Screw philosophy (3.3.52-60)

FRIAR              Thou fond mad man, hear me a little speak.

ROMEO           O thou wilt speak again of banishment.

FRIAR              I’ll give thee armour to keep off that word:

                        Adversity’s sweet milk, philosophy,

                        To comfort thee though thou art banishèd.

ROMEO           Yet ‘banishèd’? Hang up philosophy!

                        Unless philosophy can make a Juliet,

                        Displant a town, reverse a prince’s doom,

                        It helps not, it prevails not; talk no more. (3.3.52-60)

Get a grip, you idiot, says the Friar, and let me get a word in edgewise. Try listening to what I’m telling you. But Romeo’s having none of it. For a moment it looks like the Friar has seen a way to get through to Romeo: if he’s going to treat banishment as an axe, as a word that wounds, then what Romeo needs is armour, and that the Friar will provide. But whereas Romeo – and Juliet – have responded to their plight with elaborate, internally-consistent conceits, common to both scenes, here the Friar mixes his metaphors, as the promised armour becomes sweet milk, as if simple sleight of hand will transform this wild-eyed, desperate young man with blood on his hands into the biddable, loveable pupil once again. Screw philosophy, says Romeo, philosophy doesn’t work any more, it’s like armour that’s hung up over a tomb, heraldic, rusty, and redundant – Romeo extends the metaphor that the Friar has failed to develop – the rusty armour of philosophy is no use whatsoever If You’re Dead. It brings no comfort (the Nurse has promised to Juliet that Romeo will come to comforther), comfortmeaning here both solace and delight. But it’s not enough. Banishment is a blade, but philosophy is just a word; it can’t do anything. It helps not, it prevails not. Screw you, Friar, shut up and leave me alone.

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