Devout religion (1.2.88-93)

ROMEO           When the devout religion of mine eye

                        Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires;

                        And these who, often drowned, could never die,

                        Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars.

                        One fairer than my love! the all-seeing sun

                        Ne’er saw her match since first the world begun. (1.2.88-93)


And the anticipation of that now-possible meeting between Romeo and Juliet continues here, in Romeo’s extended conceit of love as devout religion. Romeo’s metaphor, though, gets rather odd and disturbing: if ever he concede that Rosaline isn’t the most beautiful woman in the world, then let his tears turn to fires, and his eyes be burnt as heretics. Like Romeo himself, in love with Rosaline, the conceit is histrionic and extreme, and not quite coherent. The centrality of sight in love, especially falling in love, is conventional, although so is the idea that such a love can be superficial, fanciful, illusory (this is something that Shakespeare explores in Midsummer Night’s Dream, a play with which Romeo and Juliet intersects in potent ways). Romeo’s repetition of Benvolio’s (and Capulet’s) fair, as fairer, is also a reminder of the density of that word: he’s talking about beauty, but he’s also suggesting Rosaline’s (un)kindness and (lack of) reciprocity, which will be shown up by Juliet. His invocation of the all-seeing sun sets up the opening of the balcony scene. And lurking here, and in the ball scene, and the balcony, is Sonnet 105, ‘Let not my love be called idolatry’, with its repeated constellation of ‘fair, kind, and true’. Juliet will be all three.


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