Excess of joy, and words are not enough (2.6.24-37)

ROMEO           Ah, Juliet, if the measure of thy joy

                        Be heaped like mine, and that thy skill be more

                        To blazon it, then sweeten with thy breath

                        This neighbour air, and let rich music’s tongue

                        Unfold the imagined happiness that both

                        Receive in either by this dear encounter.

JULIET                        Conceit, more rich in matter than in words,

                        Brags of his substance, not of ornament;

                        They are but beggars that can count their worth,

                        But my true love is grown to such excess

                        I cannot sum up sum of half my wealth.

FRIAR              Come, come with me, and we will make short work,

                        For by your leaves, you shall not stay alone

                        Till Holy Church incorporate two in one. [Exeunt] (2.6.24-37)

Fourteen lines, ending with a couplet. Just saying. This is mostly about excess, not least excess of meaning, and about the impulse to put feelings and experiences into words, and their inevitable insufficiency. There’s so much joyhere (no sorrow now) that it’s heaped up, over-filling the measure(his cup runneth over): if Juliet feels the same way, perhaps she’ll be better able to describe how they’re feeling. The sensuality of the scene continues, with a particular intimacy (given that they’ve just kissed) in his invocation of her breath, which will sweetenthe air; her eloquence is such that she speaks music. Their happinessis such that it cannot be expressed, but must remain imagined; what matters is that it’s mutual (there in bothand either). And Juliet knows exactly what he’s talking about: he’s expressed the matter, the substance– which is, with playful irony, that it’s impossible to put their happiness into words. There’s a recollection here of her earlier avowal that her bounty is as boundless as the sea: she is so happy, considers herself so richin joy, that she cannot quantify it, because to quantify it would be to imagine it as having limits, and so limit it. It’s neat, witty, complex; as in the scene of their meeting, they get each other. The Friar’s interruption stops it being perfectly divided between the lovers, and structurally it also plays with excess and the expectations of a sort-of sonnet structure: Romeo speaks 6 lines, not 4 or 8 (overgoing a quatrain, or sharing a second); Juliet similarly overgoes a quatrain. (This isn’t a sonnet. But it’s sonnet-ish.) There’s quite a lot of assonance binding it together too: words, worth, work, before the half-rhyme on alone/ one. The Friar makes a slightly tutting intervention, emphasised by the Come, come, and this is sometimes played with in performance, with the lovers not able to keep their hands off each other. But this balanced, thoughtful exchange, as well as being about excess and the shortcomings of language, is about bodies and union. Romeo and Juliet are, in a sense, already one voice, sharing thoughts and conceits. The Friar will do the short work necessary to unite them in the eyes of the Church (although in theological terms, they will marry each other; he will conduct the ceremony, but it’s their words rather than his that will make the marriage). And when words are no longer enough, actions and bodies will take over and make, perfect their marriage.




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