Tybalt, grrrrrrrr! (1.5.76-91)

CAPULET        What, goodman boy, I say he shall, go to!

                        Am I the master here, or you? go to!

                        You’ll not endure him? God shall mend my soul,

                        You’ll make a mutiny among my guests!

                        You will set cock-a-hoop! you’ll be the man!

TYBALT          Why, uncle, ’tis a shame.

CAPULET                                                        Go to, go to,

                        You are a saucy boy. Is’t so indeed?

                        This trick may chance to scathe you, I know what.

                        You must contrary me! Marry, ’tis time.—

                        Well said, my hearts!—you are a princox, go,

                        Be quiet, or—More light, more light!—For shame,

                        I’ll make you quiet, what!—Cheerly, my hearts!

TYBALT          Patience perforce with wilful choler meeting

                        Makes my heart tremble in their different greeting:

                        I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall,

                        Now seeming sweet, convert to bitt’rest gall. Exit (1.5.76-91)

No more gentle coz here: Tybalt is now goodman boy, an insult in terms of both age and status (a goodman is emphatically not a gentleman and it’s neat that whereas Tybalt has referred to Romeo as a villain or peasant, here Capulet is calling his nephew what might anachronistically be termed middleclass, and rural at that). Capulet has lost his temper; he is now the one feeling insulted and belittled in his own house, and he needs to assert that he’s the one in control, not Tybalt. Go to is more than go away; it’s got a hint of get over yourself, get out of here, do one! possibly also shoo, as one might an annoying child. It’s mildly insulting as well as dismissive.

There’s perhaps a sense that Capulet is controlling himself, trying to keep up a semblance of being a calm and genial host: his oaths are mild – God shall mend my soul – and his name-calling of Tybalt, while insulting, is not obscene; it’s putting him in his place as a young man who’s got too big for his boots and has forgotten who’s really in charge: he’s being a saucy boy, a princox (both of these being terms usually directed to pert, precocious children). And, possibly, pipe down or I’ll cut you out of my will, scathe you (or at least cut your allowance, because you’re being a brat), or else, this will have serious repercussions, come back to bite you, if you don’t stop it. But Capulet’s main concern is for saving face in front of his guests – hissing at Tybalt out of the side of his mouth as he calls out encouragement to the dancers and issues yet more instructions to the servants.

Tybalt describes his emotional state as one of conflict, between patience and anger, choler; he’s so overwrought that he’s shaking. For Tybalt, everything is a feud, two participants, clear-cut. His opposition of sweet and bitt’rest gall chiastically echoes Romeo in 1.1, describing love as a choking gall, and a preserving sweet; much to do with hate, but more with love, as Romeo’s observed earlier in the same scene. The two seem inseparable, and irreconcilable.

This exchange returns the feud to the play’s foreground. It reinforces central features of the characters of Tybalt and Capulet – the former’s choler and sense of everything as a personal slight; the latter’s testiness and anxiety over his image and status. The idea of Tybalt trembling with passion – albeit barely repressed rage – gives this moment in the scene a particular emotional and somatic charge, a vibration, an edgy energy that it can carry forward (topping up the Queen Mab vibe?) It’s a challenge for the director, who has to allow Tybalt and Capulet to be centre stage (metaphorically at least) while at the same time getting Romeo close enough to Juliet; it’s often accomplished by his sidling into the formal measures of a dance, especially if it’s one organised around switching partners. The audience themselves, therefore, are torn between watching Romeo follow through on his avowed intention to touch Juliet’s hand, and these two angry men having a stand-off; we too have our attention divided between love and feud, anger, hate. It’s a challenge for Romeo to maintain his focus, on a crowded stage. And it’s a final, knowing delaying tactic, just to have us all trembling with anticipation. Around a fifth of the way through the play, Romeo and Juliet are about to meet…

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