Dishcloths? eagles? really? just marry Paris (3.5.218-225)

NURSE            O, he’s a lovely gentleman!

                        Romeo’s a dishclout to him. An eagle, madam,

                        Hath not so green, so quick, so fair an eye

                        As Paris hath. Beshrew my very heart,

                        I think you are happy in this second match,

                        For it excels your first, or if it did not,

                        Your first is dead, or ’twere as good he were

                        As living here and you no use of him. (3.5.218-225)

The Nurse is trying so hard here, slowly getting into her usual stride. I don’t think that she’s being entirely cynical, but rather trying to make the best of things, and mostly being convinced by her own arguments. Her customarily vivid, earthy, physical language slightly misses the mark here – it has to, really. Lovely gentleman is a generic warm-up (one can imagine that the Nurse customarily divides the world into lovely gentlemen and scurvy knaves, with not a lot of nuance in between). The metre remains bumpy (although given that the Nurse switches between verse and prose elsewhere, this isn’t surprising) – but there’s a sense of casting around for each phrase or word. Dishclout is apparently proverbially pejorative as a term of comparison, but it’s odd, especially to modern ears, and all through this we may well remember the Nurse’s fulsome praise of Romeo’s looks, body, and demeanour only a few scenes earlier. The shift from the dishclout to the eagle is bathetic, and to focus on Paris’s eyes seems arbitrary, and also bathetic. It’s all a bit random… (Editors are at pains to point out that eagles have brilliant eyesight, that green eyes are very desirable – the point is that this isn’t the point – there’s no question that Juliet’s objecting to Paris’s looks, and as I’ve suggested already, it’s often very effective when Paris is extremely attractive. What’s interesting here is the pending breakdown of the relationship between Juliet and the Nurse, and therefore the patent inadequacy of most of what the Nurse has to say. None of this is ever going to convince Juliet.) The Nurse is on safer, more familiar ground when she abandons the particulars and comes back to the principles: Paris is a good catch (undeniable, and Juliet isn’t denying it) – and then her final, central point: Romeo might as well be dead if he and Juliet can’t be together, use having a sexual gloss. So she might as well make the best of things, and just marry Paris. The Nurse hasn’t met any of Juliet’s principled objections – such as, well, bigamy – they have fundamentally different understandings of love and, especially, marriage. (There’s perhaps a tiny anticipation here of the much more equal, much more subtle conversation about adultery between Desdemona and Emilia, between the idealist and the world-wearied, in Othello: Would’st thou do such a thing for all the world? […] The world’s a huge thing. It is a great price for a small vice.)

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