Fennel/female buds (1.2.26-34)

CAPULET        Such comfort as do lusty young men feel

                        When well-apparelled April on the heel

                        Of limping winter treads, even such delight

                        Among fresh fennel buds shall you this night

                        Inherit at my house; hear all, all see;

                        And like her most whose merit most shall be;

                        Which on more view of many, mine, being one,

                        May stand in number, though in reck’ning none.

                        Come go with me. (1.2.26-34)

Fennel? fennel? I’m not thinking much about textual variants in general, but it’s worth knowing, here, that fennel is the reading in F and Q2-4 but Q1 (that is, the first printed text, 1597, which is certainly not without its problems) and F2 have female. (Female is, unsurprisingly, preferred by Baz Luhrmann in his inimitable version of this scene which switches location, mid-speech, to a sauna, in a fabulously economical sketch of good old-fashioned capitalist homosocial bonding, complete with establishing shots of skyscrapers.) There’s a shift in tone here: lusty doesn’t have to mean filled with lust (although it can), but rather cheerful, vigorous, healthy. There may be a nod here at Lusty Juventus, that is, ‘lusty youth’, the title of a play from the 1550s, which would fit with Capulet’s nostalgia and slightly old-fashioned idiom and frame of reference. As the ball scene itself will demonstrate, Capulet loves dancing, and here he imagines the speed and vigour of the spring, April, seeing off the limping winter. Spring is well-apparelled in flowers, which might be an argument for fennel: there’s some evidence that fennel is associated with marriage and fertility, but really, I don’t buy it: the buds are the important bit here, and the implication is that they are to be picked. Capulet is telling Paris that this will be a party full of hot girls. Of whom Juliet may be counted as one, which sits slightly uneasily with his apparent protectiveness of her youth and innocence only a few lines earlier. Reckoning can be a list (anticipating the next part of the scene), or a description or account, but it can also be a tally or a bill, an evaluation or enumeration in a financial sense, just as inherit can be possess, have, but also inherit in the sense of a will. Capulet is becoming more complex, and also less benign, in his attitude to his daughter and his plans for her.

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