Study Guide

Romeo and Juliet Art and Culture

By William Shakespeare

Art and Culture

Act 1, Scene 1
Romeo

ROMEO
Well, in that hit you miss. She'll not be hit
With Cupid's arrow. She hath Dian's wit,
And, in strong proof of chastity well armed,
From love's weak childish bow she lives uncharmed.
She will not stay the siege of loving terms,
Nor bide th' encounter of assailing eyes,
(1.1.216-221)

Romeo's whining about Rosaline's celibacy, but that's not the interesting part. The interesting part is the way he goes about describing love and sex with the language of hunting and battle. Rosaline, he says, won't be "hit with Cupid's arrow" because she's "well arm'd" against his romantic advances. (Romeo also compares Rosaline to Diana, goddess of hunting and of chastity.) Romeo's sexual advances ("loving terms") are also likened to a "siege" (an attack). This conceit (elaborate metaphor) is pretty typical of romantic poetry. Compare Romeo's lines to the following love poem from Edmund Spenser's Amoretti, a collection of poems first published in 1595. (Psst. It's NOT about deer hunting.)

Like as a huntsman after weary chase,
Seeing the game from him escap'd away,
Sits down to rest him in some shady place,
With panting hounds beguiled of their prey:
So after long pursuit and vain assay,
When I all weary had the chase forsook,
The gentle deer return'd the self-same way,
Thinking to quench her thirst at the next brook.
There she beholding me with milder look,
Sought not to fly, but fearless still did bide:
Till I in hand her yet half trembling took,
And with her own goodwill her firmly tied.
Strange thing, me seem'd, to see a beast so wild,
So goodly won, with her own will beguil'd. (Amoretti LXVII)

ROMEO
O, she is rich in beauty, only poor
That, when she dies, with beauty dies her store.
BENVOLIO
Then she hath sworn that she will still live chaste?
ROMEO
She hath, and in that sparing makes huge waste;
For beauty starved with her severity,
Cuts beauty off from all posterity. (1.1.223-228)

According to Romeo, Rosaline is beautiful, and therefore "rich" in beauty. But, because she refuses to get married and have kids, she'll die "poor" because her riches (her "beauty") will be buried with her and will therefore, "waste[d]." A similar idea occurs in Shakespeare's Sonnet 4, where Shakespeare uses a monetary metaphor to convince a good-looking young man who hoards his beauty (by not having kids) that, if he dies without producing children, his "unus'd beauty must be tomb'd with [him]."

Act 1, Scene 2
Benvolio Montague

BENVOLIO
Why Romeo, art thou mad?
ROMEO
Not mad, but bound more than a madman is,
Shut up in prison, kept without my food,
Whipped and tormented and good e'en, good
   fellow.
(1.2.56-60)

Does this sound a little cliché? It did in the sixteenth century, too. When Romeo talks about his love for Rosaline, he acts and sounds like a typical "Petrarchan lover," one who is "imprisoned" and tormented" by his unrequited love for an unavailable woman. Petrarch, by the way, was a fourteenth-century Italian poet whose sonnets were all the rage in Renaissance England. Much of Petrarch's love poetry was written about "Laura," a figure as unavailable and unattainable as Romeo's.

Act 1, Scene 3
Lady Capulet

LADY CAPULET
What say you? can you love the gentleman?
This night you shall behold him at our feast.
Read o'er the volume of young Paris' face,
And find delight writ there with beauty's pen.
Examine every married lineament
And see how one another lends content,
And what obscured in this fair volume lies
Find written in the margent of his eyes.
This precious book of love, this unbound lover,
To beautify him only lacks a cover.
The fish lives in the sea, and 'tis much pride
For fair without the fair within to hide.
That book in many's eyes doth share the glory
That in gold clasps locks in the golden story.
So shall you share all that he doth possess
By having him, making yourself no less.
(1.3.85-100)

Here, Lady Capulet instructs Juliet to check out Paris when she's at the Capulet's ball later that evening so she can decide whether or not she likes what she sees. What's interesting about this passage is the way Lady Capulet compares Paris's face to the cover of a book of love poetry that Juliet can "read." When she calls Paris an "unbound" lover, she puns on Paris's status as an unbound, or unmarried, man who "lacks a cover," or a wife, to "bind" him and enrich his beauty.

Brain Snack: In the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet, director Baz Luhrmann makes Lady Capulet's metaphor literal by placing a picture of Paris's face on the cover of a popular magazine.

Act 1, Scene 5
Romeo

ROMEO [1st Quatrain (4 lines)]
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.

JULIET [2nd Quatrain (4 lines)]
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.

ROMEO 3rd [Quatrain (4 lines)]
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
JULIET
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
ROMEO
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do.
They pray: grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET [Rhymed Couplet (2 lines)]
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
ROMEO
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
(1.5.04-117)

This dialogue Romeo and Juliet forms a near perfect Shakespearean sonnet (a popular poetic form). A Shakespearean (a.k.a. an English sonnet) has fourteen lines in iambic pentameter. There are three quatrains (groups of four lines), followed by a rhyming couplet (two lines) that wraps the poem up. Sonnets also feature a "turn" somewhere in the middle or in the final two lines, where the poem takes a new direction or changes its argument in some way. This change can be subtle or really obvious. Typically, the rhyme scheme of a Shakespearean sonnet is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG but, you'll notice that Shakespeare does something a bit more unusual here by repeating the rhyme "this" and "kiss" in the first and the second quatrains. So the rhyme scheme here is ABAB CBCB EFEF GG.

If you want to learn more about Shakespeare's sonnets, check out our discussion of Sonnet 18 and then come back.

ROMEO
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop'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 blessèd my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight,
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
(1.5.51-60)

Do you think this passage where Romeo compares Juliet to a "rich jewel" is good enough to stand on its own as a piece of poetry? So did John Gaugh, the author of a seventeenth-century version of "Dating for Dummies." In his 1639 book, The Academy of Compliments, Gough "borrows" Romeo's lines and places them in a poem he calls "Encomiums on the Beauty of his Mistress." You can compare Romeo's lines (above) to Gough's poem (courtesy of the Folger Shakespeare Library).

Act 2, Scene 1
Mercutio

MERCUTIO
Nay, I'll conjure too.
Romeo! Humors! Madman! Passion! Lover!
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh.
Speak but one rhyme, and I am satisfied.
Cry but 'Ay me,' pronounce but 'love' and
'dove.'
[…]
I must conjure him.—
I conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes,
By her high forehead, and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh,
And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,
That in thy likeness thou appear to us. (2.1.8-13, 19-24)

Here, Mercutio tries to flush Romeo out of his hiding spot in the Capulet's yard by mocking his crush on Rosaline. (Mercutio has no idea that Romeo has just fallen in love with Juliet.) When Mercutio pretends to be Rosaline calling to her "lover" Romeo and begging him to recite some love poetry ("speak but one rhyme"), he sounds like a typical schoolboy giving his buddy a hard time.

But then, Mercutio's teasing turns ugly as he proceeds to list Rosaline's body parts—her "bright eyes," "high forehead," "straight leg," "quivering thigh," and, finally, the genitals that are "adjacent" to her thigh. Basically, Mercutio's description of Rosaline is a dirty version of what's called a "blazon," a poetic technique that catalogues a woman's body parts (and often makes comparisons between said body parts and yummy things in nature—lips like cherries, breasts like melons, etc.). Shakespeare likes to mock this poetic convention. Compare Mercutio's lines (above) to Sonnet 130.

Act 2, Scene 2
Romeo

ROMEO
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou her maid, art far more fair than she:
[…]
It is my lady. O, it is my love!
O, that she knew she were!
She speaks yet she says nothing. What of that?
Her eye discourses; I will answer it.
I am too bold. 'Tis not to me she speaks.
Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
(2.2.3-6; 10-17)

When Romeo waxes poetic about Juliet here, he elevates her to heavenly status by first equating her with the "sun" and then by comparing her eyes to stars that "twinkle" in the skies. It's marginally better than a pickup line ("Was your father a thief? Because he must have stolen the stars to put them in your eyes"), but not much.

ROMEO
I pray thee, chide me not. Her I love now
Doth grace for grace and love for love allow.
The other did not so.

FRIAR LAURENCE
O, she knew well
Thy love did read by rote and could not spell.
But come, young waverer, come, go with me, (2.3.91-96)

Friar Laurence is pretty skeptical when he hears that Romeo has forgotten all about Rosaline and is now in love with Juliet. Not only that, but the Friar makes fun of Romeo, for reciting ("by rote") cheesy and meaningless love poetry to Rosaline rather than being able to "spell" or read it himself.

Juliet

JULIET
My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep. The more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite. (2.2.140-142)

Uh, Hallmark? We know that Juliet is sincere when she says her love is "as deep" as the ocean, but, for those of us living in the 21st century, the expression has become a cliché.