Numbers: Midpoint… Dead Center

Using Professor Rodes’ midpoint theory , let’s take a look at Romeo and Juliet.

There are 3004 lines in this play, which puts the midpoint at line 1502, which is 118 lines into Act Three, Scene One. And for the first time in the Canon, the crucial line is not within twenty lines in either direction of the midpoint.

It IS the midpoint.

The feud has been raging. The lovers have met. The lovers have married. Tybalt has insulted and challenged Romeo, who has tried to diffuse the situation, only to have his friend Mercutio take up the fight for him. Tybalt has defeated and wounded (mortally) Mercutio, and fled. Benvolio has taken Mercutio off stage, only to return with the news that Mercutio is dead.

At this moment, at this very moment, at this midpoint, Romeo sees the fate that lay ahead,

This day's black fate on more days doth depend;
This but begins the woe others must end.

— III.i.118-119

This line ties today’s, Monday’s, “black fate,” the death of his friend completely wiping the joy of his wedding just an hour before, to the desolation that the next two and a half days will bring. He knows that today’s problems don’t end today; they will end only with more sorrow in the days to come.

If you read yesterday’s blog entry, you know what I think is the most important concept in the play: Time. And here it is, with “day’s” and “days” both stressed in the line (“days” as the first syllable of a trochaic foot).

Consider:

This is the midpoint of the play. It is roughly 30 hours after the play began. If the first half has been at a breakneck pace, then the second half will rocket by even faster, as over 60 more hours will elapse before the close of the play. Time is the key to the play, and this is the point at which that key turns and the fates are locked in place.

The possibility of comedy (in the true, marital not humorous sense of the word) ends. With the death of Mercutio, the bawdy and highflying speeches of the play are gone. Within sixty lines, we will hear the final words of Benvolio, and active goodwill (as his name befits) will go with him. We will be left only with the desperate plans of the Friar and the betrayal of the Nurse.

Fun and love are gone, only to be replaced with black fate and woe.

It is the perfect midpoint.

Comment?