Romeo’s dreamy dream (5.1.6-11)

ROMEO           I dreamt my lady came and found me dead

                        (Strange dream that gives a dead man leave to think!),

                        And breathed such life with kisses in my lips

                        That I revived and was an emperor.

                        Ah me, how sweet is love itself possessed,

                        When but love’s shadows are so rich in joy! (5.1.6-11)

Because of the foreshadowing going on here (I dreamt my lady came and found me dead) and especially on the page rather than in performance, we might underplay the degree to which Romeo is announcing, with a big smile on his face, that he has been having the sexiest dreams, a bit weird, but awesome all the same. That’s part of the joy and contentment that he’s expressing – not just what he’s saying, but that he’s sharing it. He knows now what it is to kiss and be kissed. How sweet is love itself possessed: the dream may be a fantasy but the sweet passion of the erotic experience it reinvents is real, vividly remembered and evoked. Even love’s shadows, the dream of Juliet, of being kissed by Juliet, being in bed with Juliet, is rich in joy, because he knows that the reality is even better. There’s a bit of masculine swagger here, too: I know what I’m talking about, this isn’t just wishful thinking. We might compare Thomas Wyatt’s endless protesting-too-much about the women who just won’t leave him alone when he’s trying to sleep, but also John Donne (who hasn’t popped up here for a while): ‘She’s all states, and all princes, I’. I revived and was an emperor. Romeo feels on top of the world, ten feet tall, fizzing with life, full of hope for the future.

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