O sweet Juliet! howl, howl, howl (3.1.100-106)

ROMEO           This gentleman, the Prince’s near ally,

                        My very friend, hath got this mortal hurt

                        In my behalf; my reputation stained

                        With Tybalt’s slander – Tybalt, that an hour

                        Hath been my cousin. O sweet Juliet,

                        Thy beauty hath made me effeminate,

                        And in my temper softened valour’s steel! (3.1.100-106)

Romeo can’t believe it. He can’t yet bring himself to name Mercutio, but instead refers to him as this gentleman– a reminder of the terms in which, only a moment before, he appealed to Mercutio, and Tybalt, to stop their fight. Mercutio was the Prince’s near ally, a reminder of what’s involved here even beyond the lives of individuals: a city, and the displeasure of its lord. Romeo had invoked that too, reminding Tybalt and Mercutio of the Prince’s decree. And finally, chokingly, personally, my very friend, my true friend, mine, gone, my fault, mine. The disjointed disbelief, the shock of the mortal wound is transferred immediately to Romeo as he begins to articulate the horror of what has just happened, incrementally mapping out the terrible implications in a chain of associations that proceeds, with astonishing psychological plausibility, name by name. This is my fault, Mercutio was doing it for me, for my reputation, my name. Names. Tybalt – Tybalt, who is a Capulet, and now my cousin. O sweet Juliet– and it’s a howl and a punch to the guts – another reminder of what’s at stake. In the middle of this anguish, he cannot think of her without smiling (try saying sweet Juliet without smiling) but it’s bittersweet, so mixed up. Has love, Juliet’s very sweetness and beauty, made Romeo unmanly? a coward? dishonourable? Has his new temperament – which had seemed to be balanced, restored from my melancholy humour by Juliet and by love – taken the edge off his valour (punning on temper, meaning to harden steel). Romeo is scared, angry, working himself up, taunting himself, seeming almost to blame Juliet because that’s the only other thing in his life he can think of that is vivid, intense, true enough to make sense in this moment. He spells out just how bad it is, for us and for himself, in his rage, grief, love, and above all shock. He’s just got married and now his best friend is dead. And it’s about to get worse.

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