Turn back, dull earth (2.1.1-6)

ROMEO           Can I go forward when my heart is here?

                        Turn back, dull earth, and find thy centre out.

                                                                                    [Romeo withdraws]


BENVOLIO      Romeo! my cousin Romeo! Romeo!

MERCUTIO                                                                 He is wise,

                        And on my life hath stol’n him home to bed.

BENVOLIO      He ran this way and leapt this orchard wall.

                        Call, good Mercutio. (2.1.1-6)

Romeo here is reverting, a little, to his earlier self-characterisation in terms of dullness, heaviness, melancholy, but he’s also mocking himself – dull earth, earth being the substance out of which God created man – turn around, you idiot, you’re walking away from everything that makes you more than dull earth, your centre, meaning your heart, your soul, Juliet. Juliet has reanimated Romeo, re-created him; he is drawn to her irresistibly, as if she’s the better part of him. He’s probably not going to go off-stage; he might conceal himself behind one of the stage pillars, or in a shadow. It’s being established that this scene is not simply exterior, but that there is a wall, and an orchard. That Mercutio thinks it likely that Romeo’s gone home to bed again emphasises the lateness of the hour (and also just how straight Romeo is, and how young: his friends don’t even entertain the possibility that he might have hooked up with someone; of course, they haven’t either. Friar Lawrence will be a little more worldly in due course). That Benvolio is sure that Romeo ran this way and leapt this orchard wall gives Romeo a note for his entrance – he could run in, exhilarated and exuberant, full of energy, as much as he could arrive slowly and meditatively. It’s tempting to play the balcony scene (for lo, readers, we are almost upon it) with as much portentous solemnity as lyricism – but joy has to be part of it too, the joy of dance and youth and running and leaping over walls, a passionate energy and physicality which is as much Romeo’s (and Juliet’s) as it is Mercutio’s. And some of that can be shown here.

Are Benvolio and Mercutio drunk? probably.

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