No pity? then I’ll die, mother (3.5.196-203)

JULIET                                    Is there no pity sitting in the clouds

                                    That sees into the bottom of my grief?

                                    O sweet my mother, cast me not away!

                                    Delay this marriage for a month, a week,

                                    Or if you do not, make the bridal bed

                                    In that dim monument where Tybalt lies.

LADY CAPULET         Talk not to me, for I’ll not speak a word.

                                    Do as thou wilt, for I have done with thee.

                                                                                    Exit.     (3.5.196-203)

Juliet’s despair here is indicated by her evocation of pity sitting in the clouds: previously, the sky, the heavens, heaven itself have been invoked as a place of exaltation and ecstasy, but now heaven seems empty, cruel. The idea of pity as something divine, heavenly echoes Portia’s description of mercy in Merchant of Venice: ‘it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven’. (It also anticipates the much more chilling moment in Macbeth, when Macbeth tries to talk himself out of the murder of Duncan by imagining how others will react: ‘pity, like a naked newborn babe striding the blast, or heaven’s cherubim, horsed upon the sightless couriers of the air, shall blow the horrid deed in every eye’.) Pity should be heavenly, all-seeing, sympathetic – but there seems to be no pity for Juliet. If Capulet has had the foundations of his solidly patriarchal world-view shaken, then Juliet’s whole world has come crashing down – not the new world of her love for Romeo, but the familiar safety of family and home, being the adored only child of doting parents. She still has her wits about her and is ultimately practical: try again, try to persuade Lady Capulet, try to get a delay in the wedding plans. And then a threat, equal to Capulet’s (if more stylishly expressed): make the bridal bed in that dim monument where Tybalt lies. (My grave is like to be my wedding bed.) Is Juliet saying that she’d rather die than marry Paris, or actually threatening suicide? Either way, her mother’s reply is chilling: I have done with thee. I don’t care, and I’m not listening. I’m not going to intervene with your father. I’m on his side.

View 2 comments on “No pity? then I’ll die, mother (3.5.196-203)

  1. Actually one hears Portia’s “description of mercy” not only as Portia’s description in the sense that Portia has become “a maid in a man’s attire” and as such may be thought of as an invention devised to strike the mind’s eye with an image of Henry; not unlike Rosalind incognito in “As You Like It”. This is to suggest both Balthazar and Ganymede are two names for Henry Wriothesley patron to both Shakespeare and Marlowe in the sense that both labor with invention devised to strike the mind’s eye with the youthful countenance of Henry Wriothesley painted upon art’s borrowed face. Or two extensions of Shakespeare’s “master mistress of my passion” in sonnet 20 if you will.

    1. I’ve never been particularly at ease with the straightforward identification of historical figures with characters/addressees/personas in literary texts and I’m afraid I think that’s a bit of a leap for Portia in particular. (Surely the main point here is that she’s dressed specifically as a lawyer, which Southampton never was. She never appears in other male dress.) But thanks for your interesting comment!

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