Romeo has excellent legs (2.5.38-53)

NURSE            Well, you have made a simple choice, you know not how to choose a man: Romeo? no, not he; though his face be better than any man’s, yet his leg excels all men’s, and for a hand and a foot and a body, though they be not to be talked on, yet they are past compare. He is not the flower of courtesy, but I’ll warrant him, as gentle as a lamb. Go thy ways, wench, serve God. What, have you dined at home?

JULIET                        No, no! But all this did I know before.

                        What says he of our marriage, what of that?

NURSE            Lord, how my head aches! what a head have I!

                        It beats as it would fall in twenty pieces.

                        My back a’th’other side—ah, my back, my back!

                        Beshrew your heart for sending me about

                        To catch my death with jauncing up and down!

JULIET                        I’faith, I am sorry that thou art not well.

                        Sweet, sweet, sweet Nurse, tell me, what says my love? (2.5.38-53)

The Nurse is very good at this. Finally she gets on to Romeo, and again, that blazon, listing – and approving of – his various body parts: did she overhear Juliet on the balcony?! Bodies are back: leg and hand and foot and body– as well as a handsome face– oh yes, she approves of Romeo alright, and she names him, almost casually. (The attention to legs might surprise us, but legs were the most fetishized and admired – and, one imagines, anxiety-provoking – part of the male body in the late sixteenth century, the six-pack? biceps? whatever of the 1590s, but much more generally on display. Stockings and short breeches. Discreet calf-padding was, apparently, a thing, but Romeo doesn’t need any of that, clearly!) Flower of courtesy is a reminder of Romeo and Mercutio’s joke about the pink and the shoes– and hence a recollection of Mercutio’s bad behaviour, and also, therefore, how Romeo was not, in the end, like Mercutio in his own dealings with the Nurse. And gentle as a lamb is both complimentary and a reminder of Romeo’s youth (and she calls Juliet her lamb, too). But after all this promising, fulsome praise – at which we can imagine Juliet smiling in impatient agreement – the Nurse swerves again, with an affectionate, dismissive, Go thy ways, wench, serve God, and a request for information which is also a reminder of the passage of time: it’s now dinner time, or later (that is, the time of the midday-or-thereabouts meal).

Now that the Nurse has named Romeo for the first time in the scene, Juliet too becomes more specific, and more serious: What says he of our marriage? This is, after all, what’s at stake here. And the Nurse evades again, which prolongs the comedy, and the suspense, but also prolongs this loving, familiar interaction between a teenage girl and the woman who’s raised her from a baby, a game they’ve played (about the Nurse’s back, and head, and general ache sand pains; about Juliet’s impatience) for ever, slipping into familiar roles of mock scolding, mock wheedling. The love in this scene, the sense of utter security, makes Juliet’s eventual rejection of the Nurse all the more poignant.

Or it can, of course, simply be played for laughs.

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