in the next few lines.
Why, then my pump is well flowered.
Sure wit, follow me this jest now till thou hast worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it is worn, the jest may remain, after the wearing, solely singular.
O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness. (2.4.62-68)
Here, the "follow me this jest" could be read as instruction, Mercutio leading Romeo back to the promised land where every word reveals a multiplicity of meanings and possible roads of response and where the best jest is to make something of the road less traveled in the hopes that one will lose one's opponent in jest and thereby win the battle of wits. And after soles and singles, it is "goose," "sweet," and "broad," until Mercutio finally proclaims "Why, is not this better now than groaning for love?"
Is it? Among the compelling oppositions explored in this play, perhaps one of the most interesting is the language of love vs. the language of comaraderie. Both modes have rules (i.e. Petrarchan, sexual innuendo). Both modes establish character or a certain Self. Romeo the lover uses the language of love. Romeo the mate uses the quick wit of adolescent chumminess. In this, I suspect, language precedes character. [And maybe this is what marks this as an early Shakespeare play, while later the language will flow from character?] Romeo is the language that he uses, and because Mercutio and Benvolio don't respect the language he uses when mooning over Rosaline (they never really hear him go on about Juliet), he is notRomeo. (Though god knows what Mercutio would do if he overheard Romeo's comment to Juliet, "Call me but love …". He'd probably refer to him as ButtLove until Romeo makes wormsmeat of him in Act 3.)
In other words, I think Gil's interpretation bears out, although I see it more as a shift from one mode to another instead of a return to Self. What's more, if I were staging this scene, I'd put the brakes on this REalignment a bit, because I think Rosaline's spell is different from Juliet's. The former affects Romeo because of what is withheld, the latter because of what is offered. I think Juliet's offer of love (to Romeo, it's love, marriage, sex, whatever) transforms Romeo from mooning adolescent to cock-of-the-walk. And this makes him receptive to Mercutio's school for scandalous wit, whereas prior to Juliet (Queen Mab speech, Medlar tree jests) he is not.
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