Violent delights (is it just me or is it hot in here?) (2.6.9-15)

FRIAR              These violent delights have violent ends,

                        And in their triumph die like fire and powder,

                        Which as they kiss consume. The sweetest honey

                        Is loathsome in his own deliciousness,

                        And in the taste confounds the appetite.

                        Therefore love moderately, long love doth so;

                        Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.

                                                Enter JULIET. (2.6.9-15)

To start at the end of this speech: I’ve noted in previous scenes the time allowed before a character re-enters from the previous scene: Romeo gets 30 lines from the Friar after the balcony scene; the Nurse gets 20 lines from Juliet after her long scene with Mercutio and Romeo. And here Juliet has 15 lines: if she exited the previous scene at a run, she certainly arrives at speed here, something which would be underlined if she arrived without the additional clothing (gloves, perhaps a cloak) which would be associated with being out of doors (and which would put even greater pressure on the actor). The play’s pace is increasing as the scenes get shorter, but the sense of haste and, I think, breathlessness is palpable; it’s there in the dramatic construction as much as in the plot.

Whereas the Nurse has encouraged Juliet to hurry, the Friar is worried about both haste and intensity, which he characterises as violent. It’s a word that’s unexpected: Romeo has been extreme in his comparisons and assertions, about love and death, joy and sorrow, and the Friar picks up on the intensity and the oxymoronic quality, but, violent delights? the sense is of something powerful, inexorable, immoderate, and destructive, but also, unavoidably, of physical violence. There hasn’t been a reminder of the feud for some time but here it is, although that’s certainly not what the Friar’s getting at. Violence – lack of moderation, even in pleasures – can only end badly. The Friar is imagining a explosion, as if a match has been put to gunpowder, or firework: in that moment of union, of touch – a touch-paper – it all goes up in flames. Fire might not easily be imagined as a kiss, but we still talk of flames as licking. There’s a delicate, sensual tactility here, a beautiful collision, a flash – like the lightning that Juliet has conjured in the balcony scene – which vanishes almost before it is seen. Haste, speed; touch, heat, almost unbearable heat, and a light too bright to look on, that you see even when you close your eyes. And sweetness, the sweetest honey, which might also be too much for the taste to bear, so that even that which is most desired, most delicious, confounds the appetite. How can you bear it, how can you even comprehend it, when everything you want comes to you all at once? It’s astonishing that these words of such erotic intensity are given to the Friar, that it’s he who creates the extraordinary sensual charge into which Juliet appears, runs, too swift arrives. Love moderately? No chance.


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