Flies and kisses, in black and white (3.3.33-43)

ROMEO                                               More validity,

                        More honourable state, more courtship lives

                        In carrion flies than Romeo; they may seize

                        On the white wonder of dear Juliet’s hand,

                        And steal immortal blessing from her lips,

                        Who even in pure and vestal modesty

                        Still blush, as thinking their own kisses sin;

                        But Romeo may not, he is banishèd.

                        Flies may do this, but I from this must fly;

                        They are free men, but I am banishèd:

                        And sayest thou yet that exile is not death? (3.3.33-43)

The little mouse has enabled the carrion flies, here first because they are even more disgusting and insignificant than a rodent. (Also: Donne’s Flea; they have their own hint of sex and death eroticism.) But this is also a moment – like the banishèd repetitions – that’s closely tied to Juliet’s speeches in the previous scene, and here, in fact, to Gallop apace. Because the vividly imagined carrion fly that seizes on the white wonder of dear Juliet’s hand is another version of that black-white contrast that began with the pearl in the Ethiop’s ear, and then became the snow on the raven’s back, and then the little stars, shining brightly against the black of night. But this is the photo-negative version, black on white, not white on black. And again Romeo’s thinking about hands and touching and kissing; immortal blessing and pure and vestal modesty look back, too, to the conceit of the pilgrim and the saint. Romeo imagines the red of Juliet’s lips, implicit here, as a blush of modesty as her own lips kiss each other. He can’t think about Juliet, about missing Juliet, without thinking about kissing Juliet, the touch of her hand, her face in close-up. I think that even as he wails, he smiles at the thought.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.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