Bright angel (2.2.23-32)

ROMEO           See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!

                        O that I were a glove upon that hand,

                        That I might touch that cheek!

JULIET                                                                                    Ay me!

ROMEO                                                                                   She speaks.

                        O speak again, bright angel, for thou art

                        As glorious to this night, being o’er my head,

                        As is a wingèd messenger of heaven

                        Unto the white-upturnèd wond’ring eyes

                        Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him,

                        When he bestrides the lazy puffing clouds,

                        And sails upon the bosom of the air. (2.2.23-32)

The intense focus narrows even more, and becomes much more sensual: imagine a glove exactly fitting a hand, like a second skin; imagine the curve of a hand exactly fitting the curve of a cheek; imagine the electricity of distance/no distance between hand and cheek; imagine touch (remember touch). The glove is often eroticised in Renaissance love poetry, as a token, as the hand’s prosthesis, as something that can be penetrated, as pretty much the only garment that can be respectably removed in public. And, body parts again – not Mercutio’s dis-embodied, unparticularised forehead, foot, leg, thigh, but that hand, that cheek.

Ay me is what Romeo has been imagined as sighing, and Juliet may just sigh here; there’s the possibility of a laugh for Romeo on She speaks, as if he’s surprised that this vivid vision can, as if looking has been enough. (Garbo speaks!) But it’s also compelling another kind of attentiveness, from himself and from the audience: don’t just look at her hand and her cheek, but listen too. The up-ness of the scene is acute here: Juliet is an angel, not just because she’s above him but because she is glorious and glowing. As those on earth – wondering at an angel, or the audience (especially in the yard), or Romeo himself – look up, all that can be seen is the whites of their eyes, as they gaze in wonder, craning their necks. And here there’s also a sense of motion, transferred from the imagined angel to Juliet herself – she’s not on a balcony, or in a window, but floating gently on soft clouds. The angel has legs as he bestrides the clouds; the air has a bosom, pillowy as clouds. Bodies, softness, touch.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *