She hath foresworn to love (1.1.208-215)

BENVOLIO      Then she hath sworn that she will still live chaste?

ROMEO           She hath, and in that sparing makes huge waste;

                        For beauty starved with her severity

                        Cuts beauty off from all posterity.

                        She is too fair, too wise, wisely too fair,

                        To merit bliss by making me despair.

                        She hath foresworn to love, and in that vow

                        Do I live dead, that live to tell it now. (1.1.208-215)


The argument that Romeo’s advancing here is a familiar one, found in the Sonnets and elsewhere: the beautiful woman who does not marry and have children (or, in the Sonnets, the beautiful young man) is doing something selfish and wrong, taking her capital, her beauty, out of circulation. And if that isn’t bad enough, she’s also tempting Romeo into the sin of despair by having foresworn to love; her own virtue is therefore a kind of sin. Her denial of her own potential posterity, in having children, also kills Romeo; he cannot imagine a future: I live dead. There’s no evidence, of course, that Rosaline (still unnamed) has made this vow with Romeo specifically in mind; there’s no evidence that they have had any kind of contact at all (nice Benvolio is not going to say, but might well be thinking, but have you ever talked to her? does she even know who you are?) But it’s clearly all still her fault. Misogyny? Certainly patriarchally-inflected naivety, which might more charitably be read as innocence. Surely beauty, that which is desirable, must be sexually available? its value is not autonomous and intrinsic but must be confirmed by others, in the homosocial marketplace. Surely loving someone, even from afar, should mean that they love you back? The rhyming couplets formalize the sentiments which are, after all, not original. But that formal patness cannot quite disguise an underlying pain which, petulant as it is, still resonates. If this is love, why does it hurt so much? Why does it feel so unfair?

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