Banishèd again: killing me softly, with a golden axe (3.3.15-23)

FRIAR              Here from Verona art thou banishèd.

                        Be patient, for the world is broad and wide.

ROMEO           There is no world without Verona walls,

                        But purgatory, torture, hell itself:

                        Hence ‘banishèd’ is banished from the world,

                        And world’s exile is death; then ‘banishèd’

                        Is death mistermed. Calling death ‘banishèd’,

                        Thou cut’st my head off with a golden axe,

                        And smilest upon the stroke that murders me. (3.3.15-23)

Does the Friar start off by thinking that Romeo’s simply being a bit thick, and so explaining what banishment is? You’re going to be fine, lad, plenty of places to go that aren’t Verona, the world’s a big place; just be patient, and, pull yourself together. Think of it as a gap year! If this is what the Friar’s thinking, then he has sorely misunderstood where Romeo’s at. Verona is the whole world to Romeo (and his reference to its walls emphasises its self-containedness, its wholeness), and so not-Verona is a void – or, as he continues here, purgatory, torture, hell itself. If Verona is the world then to be banished from it is to be sent out of the world – that is, to die – so banishment is death. Romeo is using a syllogism (if A is B and B is C then A is C), a frequently specious form of philosophical reasoning, and we might imagine that he has learned this from the Friar himself, and is here (mis)applying it. Later in the scene the Friar will suggest that philosophy will comfort him in his exile, enable him to see the logic and get through it. (John Ford’s ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore – which closely follows R&J in many of its details – although not its notoriously bloody murder and sibling incest – opens with Giovanni, the Romeo character, arguing with the Friar who has educated him in much more dangerous and specious ‘philosophical’ terms – and we might think, much closer in date to R&J, of Doctor Faustus, logically talking himself into selling his soul. The philosophical debate or set piece can be found in many plays of the period – Not Just Hamlet– reflecting the university or Inns of Court background of many in the audience.) The idea here of banishèd as a word that does something, a speech-act, is very clear in Romeo’s astonishing metaphor of the golden axe: you think you’re bringing me good news, but you’re killing me. Softly.

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