RIP Mercutio (no chance of Peace, as well Romeo knows…)(3.1.107-111)

Enter Benvolio.

BENVOLIO      O Romeo, Romeo, brave Mercutio is dead

                        That gallant spirit hath aspired the clouds,

                        Which too untimely here did scorn the earth.

ROMEO           This day’s black fate on moe days doth depend,

                        This but begins the woe others must end. (3.1.107-111)

Benvolio at least addresses Romeo by name – the repetition unavoidably reminiscent of Juliet in the balcony scene, if we slow down enough to notice – and he names Mercutio too, which Romeo could not do, as if by naming their friend, naming him as dead, he makes this terrible thing real. We knew what was coming but it’s still shocking, and Benvolio’s words – bravegallant– are courteous but so inadequate. The image of Mercutio aspiring the cloudsworks better: it’s extreme, dynamic, a slight edge of outrageousness (as if Mercutio has had an apotheosis, been taken up bodily into heaven, making an obscene gesture as he departs). His spirit – his liveliness, his wit – has become his ghost, scorning the earth because made of the stuff of air (and fire); scorn sounds like Mercutio, too, albeit Benvolio’s already softening the bitter cursing of his last lines, the violence and shock of his death. But too soon, untimely, in this play in which so often characters long for things to happen faster, or more slowly, or not at all. Time passes inexorably and indifferently; it’s the heartbeats and the breath that stop. And Mercutio requires a rejoinder, a retort, furious repartee, not an epitaph. Romeo surely speaks to himself rather than to Benvolio, thinking aloud: the impact, the consequences of the terrible thing that’s just happened, this day’s black fate, won’t be known or fully felt for a while, more days, but it’s not going to be good; there will be more, other, days of woe. (Romeo and woe aren’t rhyme-words here, but they’re aurally prominent, with the repetition of Romeo, the O, and the moe.) It’s a tiny moment of reflection, a recognition that he’s part of something bigger than himself – bigger even than him and Juliet – over which he has no control. But – again – it’s about to get worse. Oh, Romeo…

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