So why are you crying? (3.2.98-107)

JULIET                        Ah, poor my lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name,

                        When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?

                        But wherefore, villain, didst thou kill my cousin?

                        That villain cousin would have killed my husband.

                        Back, foolish tears, back to your native spring,

                        Your tributary drops belong to woe,

                        Which you mistaking offer up to joy.

                        My husband lives that Tybalt would have slain,

                        And Tybalt’s dead that would have slain my husband:

                        All this is comfort: wherefore weep I then? (3.2.98-107)


It’s easily overlooked that this speech – of which this is only the first part, obviously – is as long as Gallop apace, and in many ways it’s much more complicated. All that passion, in anticipation, all the energy directed out into the world (and up to the sky) is here turned inwards, as Juliet argues with, and rebukes, herself. I’m appreciating afresh what an amazing role Juliet is, not least because here she has such an unequal partner in the dialogue: the Nurse gives her specific lines to react against, but not much to work with along the way. This speech, in fact, operates much more like a true soliloquy, a debate with only one participant, in which Juliet sets up her terms and propositions, and then demolishes them. (This is closer to Brutus’s ‘It must be by his death’, in Julius Caesar, and indeed Hamlet’s Big Famous Number, than we might at first allow.) (And – compare it with Romeo’s equivalent speech in the following scene, where the Friar gives him much more material and it’s far more of a proper debate.) Name here is reputation, but it once again weaves in that preoccupation with names and naming that has so characterised the lovers’ discourse and the play, and the conceit of a name as something that can be mangled makes the name like a body, reiterating the specific connection between bodies and names that has also been central. And, how does a tongue smooth a name? By glossing a reputation, softening a slur (I’m reminded, oddly – perhaps not oddly? – of the description of the false Archimago in Spenser’s Faerie Queene 1.1.35, who ‘well could file his tongue as smooth as glas’.) There’s a slight tactile, sensual edge to it too, though: tongues speak, but they also lick. Is that too strange to imagine? But husband is the word that resonates, as Juliet indeed establishes where her loyalties now lie: that Romeo is her husband is a title, an identity, that makes him now more significant than Tybalt. Yet she still realises the desperateness of it all: her stark, chiastic account of the situation My husband lives that Tybalt would have slain, and Tybalt’s dead that would have slain my husband simultaneously occludes and suggests another analogous statement: My cousin Tybalt by my husband slain. (Or something, in blank verse.) Romeo the killer, again, but the speech is turning to the articulation of another cause for weeping. Don’t cry, she tells herself – you shouldn’t be crying – the person you love most in the world is still alive, when there was a very real chance that he might not be. And also, stop crying, you’re not a child any more. You have a husband. So why are you so frightened? And what are you crying for?

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