Banishèd, banishèd, banishèd (3.2.108-114)

JULIET                        Some word there was, worser than Tybalt’s death,

                        That murdered me; I would forget it fain,

                        But O, it presses to my memory,

                        Like damnèd guilty deeds to sinners’ minds:

                        ‘Tybalt is dead, and Romeo banishèd’.

                        That ‘banishèd’, that one word ‘banishèd’,

                        Hath slain ten thousand Tybalts. (3.2.108-114)

It’s this bit that nudges me towards banishèd, rather than any kind of metrical fundamentalism. I want to suggest, semi-seriously, that Shakespeare is anticipating Austin’s speech act theory and the idea of the illocutionary utterance by a cool 350 years or so. Banish is a classic example of a speech act: to say I banish you enacts banishment in the moment of speaking; banishèd, while completely unremarkable early modern (and blank verse) usage does make it pop out of the verbal texture just a little more. It makes it, to borrow from Mercutio, a word and a blow. (Shakespeare is playing with these ideas about speech acts, in a political context, in Richard II, written very close to Romeo and Juliet.) Banishment perhaps doesn’t signify for a Western twenty-first century audience in anything like the same way; we are used to freedom of movement (or we used to be), and easy communication. What Juliet is saying is, I will never see him again and I can’t bear it. The one-way ticket has a residual gonzo romance to it, but what if we colour this mostly alien concept of banishment with the desperation of forced migration, exile, political asylum, refugees? they are not the same thing (and they are infinitely worse than the suffering of an imaginary character in a literary fiction) but in our own shameless, shameful day, they might give us an emotional cue for the magnitude and dynamics of what Juliet is imagining. Because it’s tempting simply to respond to this moment as one of teenage hyperbole and bathos (because, in part, it is). And the repetition makes it like the tolling of a bell, a bell in the brain, like guilt and all the things that keep you awake at night. (There’s Claudius here, wondering why he couldn’t say Amen, and the Macbeths, sleeping no more.)


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