Hits and misses (1.1.199-207)

ROMEO           Well, in that hit you miss: she’ll not be hit

                        With Cupid’s arrow, she hath Dian’s wit;

                        And in strong proof of chastity well armed,

                        From Love’s weak childish bow she lives uncharmed.

                        She will not stay the siege of loving terms,

                        Nor bide th’encounter of assailing eyes,

                        Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold.

                        O, she is rich in beauty, only poor

                        That when she dies, with beauty dies her store. (1.1.199-207)


It’s difficult now to imagine an encounter with this play in which one doesn’t know that Romeo is not, here, talking about Juliet. The challenge for the actor is to be able to differentiate between the heartfelt, apparently genuine, albeit second-hand, expression of emotion here and how Romeo subsequently responds to Juliet. (Shakespeare in Love copes well with this, as Will intervenes in the rehearsal: ‘Don’t spend it all at once … What will you do in Act Two when he meets the love of his life?’ 1.5 by most reckoning, but who’s going to argue with the writer?) The mostly end-stopped lines, and the rhyme, help underscore that this is a return to familiar conceits, and here at least the woman is armed even as she is besieged, although the language continues to be aggressive, as eyes assail and terms, tropes, words, besiege, albeit Romeo implicitly identifies his own attempts to woo with the weak childish bow of Love. Lamenting the woman who is both chaste and beautiful sets up where Romeo’s speech will go next (and introduces the idea that beauty, chastity, love itself are forms of capital), but there are also, perhaps, tiny anticipations of Juliet. Diana, goddess of chastity, has wit, wisdom, but Juliet will be both witty and wise. Romeo will greet Juliet as a saint. And the conceit of the siege, familiar enough in Petrarch and in early erotic poetry, will in due course be profoundly reanimated by the balcony scene.

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