Sexy fruit, or, conjuring Romeo 3 (definitely NSFW)

BENVOLIO      Come, he hath hid himself among these trees

                        To be consorted with the humorous night:

                        Blind is his love, and best befits the dark.

MERCUTIO     If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.

                        Now will he sit under a medlar tree,

                        And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit

                        As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.

                        O Romeo, that she were, O that she were

                        An open-arse, thou a pop’rin pear!

                        Romeo, good night, I’ll to my truckle-bed,

                        This field-bed is too cold for me to sleep.

                        Come, shall we go?

BENVOLIO                                          Go then, for ’tis in vain

                        To seek him here that means not to be found. (2.1.30-42)

You’d think it’d be safe to mention trees, but not when Mercutio’s in this mood. The night is humorous because it’s dark and damp (and also capricious, like women), the perfect environment for a supposed melancholy lover (and we know from the earliest descriptions of Romeo in the play that he likes hanging around trees in the dark). Romeo’s (supposed) love is blind because it’s hopeless, ill-advised, unrequited. There’s a(nother) innuendo in hit the mark… And then it’s fruit: meddle can mean to have sex, or to touch sexually, hence the medlar tree – and yes, the weird fruit of the medlar, with their split bases and prominent calices were indeed called open-arses (and not just by maids), and sometimes also dog’s arse (French: cul du chien) or even cat’s arse. There’s no denying that they look rude. Poperin pears were named for a town in Flanders – Poperinghe – but mostly invoked in contexts like this, as phallic, because of their shape and also because of what they sound like… Yes, Mercutio is imagining fruit having sex (and, perhaps, Romeo engaged in a melancholy act of auto-eroticism – how long have I pondered how to phrase that?), with an O, O sound-track (the circle again) and the additional fantasy that when maids laugh alone they definitely talk dirty.

But Mercutio’s off home, to a nice warm truckle-bed (a curiously innocent suggestion: a truckle would usually be placed beside or at the foot of a larger bed, and perhaps be slept in by a servant or child) while the field-bed is what would now be termed a camp-bed, a soldier’s portable bed – although here it mostly just means sleeping on the ground. Love is a thankless military campaign – but Mercutio, in the midst of all the smut, does still seem to think that both he and Romeo are going to sleep alone. (Which they are, but not quite as Mercutio imagines it. These boys are so young.)

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