Leaving before dessert? (1.5.118-126)

BENVOLIO      Away, be gone, the sport is at the best.

ROMEO           Ay, so I fear, the more is my unrest.

CAPULET        Nay, gentlemen, prepare not to be gone,

                        We have a trifling foolish banquet towards.

                                                [They whisper in his ear.]

                        Is’t e’en so? Why then I thank you all.

                        I thank you, honest gentlemen, good night.

                        More torches here, come on! then let’s to bed.

                        Ah, sirrah, by my fay, it waxes late,

                        I’ll to my rest. (1.5.118-126)

Benvolio is doing his customary thing of moving the action on; Romeo interprets his suggestion that the party’s at its height (the sport is at the best) and it’s therefore a good time to slip away as meaning, it’s all downhill from here… Capulet, meanwhile, is back to playing the genial host: won’t they stay a little longer, as it’s almost time for the cake? a banquet would be a selection of fine wines, fruit, and sweetmeats, and not trifling and foolish at all, but rather an opportunity for the household to show off its cooks’ skills with sugar and marzipan and expensive spices. (But probably not trifle as such, or indeed that bastard confection of the gelato counter, the zuppa inglese, ‘English soup’, ice-cream with sponge cake. Although what do you know, maybe this is a joke for Shakespeare’s friend the Italian translator and writer of dictionaries John Florio: the OED tells me that in 1598 Florio included in his Italian dictionary ‘Mantiglia, a kinde of clouted creame called a foole or a trifle in English’. It’s been a very long week/term.) Capulet (perhaps) recognises them, but this exchange underscores that, unlike Tybalt, he’s not going to pick a fight, and he is very careful to address them as gentlemen, and honest gentlemen at that. It’s dramaturgically expedient for them to whisper their excuses, so that Shakespeare doesn’t have to invent them either: this is the stage direction in Q1, while Q2-4 have no direction and F has ‘Maskers excuse themselves with a bow’. Capulet’s courtesy extends to the suggestion that extra torchbearers see them out – helpfully reminding the audience that it’s late at night – as is the case with his next line. And his last line in the scene is another reminder of his age. The pace is slackening, as the act is, almost, drawing to a close.



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