Adventuring… (2.2.74-84)

JULIET                        I would not for the world they saw thee here.

ROMEO           I have night’s cloak to hide me from their eyes,

                        And but thou love me, let them find me here;

                        My life were better ended by their hate,

                        Than death proroguèd, wanting of thy love.

JULIET                        By whose direction found’st thou out this place?

ROMEO           By Love, that first did prompt me to enquire:

                        He lent me counsel, and I lent him eyes.

                        I am no pilot, yet wert thou as far

                        As that vast shore washed with the farthest sea,

                        I should adventure for such merchandise. (2.2.74-84)

It’s striking how dominated these exchanges are by monosyllables, especially Juliet’s lines. It gives the dialogue a conversational directness, as well as packing a lot in (boy actors were known for their high-speed delivery and repartee; I often wonder if Romeo was written for an actor who had recently been playing women’s parts). But it’s still highly patterned: the antithesis of love and hate, the repetition of here, here, beginning to build the sense – so important to the lovers – that they are a world apart, a world alone. A reminder, again, that it’s night, imagined here as a concealing cloak (conventional; it’ll come back later, though, in a more extended metaphor). Romeo’s still being hyperbolic (I’d rather be killed by Tybalt right now than not be loved by you and die a natural death). But who told you where to find me? continues practical, even sceptical Juliet. This is indeed a good question, and one that remains unanswered – has Romeo simply been lucky in ending up under the right window? He swerves again, here, into a more conventional Petrarchan trope, love as a voyage, and this conceit spills over multiple lines, imagining vast distances in a horizontal, geographical plain rather than the vertical stars and clouds and flying high axis of the earlier part of the scene. (It’s worth remembering here that navigation was, partly at least, undertaken by the stars. Romeo is no pilot, no captain; he has already given over the steerage of his course to God, but the lovers are, as we know, star-crossed… Juliet will pick up the sea later in the scene.) Merchandise? more in the sense of the prizes of exploration, as in merchant adventuring, than a bargain basement commodification (although we might still recall that Juliet’s future husband will have the chinks, according to the Nurse). And adventure, happily, is recalled by the extremely careful letter written by John Donne to his father-in-law, George More, following his elopement with Ann More in 1601: he says that he and Ann ‘adventured equally’, meaning that he didn’t seduce her (and he describes her as ‘her for whom I tender much more than my fortunes or life’). To adventure is to risk, to dare, to be in danger. And now Romeo draws breath for a bit.

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