Be gone and live, or stay and die (3.5.6-11)

ROMEO           It was the lark, the herald of the morn,

                        No nightingale. Look, love, what envious streaks

                        Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east:

                        Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day

                        Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

                        I must be gone and live, or stay and die. (3.5.6-11)

Romeo takes up the refrain of the song, but reverses it: lark, not nightingale and, rather than a simple inversion (It was the lark and not the nightingale) he elaborates it too (but heralds should bring glad tidings, which this daybreak does not). It allows the simple, devastating, no nightingale to end on the half line. There’s therefore a caesura, a pause (it could be a long one, as they cling in attempted consolation). And then he looks up at the sky, and perhaps even points, at once confirming, and distracting (as one would a child), at the approaching sunrise. The beams of the sun are envious of the lovers’ happiness, but there’s a fabulously sensual, tactile play with the sun and the clouds: the golden streaks of the sun lace, decorate the clouds as if with golden lace, but laces (as in shoelaces) are also used to join together the various parts of a garment (sleeves to bodice, for instance); it’s as if the rays of the morning sun are at once cutting apart and lacing, joining together. The clouds are severing because they are being parted by the rays of the sun, but also, of course, because they are, as the sunrise, parting, severing the lovers. (Sever has a very particular materiality, and a finality to it. Cutting apart something which should be a single whole.) The torches, the candles which were such a glowing conceit when the lovers first met are exhausted. But Romeo, bless him, tries to lighten the mood, imagining jocund day, a cheerful, sprightly figure, poised to leap over the horizon, like a dancer. (In the fleeting physicality and momentum of the conceit – stands tiptoe– there’s perhaps a glance back at the horses evoked by Juliet only a few short hours before.) And then the stark, unarguable monosyllables return: I must be gone and live, or stay and die. (Yet there’s a quibble; there can even be a smile, a touch, an even closer embrace: I can go and save my life, or I can stay with you and die and die and die again.)

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