You just don’t understand! My life is over! (3.3.61-70)

FRIAR              O then I see that mad men have no ears.

ROMEO           How should they when that wise men have no eyes?

FRIAR              Let me dispute with thee of thy estate.

ROMEO           Thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel.

                        Wert thou as young as I, Juliet thy love,

                        An hour but married, Tybalt murderèd,

                        Doting like me, and like me banishèd,

                        Then mightst thou speak, then mightst thou tear thy hair,

                        And fall upon the ground as I do now,

                        Taking the measure of an unmade grave. (3.3.61-70)

The Friar is getting impatient: why won’t Romeo listen to what is, after all, a supremely rational account of the situation. He is only trying to help, and Romeo has always listened to him and taken his advice before. To be anachronistic, what Romeo wants at this moment – apart from it all just to go away – is not advice, but validation. He doesn’t want his problem to be solved, but for a response to how he is feeling. Why won’t you listen to me? says the Friar. Why can’t you see how much I’m hurting and try to understand how I feel, before you try to solve things? In this state he doesn’t want a plan, he wants a hug. But the Friar just doesn’t get this: let me dispute with thee of thy estate, let’s have a logical debate, a disputation, about the situation that you’re in. In some respects Romeo is going Full Teenager here: you just don’t understand, because you are old, because you are a priest, because you are not me, because my life is totally OVER. But there’s also – perhaps – a glance at larger questions: thou canst not speak of that thou dost not feel. What’s Hecuba to him, or he to her, that he should weep for her? There are ideas here about acting and character, and also about writing, especially poetry (Shakespeare is writing the Sonnets at this time) and authenticity: is all poetry confession? Are words always merely empty if there is no feeling or lived experience behind them? It’s a challenge, perhaps, to the audience, too: Romeo’s situation is so extreme – as he helpfully sets out – do we need to be able to identify with it in order to sympathise, to have an emotional response? We can be exasperated with Romeo as he falls to the ground and tears his hair, because it is histrionic, a total toddler meltdown teenage tantrum. But he’s right – everything that seemed so brilliant only a couple of hours ago (meeting Juliet! marrying Juliet!) has now turned darker than anyone could ever have predicted or imagined. (He doesn’t even mention Mercutio’s death in his catalogue of woe.) Juliet has imagined her wedding bed as a deathbed, and here Romeo too thinks of the grave. Touchingly, he knows he’s young; it’s here framed in terms of, and therefore because you’re not young there’s no way you can understand, but it’s also: I’m too young to deal with something this big, what do I do what do I do what do I do, make it stop make it stop. I don’t think I want to see flailing fists and drumming heels, but rather him curling up like a child, covering his eyes and ears, wishing it would all just go away.

Shakespeare considers banishment in a very different context in a play written at around the same time, Richard II, near the beginning of which the king banishes Bolingbroke (who will eventually depose him as Henry IV) and Mowbray. Bolingbroke consoles himself that ‘the sun that warms you here shall shine on me’; Mowbray, banished for life, has an extraordinary speech in which he outlines the way in which banishment deprives him not simply of home, but of language and identity: ‘What is thy sentence then but speechless death, which robs my tongue from breathing native breath’? For him, too, banishment is a kind of death.

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