Paris cannot do flirting (4.1.22-28)

PARIS              Come you to make confession to this father?

JULIET                        To answer that, I should confess to you.

PARIS              Do not deny to him that you love me.

JULIET                        I will confess to you that I love him.

PARIS              So will ye, I am sure, that you love me.

JULIET                        If I do so, it will be of more price,

                        Being spoke behind your back, than to your face. (4.1.22-28)

This exchange is making it clear, above all else, that Paris Is Not Romeo. In some ways it’s a terrible parodic re-run of Romeo and Juliet’s shared sonnet, in its stichomythia, the alternating lines and the take-up and repetition of words (and even, because of the presence of Friar Lawrence, of the saint/shrine/pilgrim conceit) but there’s no equality, no spark here: Juliet is running rings around Paris and all his attempts at being Signor Flirty Smooth (or, to be slightly more Shakespearean: Monsieur Love; thanks, Benedick) fall very, very flat. Juliet is careful, polite, doesn’t lie; to answer that, I should confess to you is pert and could be played with a hint of flirtation, but if so, Paris can’t cope: he’s dogged, repetitive, dull. And Juliet is making it very clear that she doesn’t want to talk, that she won’t give anything away: if I were nice about you to your face, I might be lying or exaggerating; if I talk about you behind your back, you can be sure I’ll tell the truth. Double-edged again. And brittle – such a terrible contrast with the joyous, laughing lyricism of all her conversations with Romeo, where they seemed to speak with one mind and one voice.

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