Floating, light as air (2.6.16-23)

FRIAR              Here comes the lady. O, so light a foot

                        Will ne’er wear out the everlasting flint;

                        A lover may bestride the gossamers

                        That idles in the wanton summer air,

                        And yet not fall, so light is vanity.

JULIET                        Good even to my ghostly confessor.

FRIAR              Romeo shall thank thee, daughter, for us both.

                                                [Romeo kisses Juliet.]

JULIET                        As much to him, else is his thanks too much.

                                                [Juliet returns his kiss.] (2.6.16-23)

This is also why I think that Juliet arrives at speed; the Friar, though, thinks she’s flying, so light on her feet that she’s barely touching the ground, never mind wearing out the pavement. (As well as being hard, flints are used to make fire; is there a residual spark from the previous passage here, too?) The Friar – in a literal flight of fancy – describes lovers as floating, weightless, like a cobweb gently moving in a warm breeze; he tries to moralise his point (so light is vanity) but really, he’s smitten. And there’s a lovely playfulness here: the light of fire, fireworks, even lightning, has here swerved into the other kind of light, a quibble that Romeo’s made before, saying that he’s heavy with love-melancholy on the way to the Capulets, and that therefore he ought to carry the light, the torch. But the Friar’s evocation of Juliet’s lightness seems to bring together both qualities, the gleam of a filament, the warmth of the summer breeze, and even the moral lightness added by wanton. It’s warmly sensual and delicate, but of course it’s also bittersweet: Juliet’s foot will not have time to wear out anything, let alone a flint; there will be a fall (not an Aristotelian tragic one…) What the Friar evokes is fire and air (like Cleopatra, as she ecstatically prepares for her final reunion in death with Antony, although that’s a long way in the future); we have to look outside this scene for water and earth, but they’re often there too. I think I’m making a case for this little speech, which I’ve discussed in two parts, as doing something a bit like the Queen Mab speech. It’s not what we expect from a middle-aged member of the clergy whose interests hitherto have appeared mostly botanical; it’s not just saying, Juliet’s so lovely that the Friar falls for her too. I think this is another moment of cognitive buzziness, in which we’re asked to imagine explosions so quick we barely see them, near-invisible threads floating in invisible air. It’s vivid, dazzling, floaty, heady. And then they kiss, like fire and powder, sweet as honey, and maybe we feel dizzy and breathless on their behalf, and at the same time, like drowning and like coming up for air.

So they kiss, twice; I can take or leave the stage directions here, which are editorial (but they’re clearly implicit). It could be that he gives her a formal kiss in greeting, a peck on the cheek which she then reciprocates, and a brief hiatus, a bit of solemnity and even shyness in this hectic scene can work well. Or it could be more … mutual and enthusiastic, and start giving the Friar cause for concern. This could be, depending on the staging of the balcony scene, only the second time that they’ve touched each other.


Leave a Reply

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