Paris, mistaken (5.3.49-57)

PARIS              This is that banished haughty Montague,

                        That murdered my love’s cousin, with which grief

                        It is supposèd the fair creature died,

                        And here is come to do some villainous shame

                        To the dead bodies. I will apprehend him.

                                                [Steps forth.]

                        Stop thy unhallowed toil, vile Montague!

                        Can vengeance be pursued further than death?

                        Condemnèd villain, I do apprehend thee.

                        Obey and go with me, for thou must die. (5.3.49-57)

In case we’ve forgotten (we might well have) a reminder that Romeo is banished, on pain of death, that he killed Juliet’s cousin Tybalt – and that no one, except the Friar and the Nurse (and, by now, possibly Balthasar?) knows about his marriage to Juliet. No one. The official version is still that Juliet died out of grief for Tybalt’s death – and of course Tybalt’s death, killed by Romeo, is still very recent news too. The scandal, the Capulet catastrophe that everyone’s talking about, is the death of Juliet and Tybalt. As far as Paris is concerned, Romeo is just some random Montague, at the tomb to do something nasty and petty, to continue the family feud even further than death. (And Paris is also aware that he shouldn’t really be there either, that it’s just a bit dodgy, this sentimental performance in which he’s engaged.) So while it’s tempting to read this little episode as a dry run for Hamlet and Laertes, scrapping over who loved Ophelia more, it’s very different here. Haughty surprises, perhaps? has Romeo tended to be universally aloof, drifting around in his previously infatuated state? At any rate, Paris steps forth and steps up, defending (or so he imagines) not simply Juliet’s (and Tybalt’s) body but the rule of law, and performing what seems to be, in effect, a citizen’s arrest. Again there’s that suggestion of stuffiness in Paris’s fondness for repeating particular words: previously it was obsequies, and now it’s apprehend, which is straight out of a police procedural.

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