Love and names, and seeking satisfaction (3.1.53-65)

TYBALT          Romeo, the love I bear thee can afford

                        No better term than this: thou art a villain.

ROMEO           Tybalt, the reason that I have to love thee

                        Doth much excuse the appertaining rage

                        To such a greeting. Villain am I none;

                        Therefore farewell, I see thou knowest me not.

TYBALT          Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries

                        That thou hast done me, therefore turn and draw.

ROMEO           I do protest, I never injuried thee,

                        But love thee better than thou canst devise,

                        Till thou shalt know the reason of my love;

                        And so, good Capulet, which name I tender

                        As dearly as mine own, be satisfied. (3.1.53-65)

So I perhaps take it back re Tybalt, because now he lets rip, after the faux courtesy of the first line and a half. He is still, in fact, being formal in his managing of what is the issuing of a challenge; he’s insulting Romeo in terms that he can’t ignore, because a villain is not a bad person but a peasant (as in villein), a commoner, a word that, when directed to a gentleman, is a grave insult. (Compare Hamlet: who calls me villain, breaks my pate across.) Romeo and Mercutio and Benvolio, as well as Tybalt and the audience, must realise that this is a challenge, explicitly calling into question Romeo’s honour as a gentleman and therefore, in terms of the social codes of Elizabethan London, unable to be ignored or easily dismissed without a total loss of face. Tybalt’s phrasing, his sarcastic invocation of love, sets up Romeo’s reply, which begins with reasonand then moves to love. It’s lovethat has made Romeo capable of reason, of being reasonable, of giving a reason and of reasoning: he is polite, formal, considered. I’m not going to be angry like you; I’m not a villain; you’re making a mistake, and I’m out of here. So Tybalt increases the aggro with Boy, suggesting both that Romeo is not a man and a servant. (Boyis the word that, 15 or so years later, really tips Coriolanus over the edge. And it was also how Capulet rebuked Tybalt when he wanted to challenge Romeo at the party; it’s that injury which Tybalt is remembering here too, I think.) Romeo still stays calm: nope, you’re mistaken, and – as I’ve just hinted – in time you’ll find out why I’m saying, in this slightly disturbing way, that I love you. (This moment looks back to Romeo’s first appearance in the play, in the aftermath of the brawl, when he commented that Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love, and his oxymoronic invocation of brawling love and loving hate: now he is really trying to replace one with the other; it’s no longer a rhetorical game.) It’s as if Romeo is seeing the world, and this situation, through new eyes: he’s genuinely baffled by Tybalt’s accusations, as well as recognising that he cannot rise to the bait. And, of course, names, Romeo, and Tybalt, and finally, good Capulet, which name I tender as dearly as mine own. He is still a Montague, but in his marriage to Juliet he has become a Capulet as well, and she has become a Montague; they are now joined so closely that their names both no longer signify, and have also become interchangeable. There’s a kind of incredulity in Romeo’s replies here: are we still having this kind of tired confrontation, this niggly, facile posturing about names and honour, perceived slights and imagined injuries. Going to the Capulet party changed Romeo’s life, gave him a new life (as well as a new name); that it could have been interpreted otherwise – or even that he and his friends were recognised there – doesn’t seem to have entered into his head – which is now so full of love, and hope, and Juliet. Be satisfied, he concludes, that word (o wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied) which was a turning point in the balcony scene, leading directly to the lovers’ declarations and so their plans to marry. For Tybalt, satisfaction can only mean to answer the challenge, to make reparations for the injury; for Romeo – as he makes to leave – it also looks forward to the consummation of the marriage. Oh no oh no oh no…

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