The mansion of a love (3.2.26-31)

JULIET                        O, I have bought the mansion of a love,

                        But not yet possessed it, and though I am sold,

                        Not yet enjoyed. So tedious is this day

                        As is the night before some festival

                        To an impatient child that hath new robes

                        And may not wear them. (3.2.26-31)

This is, as editors point out, a sudden shift in metaphor. What’s the mansion doing here? A mansion is a large, stately house, then as now; it tends also to suggest specifically the chief residence of the lord of the manor. Romeo is Juliet’s husband, her lord (as she’s already addressed him); here she also imagines herself as the lord. I think that mansion as dwelling place, a place to live in, not just look at (or possess) is important here: the mansion of a love still awaits its occupants; they haven’t yet moved in, taken possession. The conceit of the body as the mansion of the soul is a common one in this period: in Cymbeline, Imogen refers to ‘the innocent mansion of my love (my heart)’; in Twelfth Night, Viola (as Cesario) protests to Olivia that if she loved her as Orsino does, she would ‘make me a willow cabin at your gate, and call upon my soul within the house’. So I think that there’s also something here about bodies and souls, and how they relate to each other in love, implicit in that mansion. (Donne again, in the The Ecstasy, is a good place for thinking about this, although, really, any excuse for linking to this glorious poem. Bodies and books and hands too, just saying.) There’s an obvious, more erotic reading here: Juliet herself as the house, not yet possessed or enjoyed. But I also like the spatial work that the conceit performs. If Juliet is indeed on the balcony, then the space behind her is imagined to be her chamber – which we have not yet seen. The mansion of a love, the space where lovers’ souls and bodies will join and joy and dwell together can also be mapped on to the space of the chamber, which has a theatrical presence behind the tiring house wall, although we can’t necessarily see it. It’s private. After the steeds and the stars, the speech reins in as it concludes, becoming more concrete, more domestic, and also, perhaps younger: Juliet has the maturity to imagine herself as the impatient child not yet allowed to wear a new party dress, but she is also, still, at least partly that child. She is impatient, even a little bit petulant, apprehensive, excited. And here comes the Nurse, with news…

View 4 comments on “The mansion of a love (3.2.26-31)

  1. Hello! I’ve always thought she was clearly referring to Romeo, and his body which houses him, when she says “the mansion of a love.”
    “But not yet possessed it,” aka she has not yet made love to him. She then refers to herself being sold to him, in the same vein.

    1. Nice! I think probably it makes sense to us to think of it like that – and it certainly chimes with the sense of mutuality that runs through this speech, and the lovers’ relationship. Maybe it’s a bit of both? Shakespeare seems to be playing with a bit of Marlowe here, from Hero and Leander; this is Leander, persuading Hero to return his love (and to sleep with him):

      Rich robes, themselves and others do adorne,
      Neither themselves nor others, if not worne.
      Who builds a pallace and rams up the gate,
      Shall see it ruinous and desolate.
      Ah simple Hero, learne thy selfe to cherish,
      Lone women like to emptie houses perish

      So I think what it’s mostly about – thinking about Shakespeare’s use of this – is that sense of dwelling, of inhabiting, of something really coming alive, in its true, designed purpose. (It’s a wonderful passage, sometimes cut in performance, I guess because it’s both a little obscure, and also because modern audiences might be uncomfortable with ‘sold … not yet enjoyed’.)

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