So sweet, fiendish flesh (3.2.80-85)

JULIET                        O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell

                        When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend

                        In mortal paradise of so sweet flesh?

                        Was ever book containing such vile matter

                        So fairly bound? O that deceit should dwell

                        In such a gorgeous palace? (3.2.80-85)

The oxymorons continue, but have morphed into much more extended conceits; even more striking is the sensuality. Hell is juxtaposed with paradise, but it’s specifically the paradise of Romeo’s body, his so sweet flesh (the words linger lusciously); bower, here used as a verb, means lodge or implant, but it’s also romantic, suggesting paradise as enclosed garden, as arbour, even as the bedroom that Juliet has been conjuring in the scene’s first part. (Bower and mortal paradise and so sweet flesh might suggest Spenser’s Bowre of Blisse, Faerie Queene 2, to some in a mid-1590s audience, too, a place of deception as well as sensuousness.) The book so fairly bound again looks back to the ball scene, you kiss by the book, and also to Lady Capulet’s strange conceit of Paris as a book in 1.3. And the gorgeous palace is the mansion of a love that Juliet has desired so passionately, that she does not yet possess. I think it’s striking that although Juliet’s speech begins with the flow’ring face, here she is imagining all of Romeo, his wholeness as a person, as a body. This is something that’s marked her responses to him in the play so far, and so here it makes that possibility of deceit even more frightening and devastating: contemplating having been taken in not simply by a pretty face, by externals, but by an entire person. (Shakespeare revisits this not in relation to murder, but infidelity, in Troilus and Cressida, and of course in Othello and Winter’s Tale; it’s perhaps most striking in the former, when Troilus says, This is, and is not, Cressid. The pain not simply of betrayal, but of looking at, or thinking about, the person you think you know best in the world, and wondering if you ever knew them at all.)

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