Romeo / Not Romeo (2.2.49-61)

ROMEO                                   I take thee at thy word:

                        Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptised;

                        Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

JULIET                        What man art thou that thus bescreened in night

                        So stumblest on my counsel?

ROMEO                                                           By a name

                        I know not how to tell thee who I am.

                        My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,

                        Because it is an enemy to thee;

                        Had I it written, I would tear the word.

JULIET                        My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words

                        Of thy tongue’s uttering, yet I know the sound.

                        Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?

ROMEO           Neither, fair maid, if either thee dislike. (2.2.49-61)

This is an offer that Romeo cannot refuse – both the take all myself, and the suggestion that he cast off his name, so it’s not surprising that he interrupts, and with great enthusiasm; he will gladly be renamed, and reborn, in being loved by Juliet. And she can’t quite believe that it’s him – of course it’s a detail that can be played for laughs (it’s a man!), and that reminds the audience, again, that it’s night, and dark. But Romeo has completely got what she has been saying, as his repetition of name shows; his suggestion of tearing his name, were it written, is both playful and a reminder of the arbitrariness of the relationship between name and named. His addressing of her as dear saint is a return to the language of their sonnet (in which exchange, he’s spoken ninety words to her, so it’s entirely accurate for her to say not yet drunk a hundred words, a greedily sensual way of expressing it). And there’s a touch of suave gallantry in the neatly turned Neither, fair maid, if either thee dislike, with the neither / either. He’s only named Juliet once in this scene, in his very first speech; so far, he’s preferring more conventional epithets: bright angel, dear saint, fair maid. So her name is much less prominent than his. What to make of this? Not much – save, perhaps, that he has a pre-existing, largely second-hand vocabulary for his emotions and experiences, which he is in the process of both reanimating and transcending, while her experience is new to her, and is focused immediately and specifically on Romeo alone.

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