Hisssssst! (2.2.158-166)

Enter Juliet again[above].

JULIET                        Hist, Romeo, hist! O, for a falc’ner’s voice,

                        To lure this tassel-gentle back again:

                        Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud,

                        Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies,

                        And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine

                        With repetition of my Romeo’s name.

ROMEO           It is my soul that calls upon my name.

                        How silver-sweet sound lovers’ tongues by night,

                        Like softest music to attending ears! (2.2.158-166)

Total show-off. Just when you think that the scene has been brought to a slightly downbeat conclusion with that – can we say pedestrian? – pair of couplets, gorgeous lyricism surges again. I have been trying to pinpoint why I particularly love this little moment. It’s theatrically very cool, the aural equivalent of the no really, it’s night-time, dark dark dark cues, reminding the audience that the characters have been whispering in this scene even if the actors haven’t, and also that Juliet can’t see Romeo, but can’t call out to him either. Tassel-gentle is more or less impossible without a footnote (tercel-gentle, male peregrine falcon; a noble, high-status bird): we might guess hawk from falconer, but tassel-gentle mostly just sounds soft and silky – and we might also imagine the heart-stopping plummet of bird to hand, the other place where it belongs. (And it’s another bird. I’ve been keeping an eye on birds; there are many more to come. I do think that this is one piece of evidence for Romeo being dressed as a pilgrim, peregrinus.) Juliet does a classic move: I can’t say how much I love Romeo and want to call out to him because someone might hear and I’ll get in trouble (I am hoarse, have no voice, because I am in bondage, I am under my parents’ control) – but if I could cry out this is what I’d do, I’d out-echo Echo and just keep saying RomeoRomeo because I love your name and I love you and I want to shout about it. (This trope of making the beloved’s name echo is picked up by Viola/Cesario in Twelfth Night, when she tells Olivia what she would do if she was in love with her, ‘halloo your name to the reverberate hills’). Juliet is Romeo’s soul; she makes him complete, gives him his identity; he so loves listening to her here that he’s not going to reply immediately. This little exchange is characterised by sibilance (introduced by hist), but also softness – the volume of speech or music, the airiness of Echo, perhaps the touch of feathers (again). Delicate, intimate. But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

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