Joyless banter with Paris (4.1.29-36)

PARIS              Poor soul, thy face is much abused with tears.

JULIET                        The tears have got small victory by that,

                        For it was bad enough before their spite.

PARIS              Thou wrong’st it more than tears with that report.

JULIET                        That is no slander, sir, which is a truth,

                        And what I spake, I spake it to my face.

PARIS              Thy face is mine, and thou hast slandered it.

JULIET                        It may be so, for it is not mine own. (4.1.29-36)

More echoes of the shared sonnet here, at a tangent – but the repetition of face rather than hand (as in 1.5) really matters: this is all about appearances, surfaces, the superficial and, ultimately, deception, rather than touch, mutuality, embodiment. We might be tempted – very, very briefly – to think, well at least Paris has noticed that Juliet’s been crying (and abused with tears is vivid and accurate, evoking puffiness, blotches, red eyes – helpful if the actor actually looks fine) – but where Paris ends up, Thy face is mine, and thou hast slandered it, is just grim, creepily possessive rather than cheerily flirtatious. Even before they’re married, he’s regarding Juliet as his possession (given to him by her father) and therefore any slander of her face is an insult to him. Juliet continues to parry – there’s an exhausted quality to her wit here, which is commonplace and conventional in comparison to many of her previous speeches (here: irony and modesty, in saying that tears couldn’t make her face look any worse than it is). And again the formal sir, in contrast to the potentially affectionate, familiar poor soul. Paris thinks mostly in terms of ownership, but Juliet knows that her face is not her own because it is Romeo’s, because in marriage they have become one flesh; it is also not her own because she is habitually truthful and candid, and in this scene she is having to dissemble, to conceal or mask herself, with every scrap of self-possession that she can muster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *