Study Guide

Romeo and Juliet Sex

By William Shakespeare

Sex

Act 1, Scene 1
Romeo

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)

Romeo uses a metaphor of wealth and spending to suggest that Rosaline's vow of chastity is akin to hoarding ("sparing") her "rich[es]" (her "beauty). By refusing to have sex and, therefore, children who might carry on her legacy, Rosaline is basically "wast[ing]" her "beauty," which will "die" with her instead of living on in her children.

We see the same kind of metaphor at work in Shakespeare's "procreation" sonnets (Sonnets 1-17), where the poet urges his friend to have children instead of being miserly with his beauty.

Compare Romeo's speech above to Sonnet #4, below:

Unthrifty loveliness, why dost thou spend
Upon thyself thy beauty's legacy?
Nature's bequest gives nothing but doth lend,
And being frank she lends to those are free.
Then, beauteous niggard, why dost thou abuse
The bounteous largess given thee to give?
Profitless usurer, why dost thou use
So great a sum of sums, yet canst not live?
For having traffic with thyself alone,
Thou of thyself thy sweet self dost deceive.
Then how, when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable audit canst thou leave?
Thy unused beauty must be tomb'd with thee,
Which, used, lives th' executor to be. (Sonnet #4)

We're pretty sure there's some version of this pickup line still in use today.

SAMPSON
'Tis true, and therefore women, being the  
weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall. Therefore
I will push Montague's men from the wall, and
thrust his maids to the wall. 
GREGORY
The quarrel is between our masters and us
their men.
SAMPSON
'Tis all one. I will show myself a tyrant.
When I have fought with the men, I will be civil
with the maids; and cut off their heads. 
GREGORY
The heads of the maids?
SAMPSON
Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads.
Take it in what sense thou wilt.
(1.1.16-27)

Sampson and Gregory equate sex with violence and aggression. Here, Sampson crudely puns on the term "maidenhead" (virginity) when he equates sword fighting with men with raping women.

GREGORY
The quarrel is between our masters and us
their men.

SAMPSON
'Tis all one. I will show myself a tyrant.
When I have fought with the men, I will be civil
with the maids; I will cut off their heads.

GREGORY
The heads of the maids?

SAMPSON
Ay, the heads of the maids, or their maidenheads.
Take it in what sense thou wilt.
(1.1.20-27)

Sampson and Gregory might as well be scrawling this on a bathroom door: Sampson crudely puns on the term "maidenhead" (virginity) by equating sword fighting with rape.

Act 1, Scene 4
Mercutio

MERCUTIO
O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone
On the forefinger of an alderman, […]
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love; […]
O'er ladies' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are. […]
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she—  
(1.4.58-61; 75-76; 79-81; 97-100)

Mercutio equates sexuality with a madness that visits people in dreams. Sexuality is also interpreted as oppressive, with Queen Mab – the love-fairy – weighing down virgins while they sleep.

Act 2, Scene 1
Mercutio

MERCUTIO
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.'
Speak to my gossip Venus one fair word,
One nickname for her purblind son and heir,
Young Adam Cupid, he that shot so trim
When King Cophetua loved the beggar maid.—
He heareth not, he stirreth not, he moveth not.
The ape is dead, and 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.
(2.1.9-24)

Mercutio mocks love, reducing Romeo's supposed love for Rosaline to mere lust.

MERCUTIO
If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone.—
O Romeo, that she were, O, that she were
An open-arse, thou a pop'rin pear.
(2.1.36-41)

What, you don't get why this is funny? Let us explain: A "medlar" is a fruit that looks—to the Elizabethans, at least, like a certain body part—so much so, that they called it an "open-arse" (which would almost certainly have meant female genitalia, and not what we'd associated with "arse.") And then there's the "open et caetera," which means, well, an open vagina; and a "poperin pear," which sounds suspiciously like "pop-her-in." In other words, Mercutio wishes Romeo's mistress were sexually available to him.

MERCUTIO
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.
(2.1.20-24)

We managed to read this without blushing, but Mercutio is actually being pretty insulting here: he's breaking Rosaline down into parts like the popular poetic blazon http://www.ic.arizona.edu/ic/mcbride/ws200/renlyric.htm, but he's being dirty about it. The "demesnes" that like "adjacent" to her "quivering thigh" are her genitals. (Makes you wonder if the people assigning Romeo and Juliet in high school actually understand Shakespeare, doesn't it?)

Benvolio Montague

BENVOLIO 
Blind is his love and best befits the dark.
MERCUTIO
If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.—
Romeo, that she were, O, that she were
An open-arse, thou a pop'rin pear.
(2.1.36-41)

Mercutio reduces love to sex, using a crude fruit metaphor to show that sex itself is ridiculous.

Act 2, Scene 5
The Nurse

NURSE
Hie you to church. I must another way,
To fetch a ladder, by the which your love
Must climb a bird's nest soon when it is dark.
I am the drudge and toil in your delight,
But you shall bear the burden soon at night.
(2.5.77-81)

The Nurse says she'll "fetch a ladder" for Romeo to climb up so the lovers can spend their wedding night together, managing to turn her description of Romeo "climbing" the ladder into Juliet's "bird's nest" into an image of the kind of sex the couple is going to have later that night: Juliet will "bear the burden" of Romeo. (This is a lot creepier when you remember that the Nurse has practically raised Juliet.)

Act 3, Scene 2
Juliet

JULIET
Take up those cords.
                                 The Nurse picks up the rope ladder.
                                  Poor ropes, you are beguiled,
Both you and I, for Romeo is exiled.
He made you for a highway to my bed,
But I, a maid, die maiden-widowèd.
Come, cords—come, nurse. I'll to my wedding bed,
And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!
(3.2.144-150)

Right after Juliet hears that Romeo is exiled, she assumes that she's never going to get to have sex—which, apparently, is a fate worse than death. The literal meaning here is that "death"—i.e., the rotting of her body—will break her hymen. Nice image, right?

JULIET
Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,
That runaway's eyes may wink and Romeo
Leap to these arms, untalked of and unseen.
Lovers can see to do their amorous rites
By their own beauties, or, if love be blind,
It best agrees with night. Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match,
Play'd for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle till strange love grown bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
(3.2.5-16)

Juliet is really looking forward to her honeymoon night with Romeo and she's not afraid to say so. Although she anticipates that night's darkness will hide her blushing "cheeks" (as well as the physical evidence – "blood" – of her virginity), she doesn't seem shy about spending the night with her husband.

JULIET
Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle till strange love grown bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.
(3.2.10-16)

Juliet is really looking forward to her honeymoon night with Romeo and she's not afraid to say so. Although she anticipates that night's darkness will hide her blushing "cheeks" (as well as the physical evidence—"blood"—of her virginity), she doesn't seem shy about spending the night with her husband.

NURSE
And then my husband (God be with his soul,
A' was a merry man) took up the child.
'Yea,' quoth he, 'Dost thou fall upon thy face?
Thou wilt fall backward when thou hast more wit,
Wilt thou not, Jule?' And, by my holidam,
The pretty wretch left crying and said 'Ay.'
(1.3.43-48)

The Nurse is a lower-class woman in a Shakespeare play, which means that she thinks sex is mostly good for a few laughs. The problem? Her flippant attitude toward sex helps Romeo and Juliet end up dead.

Romeo

ROMEO
And stay, good nurse, behind the abbey wall.
Within this hour my man shall be with thee
And bring thee cords made like a tackled stair.
Which to the high topgallant of my joy
Must be my convoy in the secret night.
(2.4.190-194)

Romeo plans his wedding night with Juliet at the same time he plans the wedding itself. Sex and marriage go hand in hand for him—but he's not just a horny teenager. Sex and marriage went hand in hand for everyone. In fact, marriages weren't considered valid unless the two people had had sex (consummated it), so this is every bit as important as the actual ceremony with the Friar.

Mercutio

MERCUTIO
This [Queen Mab] is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage.
This is she—
(1.4.97-100)

Mercutio doesn't see much to laugh about. To him, sex is almost literally madness—and an oppressive one, like Queen Mab—the love-fairy—weighing down virgins while they sleep.