Musical banter #1 (4.5.108-117)

PETER                                    I will then give it to you soundly.

FIRST MUSICIAN       What will you give us?

PETER                                    No money, on my faith, but the gleek; I will give you the minstrel.

FIRST MUSICIAN       Then will I give you the serving-creature.

PETER                                    Then will I lay the serving-creature’s dagger on your pate. I will carry no crotchets, I’ll re you, I’ll fa you.        Do you note me?

FIRST MUSICIAN       And you re us and fa us, you note us.

SECOND MUSICIAN  Pray you put up your dagger, and put out your wit. (4.5.108-117)

Gregory and Sampson redux, i.e. a return to the feuding, punning servants of 1.1, probably with the some of the same actors, but with less obscenity. The play’s final movement is about to begin, although there’s quite a lot of this banter to come… How to redeem it? It’s a neat little snapshot of rivalry between working men, none of whom is an artisan for once (no cobblers, weavers, or tailors here). Does a servant – like Peter, who seems to be quite a high-status member of the Capulet household staff – rank higher than a hired minstrel? It’s debatable, which is why Peter is pulling rank a bit by insulting them (using minstrel as an insult, rather than a legitimate job title), and the musicians respond in kind by addressing him as serving-creature, creature being much less neutral than man (in fact quite pejorative). Of course part of the joke is that these are all actors, who – even more than minstrels – could be seen as socially marginal, and who guarded their status as members of a household – the Lord Chamberlain’s, say – with great care and jealousy. If the musicians won’t do requests, says Peter, then he’ll pay them soundly (sound, music; thoroughly) – he’ll insult them instead of paying them, give them the gleek, mock them. (Bottom uses the word gleek too; perhaps it was one of Will Kempe’s trademark phrases.) And, as ever in Verona (and as was the case in 1.1) weapons are never far away, although Peter may be speaking mostly in jest, and instead takes the opportunity to demonstrate his mastery of the musicians’ own language: I will carry no crotchets, I’ll re you, I’ll fa you. Do you note me? Crotchets were a relative innovation in musical notation at this time, so Peter is saying, I won’t put up with your new fangledness; re and fa (no sign of doe a dear, thank goodness), although they refer to notes of the scale, are here simply used to mean I’ll beat you. (It’s striking that what might be thought of now as quite specialist vocabulary seems to be regarded as generally accessible.) Note here means take note of, but also – via mark, the word with which it’s interchangeable, perhaps also means make marks on, bruise. The Second Musician, getting involved for the first time, seems to have a bit more sense: put your dagger away, and give over with your insults. (Any ideas of decorum – that Juliet’s supposedly dead on the bed – are gone. But it’s perhaps a reminder that – of course – she’s not dead really. And – more interestingly – that if we can’t see her, the curtains having been drawn, she’s not there, and the scene, although clearly continuous, isn’t happening in the same space, the space of the bedroom. Perhaps the bed is even being moved while Peter banters with the musicians, another reason why this passage might be here.)



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