A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Romeo and Juliet and the U of Penn


Two University of Pennsylvania students purposefully inserted themselves into the confined space beside a dormitory windowpane and proceeded (children, turn aside) to fornicate, their act visible to all who passed. The brazen pair did this on at least three separate occasions. They were of course photographed by anyone who had a camera, and one student uploaded his photographs on the internet. The university's flummoxed administration, after a month-long investigation, charged the internet uploader with sexual harassment.

Bardseye gives U of Penn credit for trying to uphold moral standards, but not for succeeding. The university was quickly forced to drop the charges, once it was brought to their attention that publishing so public an act is hardly harassment. Can bardseye viewers guess who wasn't charged? Why, the public fornicators, of course.

R: 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.
J: 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.
R: Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
J: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
R: O,then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
J: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
R: Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
(He kisses her.)

I have squished Romeo and Juliet's lines together to make more obvious to bardeye's viewers that their combined exchange adds up to a perfect sonnet.

A sonnet (Review for Newer Shakespeareans!) is a 14 line poem that follows an ABAB rhyme scheme – hand/this/ stand/kiss - that is repeated three times (3 x 4 = 12), followed by a concluding couplet - sake/take - (12 + 2 = 14). In Shakespeare's sonnets every line is written in iambic (duhDUM) pentameter (duh DUM times 5, or duhDUM duhDUM duhDUM duhDUM duhDUM – the standard meter for much, probably most of Shakespeare's writing. And while you should be aware of them, you shouldn't overemphasize the duhDUMs as you read).

Anyhoo, what's happening in the dormitory window of the Globe Theater's stage, is that R & J have just met, and they have made bold to place their palms against each other. Romeo says his unworthy hand is profaning the holy shrine of her hand, not that this stops him. He offers to make up for doing so by kissing her. Smooth. Juliet says, nothing like it, saints offer their hands to pilgrims to be touched, and the palms brought back by pilgrims returning from the Holy Land (palmers – a pun!), if touched to each other, would equal a symbolically holy kiss.

So, which form of romance more appeals to us, the University of Pennsylvania's or Shakespeare's? The question answers itself.

Note how the bard is careful to infuse his ultimate romance with an air of holiness, of sanctity. Along with some healthy masculine initiative in proceeding to first base:

R: ……. let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
J: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
R: Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.

Lips pray, and do so for the purpose of maintaining faith against the threat of despair, Romeo says. Juliet reminds him that saints (and remember they have decided that her palm is a saint's and his a pilgrim's) do not "move," meaning they don't take the initiative the way Romeo obviously wants to, but instead they grant grace, or intercede with G-d, in answer only to prayers. Romeo says, well, since you're the saint, you should move not, while my pilgrim's prayer (to kiss Juliet, of course) is answered.

And so do Romeo and Juliet leave the University of Pennsylvania fornicators in the dust, or rather in the window.

* * * * * * * *

Here's a recommended link to the Carnival of Satire.

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