Gallop apace…. (3.2.1-4)

[3.2] Enter JULIET alone.

JULIET                        Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,

                        Towards Phoebus’ lodging; such a waggoner

                        As Phaëton would whip you to the west,

                        And bring in cloudy night immediately. (3.2.1-4)

I feel like Troilus – Shakespeare’s Troilus, waiting to be introduced, finally, to Cressida, on whom he has a queasy crush. ‘I am giddy; expectation whirls me round’. I think that this is such an amazing speech, in the play, and in Shakespeare’s evolving career; in it we can see the seeds of Cleopatra, and Lady Macbeth, but also the playfulness of Rosalind, the steel of Portia, the fervour of Viola. I’ve been looking forward to writing about this, but also apprehensive. No hope of doing it any kind of justice, so, stop being meta and just start.

Start where? at the beginning. An invocation, its addressee momentarily uncertain. Think when we speak of horses, that you see them? Not quite: what we imagine, more than horses, is powerful motion, forward momentum, being urged to go even faster, apace. It’s intensely physical; I am probably overthinking it, but there’s a brief glimpse of sleek coat, rolling muscle; a sound of hooves like thunder. Juliet doesn’t mention the sun at all in this first part of the speech, although it’s definitely there by the time she gets to the second line, with Phoebus Apollo, the sun-god. The fiery-footed steeds are drawing his chariot, impelled by alliteration: fiery-footed, Phoebus, Phaëton; waggoner, whip, west, and by the enjambment and general breathlessness. That they are fiery-footed suggests an arc of trailing sparks, as well as light and speed; they are light and quick as flame. They are the final flare of light before darkness, cloudy nightwhich drops like a curtain. Phoebus’ lodging is the west, where he lives – perhaps specifically where he will sleep, his bedchamber. So that private, passionate context is there from the start. Phaëton is not necessarily the driver one would wish for, unable to manage the fiery steeds, and that sense of headlong career, on the edge of out-of-control, is important here, not least because the horses are also those driven by Plato’s charioteer, the horses of the passions.

Where is Juliet? this is often staged in her bedchamber. I’ve found myself wondering if she speaks this from the balcony. It would make sense in terms of the heavenly, sky-filled language of the speech, and in its return to the intimacy and privacy of the balcony scene; it would reinforce the balcony’s status as a place of reverie and erotic anticipation. Yes, the Nurse enters after 30 lines or so, and so Juliet needs to be on the same level as her eventually, but in fact there’s a similar play with aloft and below in 3.5, with Juliet explicitly going down to the main stage part way through a scene. There’s also a practical dimension: there’s a lot to get off stage at the end of the previous scene (many people and Tybalt’s body). Even if the stage is clear by the time Juliet enters, it would signal the shift of pace and tone for her to be aloft, a clarifying, transcendent shift, transforming the violent energies of the duels, the crowd and, latterly, those tight couplets at the end of the previous scene into cascading blank verse, bright-burnished conceits, and pent-up, passionate, anticipation.

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