Thursday, January 25, 2007

Romeo and Juliet - Surrogate Dads

I was a bit careless in my last posting ("Moms and Dads in Romeo and Juliet"). I got a bit tired after describing the two pairs of parents. I was trying to show they are not balanced and matched pairs, as were the two sets of twins in Comedy and as the NEO-classical unifiers will attempt a century after Shakespeare and, when I should have concluded about Capulet, I hunted for an exit line instead – rejecting a second Mommy Dearest characterization of Lady Capulet, I just grasped at Randall's discussions of the Friar.

No, I didn't take "actual father" literally, and I quite agree that absent any Montague parental backbone, Friar Lawrence certainly has served Romeo as Randall notes beyond the narrow limitations of priestly office. Fortunately, Randall finished the point I was really driving at, that Capulet is all of a piece, his early magnanimity about Juliet's consent to marry Paris and his expansive pleasure hosting the feast are not inconsistent with his rage at Juliet's refusal to immediately consent to marry Paris two (or three) days hence. Capulet is a head of the household of an ancient family, and we see him attempt to consolidate the social (hosting a feast for half of Verona), the political (an upward alignment by his daughter's marriage with the nephew of the Prince), and economic (the gold statue at the end seem to be wergeld (there's that word again) to repurchase the Prince's favor. After Tybalt's death, all this is jeopardized, and Juliet receives the entire fury of her frustrated father.

I worry a bit when Randall speculates "maybe women are better off if they don't have anything to do with men." Well, yes, but… Years ago, I saw a B- movie Untamed Women (calm down, this was before X-rating, back when the Hayes code required one-foot-on-the-floor in any scene with a man and a woman) in which a tribe of Druid women had lived for ages on a tropical island with dinosaurs, until a plane full of American fliers crash landed. Leaving the film, us guys had three questions: dinosaurs?!?, why did they speak English?, and how had they procreated all those decades? Perhaps those dinosaurs were really Komodo Dragons sharing a little sex ed. Fortunately, I was old enough to buy some beer afterwards.

I would argue with Randall that it is not the spell of Juliet that has changed Romeo: It is the company of Benvolio and Mercutio, after he has been purged of his addled love of love by the friar. "Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as nature," in response to Romeo being full of puns and some bawdy badinage, back playing with Mercutio. "Now thou art sociable" translates to all boys together, at which point Mercutio renames him "Romeo," restoring him to his manhood. I keep trying to tease you all into agreeing that, had not the Nurse happened by, Romeo would have forgotten that Juliet had trapped him into a promise of marriage the night before. Don't forget "O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?," "What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?", "yadda, yadda, yadda!!"…"three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed./ If that thy bent of love be honorable,/ Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow,/ By one that I'll procure to come to thee,/ Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite," and into her chamber she goes. Half an hour before he was baying at the moon and now he is committed to marriage to…what is her name again?

No, I never for a moment suspected that Lady Montague had a fling with the good friar, nor Lady Capulet either. I have always imagined that Capulet's "earth hath swallowed all my hopes but [Juliet]" suggested that Lady C is the second marriage for the (widowed) Capulet, and he has lost all his previous children. He certainly is much older. He was a ladies' man 25 or 30 years ago, but he has not been able to dance since then. He married Lady Capulet when she was just thirteen. So yes, I am suggesting Lady Capulet has not, or will not, or cannot, have further children. Miscarriages would also explain this, but either way, this is an unhappy marriage, and Lady Capulet is a very angry woman.

Speaking of strange parentage, I once had a student essay claiming, as I remember, that Juliet is really the Nurse's daughter Susan (see Act 1, scene 3, 16-20), a changeling. How that would change the dynamic!


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