Slow clocks and flying thoughts (2.5.1-8)

[2.5]    Enter JULIET

JULIET                        The clock struck nine when I did send the Nurse;

                        In half an hour she promised to return.

                        Perchance she cannot meet him: that’s not so.

                        O, she is lame! Love’s heralds should be thoughts,

                        Which ten times faster glides than the sun’s beams,

                        Driving back shadows over low’ring hills,

                        Therefore do nimble-pinioned doves draw Love,

                        And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings. (2.5.1-8)

The precision of the time-keeping is becoming more explicit: we heard in the previous scene that it was noon, with Mercutio’s bawdy reimagining of the face of a clock, and now Juliet invokes another clock, its striking, and a smaller division of time, half an hour. Juliet has been counting the minutes, and in this soliloquy what’s most apparent is the speed of Juliet’s thoughts, her quickness, in contrast to her own experience of time as passing slowly. The first two lines are a straightforward statement of fact, but then she starts to imagine a hypothetical – something has gone wrong! the Nurse hasn’t been able to meet him! but then, as quickly, calms herself down: that’s not so. (She will do the same thing two acts later, in much greater and more vivid detail, when she imagines waking in the tomb. One of the things that this moment does is set that later one up.) O, she is lame! is both an explanation and an expression of frustration; the Nurse is old, she moves slowly; there may be sympathy here, or maybe not. It’s fitting, therefore, that Juliet imagines those who carry lovers’ messages as being as quick as thoughts, which she imagines as faster even than the rays of the sun, or the movement of cloud shadows; it’s a beautiful evocation of time passing in the natural world, swifter and more vivid even than a ticking clock. Venus’s chariot is drawn by doves (as in Shakespeare’s own Venus and Adonis, his greatest literary hit so far), and Cupid too has wings, of course (the wings which Romeo has borrowed to fly over the orchard wall). Juliet’s own experience of love has also been all about swiftness and vivid intensity; she has perhaps seen the sun rise that very morning. Juliet thinks of love like light, and like flying…

View 4 comments on “Slow clocks and flying thoughts (2.5.1-8)

  1. hi hester,
    i just wanted to say thank you for your blog! although you’ve written them some time ago they’ve been really helpful for me on my gcse journey as romeo and juliet was hard for me to understand initially, but with your blog i’ve fallen in love with english literature and will be doing for a-levels- sat my romeo and juliet paper today!

    thank you :))

    1. Hi Ishwa! you’ve made my day, I’m SO pleased you’ve found this useful! Well done on starting your GCSEs – good luck for the rest of them – and I’m DELIGHTED to hear that you’re doing A-level English literature – HOORAY!

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