Good night! (not really) (2.2.115-124)

ROMEO                                   If my heart’s dear love—

JULIET                        Well, do not swear. Although I joy in thee

                        I have no joy of this contract tonight,

                        It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,

                        Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be

                        Ere one can say ‘It lightens’. Sweet, good night:

                        This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,

                        May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.

                        Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest

                        Come to thy heart as that within my breast. (2.2.115-124)

What? Romeo is just getting going in the swearing/not swearing game when Juliet seems to get cold feet and tries to end the conversation. One of the ways in which a chill wind seems – temporarily! – to blow through this scene is through a sudden shift in its temporality. The lovers have been speaking as if time and space had ceased to be, as if they are sharing a moment which is somehow outside time (and they will soon return to this idiom). But here Juliet imagines a socially conventional near-future: perhaps they’ll run into each other again later on in the summer, but in the meantime, they should both get a good night’s sleep. And this leisurely model of time is juxtaposed with the violent instant of the lightning, not least in the assonance of lightning/lightens/ripening (and night); the exposing flash of lightning is a different kind of illumination to the shining, glowing, radiant sources of light previously invoked. There is a gorgeous sensuality in the bud of love, summer’s ripening breath, beauteous flower – recalling the rose which would smell as sweet – but it’s now apparently being deferred. Partly this exchange is about Juliet’s practicality: this does all seem too sudden, to have moved too fast. Intense, excessive, hyperbolic (too, too, too) but so fast as to be illusory, and with the potential for great harm. Contract is an interesting word to introduce here, and it gives pause (not least metrically). It might more readily take an early modern audience back to the ball scene, and the ritual way in which Romeo and Juliet have joined their hands, in the central gesture of all contracts, whether financial or personal. A betrothal is a hand-fasting; Juliet is already thinking about marriage, at some level. For all the apparent change in mood (don’t worry) there’s a kind of ecstatic serenity in the balanced way in which she (apparently) dismisses him: the repetition of good night, the hendiadys of repose and rest, the pairing of thy heart and my breast.

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