Sour woe, and sorrows in battalions (3.2.114-126)

JULIET                                                                        Tybalt’s death

                        Was woe enough if it had ended there;

                        Or if sour woe delights in fellowship,

                        And needly will be ranked with other griefs,

                        Why followed not, when she said ‘Tybalt’s dead’,

                        ‘Thy father’ or ‘thy mother’, nay, or both,

                        Which modern lamentation might have moved?

                        But with a rear-ward following Tybalt’s death,

                        ‘Romeo is banishèd’: to speak that word,

                        Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet,

                        All slain, all dead. ‘Romeo is banished!’

                        There is no end, no limit, measure, bound,

                        In that word’s death, no words can that woe sound. (3.2.114-126)

I keep seeing future moments in this speech of Juliet’s, which previously I’d not quite written off, but certainly skimmed over. Cressida, on being separated from Troilus: ‘Why tell you me of moderation? The grief is fine, full perfect, that I taste, And no less violent in a sense as strong As that which causeth it. How can I moderate it?’ This isn’t (just) teenage hysteria, it’s steely, cold, sophisticated logic and clear-eyed self-awareness. Yes, it would have been woe enough, bad enough, just to hear of Tybalt’s death – I’m not disputing that. If there had to be more bad news (and, Cressida in mind, pause on the nauseous hit of sour woe, less obvious – albeit metrically more straightforward – than ‘bitter’ would be, and also, of course, the opposite of ‘sweet’) then it would be better if the Nurse had said, your father’s dead, or your mother’s dead. I would have been distraught enough at that. Ranked with other griefs is interesting: editors seem to go for the sense of hierarchy, a ranking, but I think that it’s also lining up, ranks as in troops, partly because of the rear-ward, the rear-guard, the ambush from behind, a military conceit which comes into focus a couple of lines later – and hence, Claudius, of Ophelia’s death: ‘When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions’. Banishèd– and I like my idea of the word as a blow, so I’m repeating it – is the kick in the teeth, the punch in the guts, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse. It’s a woe beyond words – and in saying that, no end, no limit, measure bound … no words can that woe sound, Juliet is sadly recapitulating the terms of her earlier ecstasy (My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep), punning on sound as articulate (but also, perhaps, sound as announce, herald, as in a trumpet call – military again – and the sound of a bell) as well as sound, establish the depth. The boundlessness of love can be matched only by the boundlessness of grief; the extended cross rhyme (sour woe/ woe sound) as much as the concluding couplet makes it sound and resound and resound.


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