Doom and banishment (3.3.4-14)

ROMEO           Father, what news? What is the Prince’s doom?

                        What sorrow craves acquaintance at my hand,

                        That I yet know not?

FRIAR                                                  Too familiar

                        Is my dear son with such sour company!

                        I bring thee tidings of the Prince’s doom.

ROMEO           What less than doomsday is the Prince’s doom?

FRIAR              A gentler judgement vanished from his lips:

                        Not body’s death, but body’s banishment.

ROMEO           Ha, banishment? be merciful, say ‘death’:

                        For exile hath more terror in his look,

                        Much more than death. Do not say ‘banishment’! (3.3.4-14)

It can be really effective if Romeo still clearly looks like he’s been in a fight, although there is no indication that Tybalt wounds him or that he’s been hurt in the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio. (Baz does this; perhaps overdoes it a little?) I suppose I think of Romeo as beginning the play shiny and untouched, less worldly than Mercutio and Tybalt; then, glowing with the joy of requited love. And now – reeling, damaged, dazed, and terrified. The Friar may have addressed him initially as thou fearful man, but Romeo replies with Father –meaning priest, but also invoking the safe, quasi-parental relationship which he’s hitherto had with the Friar. By using that title, Romeo is not only asking what news?but also, what am I going to do? tell me what to do now. And the Friar responds in kind: my dear son. First, Romeo picks up on the Friar’s personification of affliction and calamity as physical entities to which he can be joined; it’s as if sorrow is holding out a hand in greeting. And that gesture – of reaching out to take a hand – is of course the one that began Romeo’s acquaintance with Juliet, which (I think) has probably been repeated in the balcony scene and, most recently, in the joining of their hands by the Friar in marriage. It echoes the terms of Juliet’s horror: did Romeo’s hand shed Tybalt’s blood? What Romeo’s asking is, I know things are worse than I already know; just tell me how by how much. He is sorrowing for Mercutio, but also, surely, for Tybalt’s death, and the Friar agrees: Romeo is already too familiar with sorrow, which he terms sour company sour that slightly unexpected word that Juliet also used, sour woe, 40 or so lines earlier, in the previous scene. Doom does mean judgement, sentence, and it here enables doomsday, death, but it’s also literally the end of the world: Juliet has called for the dreadful trumpet to sound the general doom. Does the Friar genuinely think he’s bringing good news? it is indeed gentler than the death sentence which Romeo would surely be expecting. But Romeo reacts as Juliet has, with utter horror: exile – again personified – is a thought worse than death. As with Juliet’s reaction, it’s excessive, but that very excess and hyperbole is another way in which their responses mirror and echo each other, in both the terms of their expression and their intensity. Do not say ‘banishment’! And banishèd returns.

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