Can’t get no…? (2.2.125-135)

ROMEO           O wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?

JULIET                        What satisfaction canst thou have tonight?

ROMEO           Th’exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine.

JULIET                        I gave thee mine before thou didst request it;

                        And yet I would it were to give again.

ROMEO           Wouldst thou withdraw it? for what purpose, love?

JULIET                        But to be frank and give it thee again,

                        And yet I wish but for the thing I have:

                        My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

                        My love as deep; the more I give to thee

                        The more I have, for both are infinite. (2.2.125-135)

It is difficult to read the first few lines of this (and, presumably, if not perform, then certainly rehearse) without equipping Romeo with a feral whine and a curling lip, and even, perhaps, mentally adding an extra beat before Juliet’s satisfaction. Even without these anachronistic additions, this exchange easily gets a laugh in the theatre. Yes, Romeo could well mean the same kind of satisfaction as the Stones did – although this point in the scene is one of the reasons why I don’t want Romeo to be able to climb the balcony. If this moment is just about the possibility of sex and its being denied, it closes down other dramatic possibilities and emotional choices. For instance, it can make Juliet naïve (which doesn’t fit at all with her candour in her earlier speeches) and turn Romeo’s protestation, th’exchange of thy love’s faithful vow for mine, into a hastily formulated second-best, rather than the only thing that will content him. (Baz gets it right, despite the fact that they are in a pool together: acknowledge the possibility and transcend it.) What matters here is the correction of the slight wobble, begun by Juliet’s seeming to dismiss Romeo with her passionate good nights, and then continued by the potential for a misunderstanding, or a mismatch of expectation. But it comes good. Romeo just wants them to promise to love each other – expressed in terms of mutuality, exchange – and Juliet does even better: she has already made this promise to Romeo (she has, we’ve heard it) but she’d do it again, and again, for the sheer joy of giving. The excess imagined in negative terms in the previous exchange (too rash, too sudden, and so on) is here made positive: mere satisfaction, simply having enough, even being replete, is entirely swept away. The bounty that is as boundless as the sea triumphantly overgoes the stony limits that cannot keep love out. Juliet imagines the sea as a site of plenitude and generosity: to be frank, here, is to be free and to give freely, to be franchised, not just speak freely. It’s not simply the vast shore washed with the farthest sea, invoked by Romeo when he is imagining love as a quest and Juliet as its distant object, but more fundamentally originary and generative, bigger, more multi-dimensional. (In Romeo’s previous conceit, the sea is something that is voyaged over, with or without a pilot. For Juliet, here, the sea is depth, dynamic motion, the birth of Venus.) Mutuality, again: the more I give to thee the more I have. Love is generative, like rhymes (look at all the internal rhymes through here: bounty, boundless; sea, deep, thee) and patterns (I wish / I have / I give / I have) and sonnets. Giddy, swimmy, joyous, more, and both.

(This is one of my favourite bits.)

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