PRINCE Where be these enemies? Capulet, Montague?
See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!
And I for winking at your discords too
Have lost a brace of kinsmen. All are punished. (5.3.291-295)
Surely first a pause, filled with not a little apprehension: what is the Prince going to do? Is he going to punish the Friar? The parents? His addressing of Capulet and Montague by name underlines the larger context here, the feud, and therefore perhaps anticipates their reconciliation. But the Prince might as well gesture to the bodies of Juliet and Romeo, Capulet, Montague, as to their parents; their deaths are, after all, the scourge. And scourge is more interesting than it looks. It suggests punishment, of course, but also penance; it can mean a cause of general destruction and calamity; it particularly suggests the idea of the scourge of God, a means of divine chastisement – hence heaven in the next line. Scourge has a bodilyness to it, too, not simply of violence and pain, but perhaps purgation too. (The whip or scourge was associated with satire, enjoying a great vogue in the 1590s, and one of the goals of satire was purgation, the restoration of balance in a diseased, corrupt body or body politic. That’s not the main sense here, but it glances at it; there’s more to scourge than simply punishment.) The oxymorons are back – heaven finds means to kill your joys with love – and also that close juxtaposition of love and hate (here’s much to do with hate, but more with love; my only love sprung from my only hate). The joys are the children, Romeo and Juliet; can we assume that Romeo, like Juliet, is an only child? And the Prince does not exempt himself from blame in the Capulet-Montague feud: he has winked at their discords, not quite turning a blind eye, but letting them get away with their feuding and violence, which has been so destructive for the whole city, for far too long. The Prince too has been punished in this respect; he has lost a brace of kinsmen – he might gesture at Paris’s body – but we should also remember Mercutio, and the Prince’s naming of a brace, a pair, invokes them both. (Mercutio, too, is therefore present in this scene.) All are punished: the families, the city, the Prince himself. Is this all simply the will of heaven, fate, some kind of cruel divine plan? written in the stars? The Friar hoped that the marriage would end the feud. He may be about to be proved right…
I’ve written this blog almost every day since 1 January (only missing three). Friday’s post will be about the last lines of the play, although there will almost certainly be some final reflections still to come after that… So, comments and feedback are gratefully solicited!