What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me; no, nor woman neither.
Perhaps the greatest threat to Mercutio’s hopes, had he been alive to hear them, lies in Juliet’s words to the departing Romeo: ‘Art thou gone so, love, lord, ay husband, friend.’ The emergent cultural value of loving marriage changed the terms of the relationship between the couple. Partners were now friends too; a spouse was beginning to take up most of the emotional space available. Medieval chivalry had put a high premium on relations between men; a loyal companion could be relied on to help a warrior off the battlefield and send for a surgeon. And in peace a friend was there to share good news and bad. In Francis Bacon’s words, ‘this communicating of a man’s self to his friend works two contrary effects; for it redoubleth joys, and cutteth griefs and halfs.’ Cornwallis went further. As sceptical towards romance as Mercutio, he maintained that real love could exist only between people of the same sex, since relationships between men and women were contaminated by desire. Stories in wide circulation in the sixteenth century, but not remembered only by cultural historians, celebrated the model friendships between men: Titus and Gisippus, Damon and Pithias. But if medieval elite couples once entered into arranged marriages and spent their days in separate chambers, each with a same-sex retinue of knights or ladies in waiting, early modern married couples increasingly expected to be companions and friends, as well as lovers. To the degree that she too is Romeo’s friend, Juliet unwittingly supplants Mercutio.
Catherine Belsey, Romeo and Juliet: Language and Writing.
This is the excellent foppery of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune, often the surfeit of our own behaviour, we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars; as if we were villains on necessity; fools by heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and treachers by spherical predominance; drunkards, liars, and adulterers by an enforced obedience of planetary influence; and all that we are evil in, by a divine thrusting on. An admirable evasion of whore-master man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star! My father compounded with my mother under the Dragon’s Tail, and my nativity was under Ursa Major, so that it follows I am rough and lecherous. Fut! I should have been that I am, had the maidenliest star in the firmament twinkled on my bastardizing.
JULIET: I have forgot why I did call thee back.
ROMEO: Let me stand here till thou remember it.
JULIET: I shall forget, to have thee still stand there,
Remembering how I love thy company.
ROMEO: And I’ll still stay, to have thee still forget,
Forgetting any other home but this.