GREGORY       Do you quarrel, sir?

ABRAM           Quarrel, sir? No, sir.

SAMPSON       But if you do, sir, I am for you. I serve as good a man as you.

ABRAM           No better.

SAMPSON       Well, sir.

                                                Enter BENVOLIO

GREGORY       [Aside to Sampson] Say ‘better’, here comes one of my master’s kinsmen.

SAMPSON       Yes, better, sir.

ABRAM           You lie.

SAMPSON       Draw, if you be men. Gregory, remember thy washing blow.

They fight. (1.1.44-54SD)


And here the temperature increases again. The hitherto more laidback and circumspect Gregory becomes directly involved (although it’s Sampson who really inflames it), and these servingmen begin to employ the language of their masters, as they invoke the quarrel and the lie, the terminology of the honour of gentlemen; the scene’s escalation (not least in the continuing sirs) is social as well as physical. It’s ironic, perhaps, that Sampson has the last word, but he recapitulates the episode’s initial interest in masculine identity (Draw, if you be men), even as he undercuts his attempt at valiant defiance with the ridiculous invocation of the washing blow.

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