Conjuring Romeo 1 (2.1.6-16)

MERCUTIO                             Nay, I’ll conjure too.

                        Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover!

                        Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh,

                        Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied;

                        Cry but ‘Ay me!’, pronounce but ‘love’ and ‘dove’,

                        Speak to my gossip Venus one fair word,

                        One nickname for her purblind son and heir,

                        Young Abraham Cupid, he that shot so trim

                        When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid.

                        He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not,

                        The ape is dead, and I must conjure him. (2.1.6-16)

This is partly another big number for Mercutio, a return to a bit of the Queen Mab craziness. It’s also setting a challenge for Romeo, by invoking – albeit parodically – so many of the things that he’s been doing and saying while he’s been ‘in love’ with Rosaline – as if Romeo is a kind of random word generator of infatuation. It reminds the audience of all the things that Romeo used to do and say that he will have to do differently now. But it’s deliciously ironic: it’s Juliet who’s going to appear with a sigh and cry ‘Ay me’, and the lovers have, together, already spoken considerably more than one rhyme. Lovey-dovey as a dismissive description of excessive, clichéd sentimentality only appears – apparently – in the nineteenth century, but Mercutio’s anticipating it here. Where Romeo can only sigh ineffectually, Mercutio is apparently on familiar terms with Venus, his gossip, and her son Cupid, whom he mocks as a little rogue (an Abraham man being a beggar and a conman) who is nevertheless a nifty shot; there’s an allusion here to a ballad telling the story of King Cophetua and the beggar-maid, an archetype of love at first sight (and Mercutio is perhaps mocking Romeo further in that King Cophetua had, apparently, never shown desire for any woman before seeing the beggar-maid from his window). So there’s a lurking suggestion here that Romeo is impotent, or at least wholly inexperienced: like a monkey playing dead, or simply like a fool, he’s not stirring or moving, and therefore he must be stirred, moved, conjured. Yes, Mercutio is about to talk about sex, again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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