“Enamoured of thy Parts”: Dismemberment and Domesticity in Romeo and Juliet
Texas Christian University
Ariane M. Balizet. “‘Enamoured of thy Parts’: Dismemberment and Domesticity in Romeo and Juliet.” Early Modern Literary Studies Special Issue 19 (2009) 10.1-31 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/si-19/balirome.html>.
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;In her dismissal of Romeo’s name, Juliet raises what must have been an important question for an audience in Renaissance London: What are the essential qualities—parts—belonging to a proper man? A bawdy and necessary joke haunts this question: “other” parts might be “private” parts, in which case it is merely genitalia that Juliet requires from Romeo to make a worthy partner. If we read Juliet’s catalogue of parts belonging to a man this way, however, we ignore that Romeo and Juliet is in fact a play deeply invested in the anatomization of masculine qualities, not simply in the ribald sense of the male “pump,” “hams,” and “fishified” flesh (2.3.60, 51, 37) harped on by Mercutio and perhaps hinted at by Juliet here. It is not just a man that Romeo and Juliet attempts to assemble from these disembodied parts: Juliet is looking to make Romeo into her husband. In this, the play repeatedly reflects the chief priority of early modern marriage manuals: articulation of the nature of a husband’s authoritative presence in the home. Renaissance domestic guides, a body of literature dictating marriage, domestic governance, and other practical matters of the household that was rapidly growing in the second half of the sixteenth century (Hull 35), sought to establish a model of the family composed of a head and its compliant, inferior members. The language of dismemberment, dissection, and anatomization in Romeo and Juliet thus corresponds directly to Renaissance cultural discourse on domesticity, and, as I will argue, illustrates the play’s rejection of contemporary domestic ideology.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. (2.1.81-85)1
Day, night, hour, tide, time, work, play,Capulet’s frustration belies two contrasting models of embodiment: Paris is “[p]roportioned as one’s thought would wish a man,” and thus imagined as a whole, complete, and ordered example of a bridegroom. At the same time, however, his “honourable parts” are rhetorically isolated and thus emphasized; like Romeo’s “part[s] / Belonging to a man,” Paris is similarly anatomized for Juliet’s scrutiny. Contrary to the Bakhtinian model of Renaissance masculinity defined by “classical” wholeness, the search for Juliet’s husband has already revealed Paris’s virtue as a function of his parts (see Stallybrass 126-27).
Alone, in company, still my care hath been
To have her matched; and having now provided
A gentleman of noble parentage,
Of fair demesnes, youthful, and nobly ligned,
Stuffed, as they say, with honourable parts,
Proportioned as one’s thought would wish a man… (3.5.176-182)
Of the excellency and dignity of man’s body: have not the Philosophers in the schools called the same Microcosmos, Orbiculus, a little world most beautiful in form, & fairest in shape, excelling far all other living creatures in whom the creator hath made. (Gyer A3v)This analogy functioned on national and spiritual levels as the body politic, metaphorically linking a unified human body to the body of the state and the order of the cosmos. “For many writers in Tudor and Stuart England,” writes Jonathan Gil Harris in Foreign Bodies and the Body Politic, “the body politic was not simply a heuristic device; it was imbued with a cosmic significance, participating within a system of correspondences between the body of man, or microcosm, and the larger body of the universe, or macrocosm” (2). Leonard Barkan has argued that the Elizabethan version of the body politic repaired some of the damage suffered under Henry VIII’s split with Rome and subsequent “confusion of bodies politic and mystical” (76):
The English Renaissance picture of world order was above all a defense of the hierarchical status quo, and the human body was a useful analogy because, like society, it was clearly a strange and arbitrary combination of functions which all seemed to work perfectly together. Perhaps the prime lesson of the anthropomorphic analogy is the idea of cooperation: each member is only a part of the whole body, and therefore less than the whole, but the whole can only exist as the totality of its members. (77)While it would be difficult to overstate the ideological weight of the body politic in the medical and dramatic literature of the English Renaissance, Barkan’s picture of Elizabethan order is an example of what Harris terms “the fetishization of social integration and cohesion that is the hallmark of functionalist organicism” (5). In other words, Barkan’s twentieth-century analysis seems to accept the mythic premise of supreme bodily coherence and unity upon which the early modern body politic is based, ignoring the many examples within Renaissance medical and dramatic literature that actually contradict a “defense of the hierarchical status quo.” Romeo’s “dull earth,” for instance, has already been dismembered; he turns back to retrieve his missing “heart.”
And in this state she gallops night by nightThe accent is on the body part—brains, knees, fingers, lips, necks, ears—over which Queen Mab travels. It is the part that dictates the dream, not the character (lover, courtier, lady, soldier). Hillman and Mazzio’s essay underscores the potent ethos in such rhetorical tropes: “Insofar as parts were imagined as dominant vehicles for the articulation of culture, the early modern period could be conceptualized as an age of synecdoche” (xiii-xiv). The synecdochical force of lips and knees here renders Queen Mab’s journey into a monstrous image, in which the part overwhelms and overdetermines the whole. Mazzio and Hillman later clarify the “age of synecdoche” as an early modern crisis of synecdoche, in which a political, religious, or dramatic whole is threatened by the “often disruptive dominance of its parts” (xxvi n17). Mercutio could be the standard-bearer for such a crisis, as he imagines Rosaline by blazoning her desirable parts:
Through lovers’ brains, and then they dream of love;
O’er courtiers’ knees, that dream on curtsies straight;
O’er lawyers fingers, who straight dream on fees;
O’er ladies’ lips, who straight on kisses dream…
Sometime she driveth o’er a soldier’s neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscados, Spanish blades,
Of healths five fathom-deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted, swears a prayer or two,
And sleeps again. (1.4.68-86)
I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes,Rosaline’s body is certainly not a “little world”; nor is it, in Hillman and Mazzio’s sense, “in pieces.” The tension between Mercutio’s anatomization of Rosaline’s parts and her identification as an object (or collection of objects) of desire represents one of the several ways Romeo and Juliet attempts to articulate an embodied metaphor: the human body as acutely vulnerable to dismemberment and always subject to scrutiny.
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh
And the demesnes that there adjacent lie (2.1.18-21)
[B]ut if there happen any such where upon your consideration shall stand, my counsel is that you follow [that] example of the Physician, who to know the whole state of a man openeth and cutteth him up, and divideth him into parts, and thereby groweth into a greater knowledge: so I wish you to make an anatomy of him [that] you have in hand, make no confusion of wealth, wit, body and soul, life and living: For so you may soon deceive yourself. (J8v)Kingsmill’s instructions are vividly descriptive: to evaluate and choose a proper husband, the suitor must be “opened,” cut up, and divided into parts. As I will discuss below, Juliet’s division of Romeo into “parts / belonging to a man” thus places her in the position of the anatomist or Kingsmill’s “Physician.” Yet the “greater knowledge” Kingsmill promises here of the husband-to-be is tinged with danger. Jonathan Sawday begins his magnificent study of early modern anatomists’ theaters with a helpful assertation: “anatomization … is an act of partition or reduction and, like dissection, anatomy is associated primarily with medicine. But, just as in the case of dissection, there lurks in the word a constant potential for violence” (1). Although we must differentiate dismemberment from mutilation—Romeo’s hand, foot, arm, and face are still recognizable as such—the rhetorical taking apart of bodies is still, inherently, a threat of violence.
When he had told at length the wife what was her due:Arthur Brooke’s Romeus and Iuliet—which scholars agree served as Shakespeare’s primary source for Romeo and Juliet—includes a lengthy wedding scene in which the Friar soberly lectures the lovers on their roles as husband and wife, emphasizing their respective “due[s]” and “dut[ies]”. In Shakespeare’s version, Friar Laurence hurries the lovers along: “Come, come with me, and we will make short work; / For, by your leaves, you shall not stay alone / Till holy church incorporate two in one” (2.5.35-37). By stating his refusal to leave them alone (out of fear, we presume, that they will act on their elegantly articulated desire) and rushing the ceremony, Shakespeare’s Friar Laurence demonstrates an earthly understanding which Brooke’s version of the character lacks. The nature of the “ghostly talk” in Brooke, however, is no mystery. Domestic literature of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries took as its central focus the duties of husbands and wives which, when working properly, took on the characteristics of a unified human body, as seen in William Whately’s Bride-Bush: Or, A Direction for married persons (1619):
His duty eke by ghostly talk the youthful husband knew.
How that the wife in love must honor and obey:
What love and honor he doth owe, and debt that he must pay. (Brooke 763-66)
— Arthur Brooke, The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet (1562), 763-766.
The husband’s special duties, are all fitly referred to two heads; he must govern his wife, and maintain her; and as our Lord Jesus is to his Church (for with that comparison is the holy ghost himself delighted), so must he be to his wife an head and savior. As for government, two things also be required of him; one, that he keep his authority; the other, that he do use it. (O1r)The somatic figure for domestic authority—the man as head of the household—featured prominently in household literature. Indeed, increased literacy in the second half of the sixteenth century was met with a flood of new or translated domestic guides and marriage manuals in the London marketplace, most of which revolved around simple analogies of order: head and body, husband and household, king and country, God and cosmos.5 Myles Coverdale’s 1552 translation of Heinrich Bullinger’s Christen State of Matrymonye cites a biblical precedent to argue for female inferiority as it cautions against male tyranny:
The woman was taken from out of the side of man and not from the earth, lest any man should think that he had gotten his wife out of the mire: but to consider, [that] the wife is the husband’s flesh and bone, and therefore to love her, yet was she not made of [the] head. For the husband is the head and master of the wife. Neither was she made of the feet (as though thou might’st spurn her away from thee, and no thing regard her) but even out of thy side, as one that is set next unto man, to be his help and companion. (A3v)For Bullinger, the model of the domestic body emphasizes the man as “head and master,” but characterizes the woman as made from (and therefore signifying) the “side,” not, he underscores, the feet. Synecdochically, the feet signify the lowest of labor and the violence of “spurning”; the “side,” however, suggests not only a companionate model for marriage but emphasizes the human trunk, internal organs, reproductive system, and womb.
The office of the husband is, to be Lord of all, of the wife, to give account of all, and finally I say, that the office of the husband is, to maintain well his livelihood, and the office of the woman is, to govern well the household. (C5v)6The head should not lower itself to the functions of the body, cautions the author of A glass for housholders (1542); just as “she should not much entermedle in your merchandise or business which is done out of ye house… So it is not seeming that you greatly busy yourself in things of the house belonging to her charge as many womanly men do” (D4v). On the surface, at least, the prosaic matters of household governance were relegated to domestic members other than the head of household.
A household is as it were a little commonwealth… If [a wife] be not subject to her husband, to let him rule all household, especially outward affairs; if she will make head against him, and seek to have her own ways, there will be doing and un-doing. Things will go backward, the house will come to ruin, for God will not bless where his ordinance is not obeyed. (A7r-F4v)Here a wife’s gravest insubordination is to “make head” against her husband, and the consequences of such a dismemberment are dire, as Dod and Cleaver warn: “God will not bless” such a house. Indeed, for the authors of these guides, household order was directly tied to domestic order in the widest (which is to say, proto-national) sense, and, keeping this in mind, Alex Niccholes’ 1615 Discourse of Marriage and Wiving explains the husband’s domestic responsibilities fully:
[F]or every married man, for the most part, hath three Common-wealths under him: he is a Husband of a Wife, a Father of Children, and a Master of Servants, and therefore had need of government in himself that must govern all these, and to that purpose cannot take unto himself a better practice or precedent, then from this uniformity of the body, where the head stands aloft like a king in his Thro[n]e, giving direction and command to all his Subjects, biddeth the foot go, and it goeth, the hand fight and it fighteth. (G2v-G3r)Perhaps nowhere in the domestic literature of the Renaissance are the interlocking analogues of bodily, familial, and proto-national integrity so elegantly articulated. The ideal husband, according to Niccholes, possesses the “uniformity” of body wherein the head can clearly command the foot or hand; just so must a head of household order his servants to move the furniture, his wife to prepare his dinner, and his children to maintain silence; just so must a king, from his seat of power, command his subjects do his bidding. A breakdown in this system—if a husband has a disobedient wife, “making head” against him, or a potential head of household lacks the “uniformity of body” to be the seat of authority—threatens to dismantle the entire system.
Take weapon away, of what force is a man?As a tool of violence proves essential to masculinity, so too the good housewife—practiced in the arts contained in Tusser’s guide—proves essential to the thrifty husband. For her part, the good housewife must obtain proper instruction from her family, as Bullinger instructs:
Take huswife from husband, and what is he then?
As lovers do covet, together to dwell,
So husbandry loveth, good huswifery well. (H6r)
It is expedient that a man handfast not his daughter before he hath good experience of her housewifery, and governing of an house. For it becommeth her better to have a pair of rough and hard hands, then to be fair and soft, glistering with rings or covered continually with smooth gloves…so that they may govern their own houses with their own husbands. (L8r)Without a “pair of rough and hard hands,” a daughter cannot fulfill the role of the good housewife; without a good housewife, a man cannot fulfill his role as the proper “head and savior” of the household. In the domestic literature of the Renaissance, this “crisis of synecdoche” is always poised to dismember the figure of somatic domesticity. If the Renaissance home is a body, and the Renaissance body is a little world under potential threat of breaking apart, then what we see in these marriage guides is a collision of metaphors for home and body in which the constant dangers of dismemberment and household disorder are in fact interchangeable. The reassertion of the husband as “head” in the somatic model of domesticity—even at times to the point of figurative absurdity—serves to deflect and absorb the anxieties of dismemberment inherent to porous, permeable somatic experience.
Madam, the guests are come, supper served up, you called, my young lady asked for, the Nurse cursed in the pantry, and everything in extremity. I must hence to wait; I beseech you follow straight. (1.3.102-105)A household “in extremity” is both “in a state of emergency” and disjointed or pulled apart; since the extremities of a body are the hands and feet, this domestic body definitively lacks a head.8 Capulet’s furious question to Tybalt—“Am I the master here or you?” (1.4.191)—in the midst of the party scene is indicative of this disciplinary crisis. His magnanimous permissiveness of Romeo’s presence is nullified by the fact that he has no real control over the permeable boundaries of his home. As he transforms the banquet into a dancehall, the Chief Serving-man snatches a sweet for himself and arranges for the admittance of two uninvited guests:
Away with the joint-stools, remove the court-cupboard, look to the plate. Good thou, save me a piece of marchpane, and as thou loves me, let the porter let in Susan Grindstone and Nell, Anthony and Potpan. (1.4.118-122)9Who are Susan Grindstone and Nell? They do not appear on the guest list dictated by Capulet (1.2.65-74). As Potpan has already been identified as a fellow servant shirking his responsibilities (1.4.113) it seems as though the women are private guests for a separate gathering; the Chief Serving-man, having surreptitiously requested a piece of candy and the admittance of the two women, then returns to calling for help from Potpan and Anthony.10 In this reading, Susan Grindstone and Nell are thus clandestine trespassers; no doubt their presence is completely benign, but their admittance under the authority of a servant makes them intruders nonetheless. These moments of domestic labor bordering on chaos suggest a household that is all extremity; we witness pleasures (purloined marzipan, secret guests) and dangers (unsecured domestic borders), but no authoritative “head.” In contrast with Capulet’s potent social prerogative to choose his daughter’s husband—“An you be mine, I’ll give you to my friend; / An you be not, hang, beg, starve, die in the streets!” (3.5.191-192)—the domestic body represented by the Capulet household is governed not from its head but from its extremities.
Romeo, come forth, come forth, thou fearful man.Tracing Romeo’s rhetorical dismemberment and consequential prohibition from his place as “head” of a household may seem an abstract exercise: there is no bustling household like Capulet’s awaiting Romeo’s wise husbandry and Juliet’s thrifty housewifery. Within the rhetorical economy of the embodied household, however, the fact that Romeo and Juliet possess no domestic body is deeply significant; the discourse of Renaissance domesticity depends upon a spatial dimension for marital order, and Romeo and Juliet’s marriage occupies no domestic space in which to manifest the cultural imperatives of an orderly household.14 This lack of home is emphasized by Shakespeare’s staging of Romeo and Juliet’s most memorable scenes on or near the liminal space of the balcony; both inside and outside the Capulet home, the balcony represents the porousness of one domestic body and the palpable absence of another.15 In their analysis of rape imagery in the play, Robert Watson and Steven Dickey have observed that the spatial significance of the balcony is transformed between the Second and Third Acts: “The fictive spaces and physical arrangements of the two balcony scenes thus take us from the verticality of courtship idolatry (balcony as pedestal) to the horizontal parity of the consummated marriage (balcony as bed)” (135). What is notably missing from the play, however, is a return to the embodied verticality of the domestic hierarchy, a spatial arrangement dictated and demanded by early modern domestic literature. The absence of a domestic body (or the dramatic possibility for a domestic body) is accordingly transferred into rhetorical violence towards the material bodies of the lovers.
Affliction is enamoured of thy parts,
And thou art wedded to calamity. (3.3.1-3)
Only annihilation can do full justice to such longings as Romeo and Juliet share. Theirs is not a love of propagation and domestic contentment, but rather a yearning for a transformation of the world that will correspond to their inner state. Anything but death would be a betrayal of that love. (Rabkin 183)Death, within the Liebestod myth, is consummation that transcends the cultural and communal obstacles separating the lovers (see Bijvoet 1-12; Kristeva 212-16; de Rougemont 34-36). As M. M. Mahood and others point out, however, Romeo and Juliet’s love may be secret, but it is not illicit, extra-marital, or adulterous, as the Liebestod tradition dictates (58). The fact that they are married to one another—and thus not disruptive of cultural norms regulating amorous and sexual behavior—may in fact energize the emotive power of their deaths, as Roger Stilling suggests: “they are not outside convention but very much in it, where the creative power of their love may operate effectively. The relationship between the lovers and society is therefore double” (81). Jill L. Levenson has given us a historical context for this deviation from classical and medieval examples of the Liebestod, pointing out that while examples such as Pyramus and Thisbe or Tristan and Isolde exist in liminal stages outside of marriage or trapped in adultery, Romeo and Juliet (Shakespeare’s characters as well as earlier versions) actively seek and seem to value the marital rite of passage (4).
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;Juliet’s anatomization stresses those parts of his body she sees as elemental to his “dear perfection” (2.1.89) —i.e. hand, foot, face—and argues against the significance of the feud between their families by claiming Romeo’s name is no part of him. Juliet’s adoration of Romeo’s manly parts prefigures Capulet’s description of Paris, “Stuffed, as they say, with honourable parts”; rhetorical dismemberment, in this context, effectively heightens domestic desirability. Juliet’s representation of Romeo as a collection of parts sharply contrasts with her simple self-identification, however, as the endpoint of this meditation asserts her own unity: “Take all myself.” According to Kahn, Juliet’s denial of Romeo’s name as a masculine “part” is ironic (since, as his wife, she would become a Montague and thus a part of his family herself); under Juliet’s logic, “his new identity as a man is to be based on his allegiance to her as her husband, and not on his allegiance to his father” (11). Her assertion of wholeness, however, reminds us that the practice of rhetorical dismemberment—especially, as here, for the purposes of evaluating domestic fitness—was always in contrast to the anatomical and political episteme of man-as-microcosm.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man.
…Romeo, doff thy name,
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself. (2.1.81-92)
[Y]ou know not how to choose a man. Romeo? No, not he, though his face be better than any man’s, yet his leg excels all men’s, and for a hand and a foot and a body, though they be not to be talked on, yet they are past compare. (2.4.37-41)17Having gotten a good look at Romeo, the Nurse lightheartedly questions Juliet’s judgment—“you know not how to choose a man”—by critiquing those very parts Juliet has already admiringly dissected: his face, his leg, his hands and feet, and his “body” in general. On the basis of this “anatomy” she concludes that his parts are, in fact, “past compare,” though she chides with mock modesty at the very nature of such an examination: “though they be not to be talked on.” Juliet and the Nurse both praise Romeo, of course (in their own ways), but their breaking apart of his body for the purposes of evaluation echoes Mercutio’s aggressive objectification of the beautiful Rosaline. According to Sawday, “[t]he threat or the reality of violence runs through all Renaissance anatomizations, dissections, partitions, and divisions, whether we encounter the term in a medical sense or in a looser metaphorical set of registers” (2). I would argue that rhetorical anatomization, especially vis-à-vis these tenuous models of embodied domesticity, importantly evokes the threat of physical violence, as though neither Juliet nor the Nurse can imagine a husband—even an ideal husband—without implicitly imposing violence upon his body.
Come gentle night, come loving black-browed night,Juliet’s punning on the word “die” (to orgasm) and the spectacular astronomical display she assumes will follow initially link her burgeoning sexual awareness to the man-as-microcosm embodiment metaphor. Juliet imagines that the bodily act of consummation will have cosmic results: “all the world will be in love with night.”19 Sexual maturity is accordingly metonymized by lavish environmental spectacle, emphasizing the perception that individual bodily transformation will be reflected in the cosmos. Yet the threat of dismemberment from this new bride is shocking in its directness: “when I shall die, / Take him and cut him out in little stars.” On her wedding night, Juliet thus eschews the ideology of a domestic body composed of head and properly governed body; indeed, her fundamentally sexual fantasy ruptures the principle of Romeo’s coherent, unified human body in and of itself. This is accomplished through an expression of purely erotic desire, however—a paradox articulated by Susanne Wofford in her analysis of dismemberment and desire in Antony in Cleopatra. That play, she argues,
Give me my Romeo; and when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night,
And pay no worship to the garish sun. (3.2.20-25)18
[S]hows that submersion in a mythic whole may be both deeply feared and deeply desired…[and] such submersion can only come with the acceptance of the very dismemberment or dispersion of the self that seems to be its opposite. (20)In Antony and Cleopatra, the “mythic whole” includes Antony’s royal love affair with Cleopatra and heroic reputation; in Romeo and Juliet, I am suggesting, the “mythic whole” is not the Liebestod but an embodied domestic life resembling those households imagined in the domestic literature of the sixteenth century. Romeo and Juliet’s articulation of their desire to become husband and wife through the language of dismemberment and danger reveals the deep ambivalence and real fears attending to such fantasies of the whole, complete domestic body.
Some say the lark makes sweet division;Having been “incorporated,” the separation of the newlyweds—“arm from arm”—enacts a division more violent than the anatomization of parts that occurred before their nuptials. After this incorporation, Romeo and Juliet repeatedly imagine their bodies as houses, a recurring trope made more poignant by the absence of a household of their own. Following her fantasy to “cut [Romeo] out in little stars,” Juliet impatiently laments, “O, I have bought the mansion of a love, / But not possessed it; and though I am sold, / Not yet enjoyed” (3.2.26-28). Initially, Romeo is the domestic space (the “mansion of love” she has purchased), but she then reverses the image and it is she who has not yet been “enjoyed.”
This doth not so, for she divideth us.
Some say the lark and loathèd toad changed eyes.
O now I would they had changed voices too,
Since arm from arm that voice doth us affray. (3.5.29-33)
Hold thy desperate hand!Romeo’s “form” and “shape” indicate his masculinity; he is not, in this effort at consolation by Friar Laurence, a collection of parts. According to the friar, Romeo’s leaky tears are “womanish,” his “wild acts” beastly, but he has within him the potential—in “valour,” “wit,” and “noble shape”—to manifest a man. As the passage continues, however, Friar Laurence seems to doubt Romeo’s potential for masculine unity. The final image, in which the intangible qualities of Romeo’s wit and ignorance explode like gunpowder, produces the play’s most direct rhetorical dismemberment—here, with his “own defence.” I read this as an indictment not of Romeo but of the figure of embodied domesticity itself. The image of a “skilless” soldier dismembering himself with his own weapon mirrors the weaponless man in Tusser’s domestic aphorism: “Take weapon away, of what force is a man? / Take huswife from husband, and what is he then?” In both examples, violence—a quality implicitly inherent to masculinity—appears perverse in its misapplication or absence, harming or making vulnerable to harm the soldier, husband, or man. Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, however, insists upon the violence inherent to models of domesticity, the results of which are evinced in the destruction of an “alliance” (2.2.91) that was purposefully meant to quell fighting between the two families.
Art thou a man? Thy form cries out thou art.
Thy tears are womanish; thy wild acts denote
The unreasonable fury of a beast.
nseemly woman in a seeming man,
And ill-beseeming beast in seeming both,
Thou hast amazed me.
Thy noble shape is but a form of wax,
Digressing from the valour of a man;
Thy dear love sworn but hollow perjury,
Killing that love which thou hast vowed to cherish;
Thy wit, that ornament to shape and love,
Mis-shapen in the conduct of them both,
Like powder in a skilless soldier’s flask
Is set afire by thine own ignorance,
And thou dismembered with thine own defence. (3.3.107-133)21
God joined my heart and Romeo’s, thou our hands;In this moment, Juliet underscores the innate connection between corporeal violence and domesticity running through Romeo and Juliet. Her vocabulary is initially the language of nuptial solemnization; here Levenson (citing Naseeb Shaheen) points out strong echoes of the Marriage Service in Juliet’s language (4.1.55n). The turning of one hand against a “treacherous” hand and heart (female “parts,” as it were, necessary to solemnize a marriage to Paris) to commit suicide, however, reveals the violent potential beneath the synecdochical terms of her forced marriage. Replicating her father’s house in which “everything [is] in extremity,” Juliet’s desire for death involves the separation of herself from her “extremes”—a term which points to Juliet’s urgent suffering as well as her bodily extremities.23 As the absent authoritative “head” of the household, it is Romeo’s body that receives the brunt of this rhetorical violence throughout the play; Juliet, however, is materially connected to such self-dismemberment. Before drinking the sleeping potion, Juliet addresses her knife directly as insurance against marriage to Paris: “What if this mixture do not work at all? / Shall I be married then tomorrow morning? / No, no! This shall forbid it.—Lie thou there.—/ She lays down a knife” (4.3.20-22sd).24 Juliet’s death—by a “happy dagger” (5.3.169)—has in fact been prefigured by these considered fantasies of dismemberment and suicide. What I want to stress here is that these recurrences of rhetorical dismemberment are not fleeting echoes or hints of danger; they are essential to domesticity as it appeared on the Elizabethan stage—the dramatic language of domestic life.
And ere this hand, by thee to Romeo’s sealed,
Shall be the label to another deed,
Or my true heart with treacherous revolt
Turn to another, this shall slay them both.
Therefore, out of thy long-experienced time,
Give me some present counsel; or behold,
’Twixt my extremes and me this bloody knife
Shall play the umpire… (4.1.55- 63)22
1 The edition I am using is the Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet (Q2) from The Oxford Shakespeare, ed. Jill L. Levenson. All subsequent quotations are from this edition, except where noted. For more on the two Quartos of Romeo and Juliet, see Levenson’s introduction to the play, 103-125 and Halio, ed. 123-150.
2 For Foucault, public torture and execution before the mid-eighteenth century purposefully capitalized on the analogic links between the body of the criminal and the body of the state. The brutality of public dismemberment “made it possible to reproduce the crime on the visible body of the criminal; in the same horror, the crime had to be manifested and annulled. It also made the body of the condemned man the place where the vengeance of the sovereign was applied” (Foucault 55). The tearing apart of the criminal’s body replicated and, through his death, annulled the dismembering of the body politic his crime represented.
3 For more on Galenic medicine as it was practiced and understood in the Renaissance, see Siraisi 78-152 and Rawcliffe 29-81.
4 Levenson also suggests a bawdy meaning for “man of wax” in the sense of “a penis becoming erect” (1.3.78n). If taken this way, Paris’s “model” perfection compounds the virility alluded to in his name. This sexual readiness also hints at his body being on the precipice of spilling or “leaking” semen.
5 For more on the increase of female literature in general, and practical guides in particular, see Hull 47-56.
6 Lorna Hutson has observed, however, that the dichotomy inherent to this model is in fact an empty one: “the husband occupies both spheres after all, is both ‘indoors’ and ‘outdoors’ all at once” (Hutson 21). According to the model of domesticity in which the husband was lord and head, women served as an “example of his ability to govern.” (21, emphasis mine).
7 According to Hull, twenty-three editions were published between 1557 and 1641. I am using the 1593 edition.
8 The OED lists several definitions for “extremity” that fit its use here, including “The uttermost parts of the body; the hands and feet; Extreme or inordinate intensity or violence,” and “A condition of extreme urgency or need; the utmost point of adversity, embarrassment, or suffering.” Wordplay on “extremities” runs throughout Romeo and Juliet, as when the second chorus sets the stage for Act 2: “Temp’ring extremities with extreme sweet”(2.0.14).
9 Q1 (1597) does not include this scene.
10 Levenson suggests this and an alternate reading: “the Chief Serving-man, sending a message to the porter, asks him to admit four more to help” (1.4.120-2n).
11 The OED cites this example to illustrate definition 3: “A man that acts the housewife, that busies himself unduly or meddles with matters belonging to the housewife’s province.”
12 Q1 does not include this line.
13Frances Dolan has shown that the language of petty treason and petty tyranny to describe husband-murder and wife-murder, respectively, powerfully reinforced the home/state analogy in Renaissance England.
14 Of all of Shakespeare’s plays that depend upon a marriage plot, Romeo and Juliet is the only play that deliberately stages both solemnization and consummation. The Friar’s words to the young couple at their wedding willfully resist the language of anatomization that permeates the rest of the play: “you shall not stay alone / Till Holy Church incorporate two in one” (2.5.36-7). Romeo and the Nurse point out the necessity of the rope ladder repeatedly (2.3.176-178; 2.4.71-73), emphasizing through the material prop of the cords (3.2.33-34) that Romeo will, indeed, have physical access to his bride on their wedding night.
15 In her analysis of the Reformation’s transformation of marriage practice, Christine Peters notes, “As a rite of passage incorporating liminal phases, marriage ritual does not provide a complete blueprint for the meaning of marriage during the lifetime of the couple, but it is an important indication of the transformation that was understood” (65). In Romeo and Juliet, the staging of their courtship on and near the balcony reinforces the sense that their union is in a perpetually liminal phase—despite the fact that they have solemnized and consummated their nuptials properly.
16 For more on the leitmotiv of Death as Juliet’s bridegroom, see Bijvoet 104-106; Halio Guide 70-71; Kristeva 209-233, esp. 220-222; Mahood 57-58; Stilling Chapter 5, passim.
17 Q1 similarly represents the Nurse’s association with masculinity and anatomized parts: “Romeo, nay, alas, you cannot choose a man. He’s nobody, he is not the flower of courtesy, he is not a proper man; and for a hand and a foot and a body, well, go thy way, wench, thou hast it i’faith” (2.4.16-19).
18 Q1 omits this passage entirely.
19 We find a useful parallel in Paster’s analysis of Juliet’s weaning, in which infant (psychosexual) trauma is inextricably linked with a cosmically significant earthquake: “[W]eaning is in fact surrounded and metonymized by environmental trauma—the “perilous knock” on her forehead the day before, the earthquake striking just at the moment of her loss of the good breast and her rage with the bad” (227).
20 Kahn argues this moment is one in which we witness the annihilation of gender subjectivity: “Symbolically, he is trying to castrate himself; as a consequence of the feud he cannot happily be a man either by fighting for his name and family or by loving Juliet. Banished and apart from her, he feels, he will have no identity, and nothing to live for” (11).
21 Q1 omits lines 125-133.
22 Q1 omits lines 55-60.
23 For “extreme” used here, as a noun, the OED lists two useful definitions: “The utmost point or verge; that which terminates a body; an end, extremity,” and “Extremities, straits, hardships.”
24 Q1 has a more explicit address: “What if this potion should not work at all? / Must I of force be married to the County? / This shall forbid it.—Knife, lie thou there—” (4.3.12-15).
25 Q1 has, “This is my daughter’s dowry, for now no more / Can I
bestow on her. That’s all I have” (5.3.207-208). Levenson
provides another reading of jointure:
“If jointure refers to the bridegroom’s settlement, which provides for the wife
if the husband dies first, Capulet accepts a gesture of
reconciliation from the bridegroom’s family” (5.3.297n).
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2009-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).