Bright stars (2.2.10-22)

ROMEO           It is my lady, O it is my love:

                        O that she knew she were!

                        She speaks, yet she says nothing; what of that?

                        Her eye discourses, I will answer it.

                        I am too bold, ’tis not to me she speaks:

                        Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,

                        Having some business, do entreat her eyes

                        To twinkle in their spheres till they return.

                        What if her eyes were there, they in her head?

                        The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,

                        As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven

                        Would through the airy region stream so bright

                        That birds would sing and think it were not night. (2.2.10-22)

There’s a return to the intensely narrowed focus of the ball scene here, and again we have to remember that this is being written for daylight performance. The audience’s attention has been drawn to the window, to the light in it, and now to Juliet, her face, her eyes. The distance is established by the way in which – if Juliet’s murmuring– Romeo’s too far away to hear (or, it could be that he interprets her very face and expression as speaking, her eye discourses). There is, perhaps, a glance at that most famous sonnet mistress, Philip Sidney’s Stella, in the conceit of the stars, but here Juliet’s eyes are brighter than the stars, and her cheek is brighter even than her eyes. There’s a supreme confidence in the metatheatrical glance at daylight and the lamp; the lamp or candle which sets the scene is of course rendered almost invisible by the daylight, but Romeo’s vivid evocation of the stars ensures it’s still night – as does the lovely detail of the birds still singing, thinking it’s day, because Juliet is so radiant, like the sun, streaming light through the heavens.

The note for this scene is, look up. Juliet seems to be looking up at the stars; Romeo is looking up at Juliet, the stars, and the moon. The audience looks up at Juliet too. Throughout the scene, we look from one to the other, and imagine the night sky, even as we too picture eyes, cheeks, and, in the next movement of the speech, hands. In early performances, at the Theatre or the Globe, what time of day would it be by now? Where would the sun be? Would the stage be lit by the sun, or in shadow? It’s perhaps about an hour into the play, depending on pace and cuts and dancing – mid afternoon, assuming a 2pm start – nowhere near starting to get dark, until well into the autumn months. If the audience had to look into the sun in order to see Juliet, shading their eyes with their hands, then the effect of her dazzling, dizzying radiance is even more extreme. It’s a nice idea.

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