REVIEW
Mahood, M. M. "Romeo and Juliet."
Shakespeare's Wordplay. London: Methuen, 1957. 56-72. Rptd. in Romeo and Juliet: Critical Essays. Ed. John F. Andrews. New York: Garland, 1993. 55-71.

Thesis: The strongest expression of Mahood's viewpoint appears in the last paragraph of her essay:

It is the perogative of poetry to give effect and value to incompatible meanings. In Romeo and Juliet, several poetic means contribute to this end: the paradox, the recurrent image, the juxtaposition of old and young in such a way that we are both absorbed by and aloof from the lovers' feelings, and the sparkling wordplay. By such means Shakespeare ensures that our final emotion is neither the satisfaction we should feel in the lovers' death if the play were a simple expression of the Liebestod theme, nor the dismay of seeing two lives thwarted and destroyed by vicious fates, but a tragic equilibrium which includes and transcends both these feelings.   (69)
In the body of the essay Mahood supports her ideas by examination of Shakespeare's wordplay.

A Question: Here's an example of Mahood's method of analysis:

Romeo's first appraisal of Juliet's beauty is rich not only in its unforgettable images but also in the subtlety of its wordplay. Hers is a 'Bewtie too rich for vse, for earth too deare'. When we recall that use means 'employment', 'interest' and 'wear and tear', that earth means both 'mortal life' and 'the grave', that dear can be either 'cherished' or 'costly' and that there is possibly a play upon beauty and booty (as there is in Henry IV part 1, I.ii.28), the line's range of meanings becomes very wide indeed. Over and above the contrast between her family's valuation of her as sound stock in the marriage market and Romeo's estimate that she is beyond all price, the words contain a self-contradictory dramatic irony. Juliet's beauty is too rich for use in the sense that it will be laid in the tomb after a brief enjoyment, but for that very reason it will never be faded and worn. And if she is not too dear for earth since Romeo's love is powerless to keep her out of the tomb, it is true that she is too rare a creature for mortal life. Not all these meanings are consciously present to the audience, but beneath the conscious level they connect with later images and quibbles and are thus brought into play before the tragedy is over.   (61)
How do we know what happens "beneath the conscious level" of the audience?

A Persuasive Point:

All the Petrarchan and anti-Petrarchan conventions are thus presented to us in this first scene: love as malady, as worship, as war, as conquest. They are presented, however, with an exaggeration that suggests Romeo is already aware of his own absurdity and is 'posing at posing'. 'Where shall we dine?' is a most unlover-like question which gives the show away; and Benvolio's use of 'in sadnesse' implies that he knows Romeo's infatuation to be nine parts show. Romeo is in fact ready to be weaned from Rosaline . . . .   (59)
Bottom Line: Very worthwhile.


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   Author: Philip Weller
   Last Modified: 2 April 2002