Welcome, gentlemen, and foot it, girls (1.5.15-25)

Enter [CAPULET, LADY CAPULET, JULIET, TYBALT, and his PAGE, NURSE, and] all the GUESTS and GENTLEWOMEN to the Maskers.

CAPULET        Welcome, gentlemen! Ladies that have their toes

                        Unplagued with corns will walk a bout with you.

                        Ah, my mistresses, which of you all

                        Will now deny to dance? She that makes dainty,

                        She I’ll swear hath corns. Am I come near ye now?

                        Welcome, gentlemen! I have seen the day

                        That I have worn a visor and could tell

                        A whispering tale in a fair lady’s ear,

                        Such as would please; ’tis gone, ’tis gone, ’tis gone.

                        You are welcome, gentlemen. Come, musicians, play.

                                                            Music plays.

                        A hall, a hall, give room! and foot it, girls.

                                                            And they dance. (1.5.15-25)

Oh Capulet, you are a one… Make a flirty, vaguely misogynist joke about women who don’t dance – or accept invitations to dance? – having something a bit gross the matter with their toes. Whatever, as in his conversation with Paris, and even the guest list – and as will be the case later on – Capulet puts men and their needs and wants first. Always. It’s the underlying premise rather than the indecorous corns that is the gross thing here. In some respects, Capulet’s doing the rhetorical equivalent of dad-dancing (especially in comparison with the nimbleness of Mercutio) – but he remains the most powerful person on the stage, and those earlier comments about will, voice, and consent still resonate here.

Capulet’s at pains to establish that he was a bit of a lad in his youth, too, wearing a mask and chatting up the girls. (In Much Ado About Nothing, a few years later, there will be another masked ball scene, in which both old and young men will participate and be gently mocked for it.) It’s possible that his welcome to the gentlemen in visors is directed to Romeo and his friends (the Maskers), and even that he recognises them at that point. But he’s also old, establishing his distance and distinction from the younger generation, with a note of nostalgia, only underlined by its repetition: ’tis gone, ’tis gone, ’tis gone. (And there’s a proleptic echo of Falstaff and Justice Shallow, in Gloucestershire in 2 Henry IV: ‘the days that we have seen’.) There are clear directions, to the musicians, to the servants (who haven’t quite finished clearing the floor), to the other guests (who need to give room, make space – stand around the edges?) and to the girls, to dance, and look lively. (The slightly odd stage direction here is a more logical disposition of what is, in the first printed texts, a single direction.)

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