Poor Paris… (5.3.68-74)

PARIS              I do defy thy conjuration,

                        And apprehend thee for a felon here.

ROMEO           Wilt thou provoke me? then have at thee, boy!

                                    [They fight.]

PAGE               O Lord, they fight! I will go call the Watch.                         [Exit]

PARIS              O, I am slain! [Falls.] If thou be merciful,

                        Open the tomb, lay me with Juliet. [Dies.]

ROMEO           In faith, I will. (5.3.68-74)

This is so unnecessary. Paris just thinks he’s doing the right thing, in apprehending Romeo for a felon (apprehend, again) – but he demonstrates that he did listen to what Romeo had to say before they fought: Romeo offered him a madman’s mercy, and he now asks Romeo to show that he is, indeed, merciful by laying his body with Juliet’s. So there’s a practical implication here: Romeo has not yet opened the tomb – and if it’s being staged using a trap-door, it indeed makes sense for it not to be open at the point when Paris and Romeo fight – because that would be dangerous and silly, especially if they’re fighting with rapiers as well as daggers, which need much more room. (Romeo doesn’t say ‘Draw’, though, which might suggest just daggers? Even when Hamlet and Laertes fight at, and in, Ophelia’s grave, there’s no suggestion that they do so with weapons. And if there’s a lantern or a torch in the scene, then that has to be out of the way too; a torch perhaps slotted into a sconce on the wall.) We’ve probably forgotten about Paris’s page, but his popping up here opens a chink of hope – perhaps – that the Watch will arrive in time to prevent Romeo getting into the tomb, or carrying out his plan once he’s in there. As well as promising to be merciful in his treatment of Paris’s body – in faith, I will – alas Romeo is as good as his word as regards his barely-suppressed anger and his readiness to fight: his courteous addressing of Paris as good gentle youth switches to the contemptuous boy (just as Tybalt taunted him). And then that final twist – for all his prissiness, his weakness, his willingness just to go along with things, Paris apparently loves Juliet, after his fashion. His motivation for coming to the tomb has been genuine. And he has paid for his devotion with his life. Poor Paris.

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