February 14, 2017
Happy Valentine’s Day to all lovers. What more beautiful way to think about romance, love, and how you feel about your Valentine. To celebrate love and romance here is the passage from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet when Romeo first casts eyes on Juliet.
It’s at the masquerade party at the Capulet which Romeo has crashed. Across the way he sees young Juliet and immediately is striken with Cupid’s arrow—as is she. He asks the passing server:
[To a Servingman] What lady is that, which doth
enrich the hand
Of yonder knight?
I know not, sir.
No name, but he stares across the way anyway, and his fiery passion begins its consummation of his heart.
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.
But on the other side of the hall some of the Capulets begin to notice the young Romeo, son of their bitter enemy. Romeo edges closer. They watch as he confronts his newfound love in a way only young lovers have. He touches her hand. She too has been watching him and she feels his hand with similar ardor.
[To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
Here Shakespeare gives speech to the young lovers in the form of a sonnet. A sonnet from the master of love sonnets. These are the first words exchanged between the lovers. Romeo is dressed as a pilgrim.
What is it that makes this passage stand out so much from the hurly burly of the party? What makes this speech so special that it is remembered by all as one of the greatest moments in dramatic history?
Look at the basic metaphor employed in the sonnet, and notice how it affects the tone of the relationship flaring into flame between the lovers. And then, ah yes, there’s that famous play on words first with “and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss” and later with
“Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake./ Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.”
As their palms kiss and as both realize the turmoil within their breasts for this very moment of their lives, so you, lovers young and old, take your beloved and kiss as if for the very first time in your lives. Happy Valentine’s Day.