No more time for talk (3.5.23-26)

ROMEO           I have more care to stay than will to go:

                        Come, death, and welcome! Juliet wills it so.

                        How is’t, my soul? Let’s talk, it is not day.

JULIET          It is, it is, hie hence, be gone, away! (3.5.23-26)

Romeo does, momentarily at least, seem to have convinced himself that it’s OK to delay his departure. This is a simple little exchange in many respects; I like How is’t, my soul?, addressing Juliet as his soul, another way in which the sense of unity, wholeness, and perfect symbiosis between the lovers is expressed. (Compare Cesario, wooing Olivia on behalf of Orsino in Twelfth Night: asked what ‘he’ would do if ‘he’ loved Olivia, Cesario responds, ‘Make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house’.) This is the last moment of playfulness in the scene, though, and it neatly encapsulates the way in which the lovers have been debating less with each other than with themselves (but also they are really one and the same, a single self, one flesh). They both know that Romeo must go, and quickly, and that they can no longer delay the inevitable; that he is in terrible danger. And of course Juliet doesn’t want him to be caught, to die. Part of the conversation’s playfulness, therefore, is the role reversal: Juliet has hitherto been the practical one, but here she has taken the lead in shaping and enlarging their fantasy of endless night. I think there’s a particular poignancy in Let’s talk, it is not day, the suggestion not only that there is time for talk (and that any words might be adequate) but that conversation might ever take precedence, in this moment, over the fierce physical urgencies of love. (A few lines later Romeo will, even more poignantly, imagine their future conversations.) Lovers who have time to talk and love to talk are a staple of comedy (Rosalind and Orlando, Beatrice and Benedick): that there’s even a futile impulse just to talk here is a reminder that this play is in many respects a broken comedy. (But not as much as Othello, in which Othello and Desdemona too have a relationship founded in long conversations.) Although Juliet completes the day/away couplet, her It is, it is, hie hence, be gone, away! is like a shower of cold water, in its repeated fragments, a stark contrast to the long, lyrical lines of the scene’s opening. Like someone turning the overhead light on.

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