[Milton-L] Romeo & Juliet (and Paradise Lost) "by the book"

Arnie Perlstein arnieperlstein at gmail.com
Sun Dec 4 14:50:21 EST 2016

In the Shaksper group, a thread began last week regarding the two usages of
the phrase “by the book” in Shakespeare's *Romeo & Juliet, *which, as
you'll see at the end, indirectly relates to *Paradise Lost* as well, so I
have brought my reply here to this group for that reason.

 First, here is a link to an online essay that gives extraordinary detail
on the nuances of Mercutio’s complex wordplay about the “book” that he
mockingly claims Tybalt was fighting by:

http://ckellyuva.com/publications/01-BOOK-of-Arithmetic.pdf  “Fighting by
the BOOK of Arithmetic”

This is most to the point: “In the late 1500s the English fighting style
taught by the English Masters of Defence was holding fast to an old school
tradition of cutting with the side of the weapon (blows). The new-fangled
foreign style— particularly the Italian—claimed the “thrust” (the use of
the point) to be superior and began developing attacks, parries and
footwork based on mathematical principles (complementary moves).”

I believe, based on the above, that Mercutio *does* mean to derogate
Tybalt’s mechanical, scripted style of fighting – and yet, ironically, as
has been observed (I can’t find the cite now), Tybalt does diverge from
that script when he unexpectedly stabs Mercutio.

Second, I agree with Hannibal Hamlin (and the consensus of comments
readable on the Net) that Juliet is very likely being sarcastic, hinting
that Romeo is an inept, inexperienced, wooden kisser, who speaks flowery
words of love, but who doesn’t kiss the kiss, so to speak – and that is a
major “Ouch!” moment, considering that Juliet the kiss critic is a mere 12
year old girl who, we may presume, has never been kissed before! I do,
however, also detect that, beneath that sarcasm, Juliet may be a little
ambivalent, in that she also seems to be complimenting Romeo’s cleverness
in playing the “let’s improvise a Petrarchian sonnet together” game very
well indeed. I.e., she seems to be saying that she enjoys his creative,
romantic mind, but she wishes his lips were equally romantic!

I also found brilliant Mr. Hamlin’s connecting the dots between
Shakespeare’s two “by the book” usages in R&J, on the one hand, and North’s
usage of same in his introduction to his Plutarch translation (a text which
we all know was crucial to Shakespeare in writing his Roman plays), on the
other. By the way, when you read North’s introduction all the way through,
the sneaking suspicion was born in my mind that North may have been one
source in Shakespeare’s wicked mind when he wrote Polonius’s speech to
Laertes, in which he equivocates endlessly – really, you have to read
North’s intro to believe it—he is like Tevye the Milkman with all his
predilection to “on the other hands”!

The above is prelude to my main point, which is that those two “by the
books” usages in R&J are actually part of a larger pattern in the play, in
which we find* nine* usages of “book”. When I examined each one, it became
immediately apparent that this was not, as Larry Weiss suggested, a
mind-worm, mindless sort of repetition on Shakespeare’s part. Rather, it’s
clearly a subtly orchestrated, nine-part meditation on the word “book” as a
metaphor for a variety of themes, such as creativity/freedom vs. mechanical
expression, personality as a text to be read, bookishness vs. experience
(as per North’s Plutarch intro), etc.

I went into JSTOR, and quickly found two articles that pick up on this
theme. First, “Form and Formality in Romeo and Juliet” by Harry Levin
in *Shakespeare
Quarterly* 11/1 (Win. 1960), 3-11, quotes nearly all nine of those usages
of “book”, but, surprisingly, does not address them as a group, and only in
this one excerpt does Levin zero in on the thematics of “book” in R&J”:

“…Significantly Lady Capulet, broaching the theme of Paris in stiffly
appropriate couplets, has compared his face to a volume:

This precious BOOK of love, this unbound lover,

To beautify him only lacks a cover.

The fish lives in the sea, and 'tis much pride

The fair without the fair within to hide. (1.3)

That BOOKISH comparison, by emphasizing the letter at the expense of the
spirit, helps to lend Paris an aspect of unreality; to the Nurse, more
ingenuously, he is "a man of wax". Later Juliet will echo Lady Capulet's
metaphor, transferring it from Paris to Romeo:

Was ever BOOK containing such, vile matter

So fairly bound? (3.2)

Here, on having learned that Romeo has just slain Tybalt, she is undergoing
a crisis of doubt, a typically Shakespearian recognition of the difference
between appearance and reality. The fair without may not cover a fair
within, after all. Her unjustified accusations, leading up to her
rhetorical question, form a sequence of oxymoronic epithets:

"Beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical,…honorable villain!"

W. H. Auden, in a recent comment on these lines, cannot believe they would
come from a heroine who had been exclaiming shortly before:

"Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds... "

Yet Shakespeare has been perfectly consistent in suiting changes of style
to changes of mood. When Juliet feels at one with Romeo, her intonations
are genuine; when she feels at odds with him, they should be unconvincing.
The attraction of love is played off against the revulsion from BOOKS, and
coupled with the closely related themes of youth and haste, in one of
Romeo's long-drawn-out leavetakings:

Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their BOOKS;

But love from love, towards school with heavy looks. (2.2)

The school for these young lovers will be tragic experience. When Romeo,
assuming that Juliet is dead and contemplating his own death, recognizes
the corpse of Paris, he will extend the image to cover them both:

O give me thy hand, One writ with me in sour misfortune's BOOK! (5.3)

It was this recoil from BOOKISHNESS, together with the farewell to
compliment, that animated *Love's Labour's Lost*, where literary artifice
was so ingeniously deployed against itself, and Berowne was taught-by an
actual heroine named Rosaline-that the best BOOKS were women's eyes.” END

The other article, "At Thy Word": A Reading of *Romeo and Juliet* by Leslie
Brisman in *The Bulletin of the Midwest Modern Language Association*, Vol.
8, No. 1 (Spring, 1975), pp. 21-31, is spot-on, and does indeed address
that overarching theme in a number of interesting ways. Brisman’s article
is too thorough and wide-ranging to be excerpted from, I just recommend
that you download it and read it all the way through.

And finally, given that I have previously argued, in two blog posts I call
“The Satanic Shakespeare/Milton acrostic code in *Romeo & Juliet*”
http://tinyurl.com/mlap3do  http://tinyurl.com/k4gxf2t  ...that Milton’s
“SATAN” acrostic is based on the “SATAN” acrostics in both *Romeo & Juliet *AND
Brooke’s *Romeus & Juliet *as well, what I also found intriguing in
Brisman’s article were these insightful intuitions and ruminations with
which Brisman begins:

“In the balcony scene of *Romeo and Juliet*, the problem of name may be
taken as a shorthand for the multiple problems of originating action or
feeling in the context of family tradition or an inherited scheme more
generally. With characteristic and winning directness, Juliet pleads that
Romeo free himself:

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

For love to "originate," to come from lovers themselves and not be imposed
by their families or social setting, lovers must deny their fathers in some
sense, supplanting one understanding of their origin --biological and
social -- with the new beginning they make together. "Therefore," Genesis
says, "shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto
his wife: and they shall be one flesh." *Let us go back for a moment from
Juliet to the first named woman in Genesis, Eve. *Her name is not imposed
by God as father-creator but invented by Adam, who says, "This is now bone
of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman (ish-ah)
because she was taken out of man (ish)." In naming Eve, as in naming all
animal life, Adam exercises his power of origination, his ability to share
the creation with God. (In *Romeo and Juliet*, Mercutio, who embodies
something of the playwright's power of origination, returns Tybalt's name
to its cat nature and demands one of those nine lives. *In a play about
desire in a fallen world*, names are reconceived at the price of lives
exacted, not brought into being.) In Genesis, it is important that Eve is
conceived out of a need to originate that which Adam could name ishah,
could see as originating from him. Giving names to others, Adam discovers
his own desire…[quote from Genesis]

In *Romeo and Juliet*, Romeo does not sleep the night of the balcony scene
(as Friar Lawrence observes the next morning) and only in the tomb, when
both Adam ("from the earth") and his ishah (from man) are literally
returned to the earth can the lady both be taken from the man and rest with
him. Shakespeare seems to speed the temporal sequence of his plot-source to
further the sense that the tragic experience of the play is the dream of
love which must be compassed before waking too soon-as Juliet actually
does-to the fact of loss*. **Romeo and Juliet does not allude to the
Genesis story, but there is a significant way in which the creation of the
play is related to the kind of creation Adam could and Romeo would perform*

My only disagreement with Brisman is in his final sentence, above. I
believe that Shakespeare very much had the Biblical story of Adam and Eve
in mind as he wrote the characters of Romeo and Juliet; and, equally
important, I believe Milton was 350 years ahead of me on that point, and
that’s why, as I’ve also previously argued, Milton subtly alluded not only
to Romeo and Juliet in forming his own Adam and Eve, but also to
Shakespeare’s closet Satan, Friar Laurence, in forming his Satan!

Cheers, ARNIE

@JaneAustenCode on Twitter
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