Romeo: O my betossèd soul… (5.3.74-81)

ROMEO                                   Let me peruse this face.

                        Mercutio’s kinsman, noble County Paris!

                        What said my man, when my betossèd soul

                        Did not attend him as we rode? I think

                        He told me Paris should have married Juliet.

                        Said he not so? or did I dream it so?

                        Or am I mad, hearing him talk of Juliet,

                        To think it was so? (5.3.74-81)

One of the things throughout the scene so far that is particularly effective in conveying Romeo’s overwrought state, his confusion, his madness, is the number of lines that have a medial caesura, that is, where a sentence ends mid line and another then, usually, runs over the end of the verse line. It makes it choppy, angular, intense, as if he’s interrupting himself; all the questions here add to that effect, too. Here’s confirmation that Romeo had no idea who his adversary was; Paris was simply an obstacle to be overcome, in his desperate plan. He has to look closely to see who it is (the torch or lantern might be fetched, to enable him to peruse this face). And, for the first time, the information that Paris is kinsman to Mercutio; this has no bearing on the plot, but brings Mercutio into this scene. Perhaps Romeo should falter, pause, at the memory of his friend, and at the recollection that Mercutio, too, is dead. Confirmation, too, that Balthasar has indeed told Romeo about the intended marriage between Juliet and Paris, as they rode post-haste from Mantua, and that Romeo wasn’t really listening. What this is mostly about, however, is Romeo’s mental state: was I dreamingam I mad? and that striking image, my betossèd soul. It’s the sea again, and Romeo’s soul a ship, adrift, and going under. Juliet is all he clings to, and seeing her again.

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