Hitting the mark (1.1.190-198)

BENVOLIO      Tell me in sadness, who is that you love?

ROMEO           What, shall I groan and tell thee?

BENVOLIO                                                      Groan? why, no;

                        But sadly tell me, who?

ROMEO           Bid a sick man in sadness make his will –

                        A word ill urged to one that is so ill:

                        In sadness, cousin, I do love a woman.

BENVOLIO      I aimed so near, when I supposed you loved.

ROMEO           A right good mark-man! and she’s fair I love.

BENVOLIO      A right fair mark, fair coz, is soonest hit (1.1.190-198)


Here, there’s a return of more playful quibbling, ironically on sadness meaning both melancholy and seriousness. Benvolio wants a straight answer, but isn’t going to get one (and in fact Rosaline isn’t named at all in this scene). A groan can express sadness, distress, physical pain – but also yearning, longing, desire; it can be sexualized. To groan the name of the unnamed beloved could be entirely too much information, a groan of fantasy… Romeo continues to parry: he knows he’s being asked to be serious but pretends he’s being asked to be sad, when he is already sad, because he’s in love, love-sick unto death. But he’s plainly enjoying teasing Benvolio – and the audience – with the promise of a revelation which is then deferred: I do love a woman. The archery conceit sets up the following few lines, but the exchange also swerves into the language of competitive masculinity which characterized the earlier part of the scene, in which young men compete with each other both over and through women. What’s imagined is penetration of the mark, the circular archery target with its concentric rings (a dark circle at the centre of a white, fair, ground) figuring a woman’s genitals. The sexual nature (and the violence) of the conceit is occluded a little by the rhetorical elaboration: the repetition of right good / right fair, fair mark / fair coz: Benvolio and Romeo, in their adolescent way, banter and bluster, but still (like Gregory and Sampson) shy away a little from real bodies and sex(ual violence) into words, which are – on this occasion at least – safer and easier to control, than bodies, emotions, desires (and women).

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