Comic confusion (1.2.34-43)

CAPULET                                [To Servant] Go, sirrah, trudge about

                        Through fair Verona, find those persons out

                        Whose names are written there [Gives a paper.], and to them say,

                        My house and welcome on their pleasure stay.

                                                                        Exit [with Paris]

SERVANT        Find them out whose names are written here! It is written that the shoemaker should meddle with his yard and the tailor with his last, the fisher with his pencil and the painter with his nets; but I am sent to find those persons whose names are here writ, and can never find what names the writing person hath here writ. I must to the learnèd. In good time! (1.2.34-43)

A neat class distinction, in Capulet’s instruction to his servant: whereas the guests at the party will be full of energy and light on their feet as they tread or dance, the working man trudges, perhaps over some distance. As the initial stage direction has established, the servant is a comic character, but also one of low birth or rustic background – or it could suggest that he is to be played by the Clown of the company (this is the way he is introduced in the Q2, the second quarto, used as a default text by most editions). He may be Peter, the Capulet servant encountered in later scenes. His confusion here is a comic standby: compare Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream (‘The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was’). The tailor should meddle with his yard, or measuring rod (and there’s a compulsory quibble, as yard is also the usual word for penis), and the shoemaker’s last is also probably phallic. The painter should meddle with his pencil (the usual word for paintbrush, phallic again); the appearance of the fisher and his nets might just suggest that the Clown is indeed Peter, biblical fisherman; the fisher is a slightly odd inclusion in an otherwise urban, artisanal context. The point, of course, is that the servant cannot read, and it combines a brief comic interlude with setting up an important plot-point, whereby Romeo will get a look at the guest-list for the Capulet party. But there’s also, perhaps, a more colloquial echo of Capulet’s earth-treading stars, dark heaven light, a lively oxymoronic mismatch, here explicitly erotic. And Capulet’s tread can in fact refer both to dancing and – albeit in a stretch – to the copulation of birds. The party has an erotic charge, even in anticipation, even for its host.


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