From Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
*Line numbers have been adjusted due to Deighton's omission of Mercutio's suggestive lines [the bawdy hand...(90) and no hare...spent (105-112)].
1. Where ... should ... be? where can this troublesome fellow,
Romeo, possibly have got to?
3. man, servant.
4. pale, a depreciatory epithet, as Capulet below, iii. 5. 158,
calls Juliet "tallow-face."
11, 2. Nay, he will answer ... dared, nay, he will not merely
answer the letter in writing, but will answer its writer in person,
and show him what he dares do being challenged; for answer, =
meet in combat, cp. A. C. iii. 13. 27, "And answer me declined,
sword against sword." For the play on the two senses of dare,
Delius compares ii. H. VI. iii. 2. 203, "What dares not Warwick,
if false Suffolk dare him?"
13. he is already dead, i.e. and therefore there is no need for
Tybalt to challenge him.
15. pin, centre; literally the wooden peg by which the target
was fastened to the mark at archery practice.
16. butt-shaft, arrow used in shooting at the butts; a butt was
properly a mound or erection on which the target was set up, O. F. but, a goal: a man, the proper sort of person, seeing what
his condition is.
17. Why, what is Tybalt? why, what is there about Tybalt
that is so terrible?
18. prince of cats. "Tybert is the name given to the cat in
Reynard the Fox" (Warburton); and that name, or Tibalt, is in
old writers frequently used of cats.
18, 9. he's the courageous ... compliments, he is at the head of
the troop of valiant formalists, men versed in all the nicest forms
19, 20. as you sing prick-song, with the minutest attention to
every detail; prick-song, "harmony pricked or noted down, in
opposition to plain-song, where the descant rested with the will
of the singer" (Chappell's Popular Music of the Olden Time, etc.,
quoted by Dyce).
20, 1. rests me ... bosom, poises his weapon during the time
that a musician could count one, two, and by the time that he
could count three, has it right through you; a rest is a pause in
musical time, and a minim, formerly spelled minum, was once the
shortest note, from Lat. minimum, the least. For one, two, cp.
Temp. iv. 1. 44, 5, "Before you can say 'come' and 'go,' And
breathe twice and cry 'so, so.'
21, 2. the very ... button, one who in fencing can hit a button
with as much certainty as a butcher can stick a pig. Staunton
quotes Silver's Paradoxes of Defence, 1599, "thou that takest
upon thee to hit anie Englishman with a thrust upon anie
22, 3. a gentleman ... cause, "a gentleman of the first rank, of
the first eminence among these duellists, and one who understands
the whole science of quarrelling, and will tell you of the first cause
and the second cause for which a man is to fight" (Steevens).
These causes are wittily ridiculed in A. Y. L. v. 4. 51, et seqq.
24. the immortal ... reverso. "The passado, more properly passata, meant a step forward or aside in fencing. ... The punto reverso was also an Italian term, meaning a back-handed stroke" (Staunton): the hai. "The hay is the [Italian] word hai, used when a thrust reaches the antagonist" (Johnson).
26. fantasticoes, fantastic fellows with their duelling jargon.
27. these new tuners of accents, these fellows who are ever introducing new terms: a very good blade! a fine fencer! the
weapon being put for the wielder of it.
28. tall, lusty, spirited; in this sense a term generally used
by Shakespeare either with irony, or as a piece of bragging, or
put into the mouth of mean persons; cp. the phrase " a tall man
of his hands," M. W. i. 4. 26; "a tall fellow of thy hands," W. T.
V. 2. 177.
29. grandsire, my staid, sober friend.
29, 30. these strange flies, this new kind of buzzing insects,
these fellows who are here, there, and everywhere with their incessant chatter; cp. Haml. v. 2. 84: fashion-mongers, fellows
who are forever inventing some new fashion or other: these pardonnez-moys, these fellows with their everlasting affectation of
courtesy; these fellows who ever have on their lips the phrase
pardonnez moy, excuse me.
31. Stand ... form, are so punctilious in observing the new
formalities; with a pun on form in the sense of a long wooden
32. Oh, their bons, their bons! oh, how sick I am of their
eternal exclamation of bon! i.e. good. The old copies give 'their
bones, their bones,' and though Theobald's correction is almost
certainly right, there is probably a pun on bones in allusion to
the former sentence.
34. Without his roe. "That is, he comes but half himself - he
is only a sigh — O me! i.e. me O! the half of his name" (Seymour):
like a dried herring, from which, before it was dried, the roe had
been taken out to be preserved separately.
35. fishified, made like a fish: Now ... numbers, now is he
given up to such love-songs.
36. Laura, Petrarch's mistress, to whom so much of his poetry
is addressed: to, compared with.
37. marry, ... her, by the holy Virgin, she was more fortunate
than Rosaline in the poet who celebrated her perfections.
38. a dowdy, a mere slattern: a gipsy, a sun-burnt vagabond;
from M. E. Egypcien, an Egyptian, the gipsies, though really of
Indian origin, being formerly supposed to have come from Egypt.
Cleopatra, though by birth an Egyptian, was by descent Greek.
hildings, menial wretches. "Hilding is short for hilderling
and hilderling stands for M. E. hinderling, base, degenerate"...
(Skeat, Ety. Dict.).
39. a grey eye ... purpose, a lady whose grey eyes were fairly
good, but nothing to be compared with those of Rosaline.
41. slop, baggy trousers; more commonly in the plural, as in
M. A. iii. 2. 36, "a German from the waist downward, all
slops"; ii. II. IV. i. 2. 34, "What said Master Dombledon
about the satin for my short cloak and my slops?"
44. The slip ... conceive, why, the slip; are you so dull that
you cannot see my little joke? slips were pieces of counterfeit
money, brass covered over with silver, and to 'give one the slip'
is to play one the trick of stealing away unnoticed.
45. great, important.
46. may strain courtesy, may be forgiven if he does not stand
48. to bow in the hams, to be particularly polite; to bow low
in respect to the knee, to curtsy, as Romeo interprets the phrase,
not to treat us as you did.
50. Thou hast ... it, "your reply was of a piece with my speech" (Grant White); but though kindly is primarily used as
= of the same kind, or sort, the way in which "courtesy" and
"courteous" are insisted upon shows that there is a play upon
the other sense of the word.
53. Pink for flower, by pink you mean flower; you are using
the species for the genus.
55. then is ... flowered, then is my court-shoe well flowered,
ornamented, for it is pinked (i.e. punched with holes in patterns)
abundantly. This 'pinking' is still to be seen in ladies' shoes;
pump, so called because worn for pomp; from F. pompe, pomp,
56. follow me this jest, cap this jest for me by another, and
another, till, etc.
57. the single sole of it, pumps are made with thin, or single,
soles to give lightness in dancing.
57, 8. that, when ... singular, that, when its thin sole is worn
out, there may remain nothing but the bare feet. Mercutio's
jest is something like the phantom grin of the Cheshire cat in
Alice in Wonderland, and to try to embody his wit as the
weaving of coarse canvas out of the spider's web.
59. O single-soled ... singleness! O threadbare feet, unique
only in being so silly! Singer has shown that single-soled or
'single-souled' was often used for 'simple,' 'silly,' and sometimes meant 'threadbare.' He quotes from Cotgrave, "Monsieur
de trois au boissean et de trois a un epee: a threadbare, coarse-spun, single-soled gentleman."
60. my wits faint. This, the reading of the later quartos and
the first folio, seems better than that of the first quarto more
generally adopted, "my wits fail."
61,2. Switch ... match, give me whip and spurs, whip and
spurs; for I'll cry 'Done with you!' I'll make a match with
you, enter myself for a race against you. I have adopted
Capell's for in place of 'or,' the reading of the old copies, since
an alternative seems to make nonsense of the passage.
63. the wild-goose chase. " A kind of horse race which resembled the flight of wild geese [which fly in a long stream,
marshalled by one of the older birds]. Two horses started
together; and whichever rider could get the lead, the other was
obliged to follow him over whatever ground the foremost jockey
chose to go. That horse which could distance the other won
the race" ... (Holt White). The references to this kind of
'steeple-chase' are frequent in the old dramatists.
65, 6. was I ... goose? did I touch you there in my reference
to the goose? did you feel that the cap fitted you when I mentioned the word goose? The expression, 'to be here, or there,
with' a person seems to have been especially used of contemptuous
exclamations, gestures, etc.; thus in W. T. i. 2. 217, "They're
here with me already, whispering, rounding 'Silicia is a so-forth.'"
In Cor. iii. 2. 73, "here be with them" means 'here salute them
with a courteous wave of the bonnet.'
67, 8. Thou wast ... goose, you were never with me for any
purpose except that of playing the part of a goose; the words
with me being taken in their literal sense.
69. I will bite thee by the ear. "This odd mode of expressing
pleasure, which seems to be taken from the practice of animals,
who, in a playful mood, bite each other's ears, etc., is very
common in our old dramatists" (Giffbrd on Jonson's Every Man
out of his Humour, v. 4). Cp. e.g. Chapman, Byron's Tragedy,
V. 1, "let me draw Poison into me with this cursed air. If he bewitched me and transformed me not; He hit me by the ear and
made me drink Enchanted waters."
70. bite not, according to Steevens a proverbial saying.
71. sweeting, an apple of that name, remarkable for its sweetness, which is still grown about Stratford. Often used as a term
of endearment, as in Oth. ii. 3. 252, T. N. ii. 3. 43.
73. And is it not ... goose. An allusion to the apple sauce usual
with roast goose.
74. cheveril, kid leather, i.e. something very pliant, capable of being stretched; O. F. chevrele, kid, diminutive of chevre, from
capra, a she-goat. Cp. H. VIII. ii. 3. 32, "which gifts ... the
capacity Of your soft cheveril conscience would receive, If you
might please to stretch it."
76. for that word 'broad,' for the sake of bringing in that
word 'broad.' "What Romeo means," says Collier, "is that Mercutio has proved himself 'far and wide abroad' a goose";
possibly as Singer suggests Romeo is playing on the term 'brood-goose,' i.e. a brooding-goose, which we have in Beaumont and
Fletcher's Humorous Lieutenant, iii. 1. 54, "They have no more
burden than a brood-goose, brother."
80. by art ... nature, not merely your natural self, but yourself
improved by art, i.e. by the cultivation of your natural wit.
81. a great natural, a loutish idiot; one born a fool; cp.
A. Y. L. i. 2. 52, "when Fortune makes Nature's natural the
cutter-off of Nature's wit," referring to the professional Fool,
Touchstone; also 1. 57, "hath sent this natural for our whetstone."
82. bauble, the Fool's sceptre, a short stick ornamented at the
top with a fool's head, or a doll; or sometimes an inflated
bladder with which the Fool belaboured those who offended him.
84. against the hair, against the grain, with a pun on the word
tale (tail); T. C. i. 2. 27, "he is melancholy without cause, and
merry against the hair"; M. W. ii. 3. 41, "if you should fight,
you go against the hair of your professions."
88. to occupy the argument, to take part in the discussion; to
occupy, a cant term; see ii. H. IV. ii. 4. 161, "these villains
will make the word as odious as the word 'occupy'; which was
an excellent good word before it was ill sorted."
89. Here's goodly gear! here's a pretty business! said as he
sees the Nurse approaching; but also with a play on the word
gear in the sense of 'dress,' here's a fine object! Cp. L. L. L.
V. 2. 303, "Disguised like Muscovites, in shapeless gear." The
original sense of the word is 'preparation,' hence 'dress,' 'harness,' 'tackle.'
90. A sail, a sail! the exclamation of the watch at sea when a
strange vessel is seen approaching. Cp. Samson's sarcastic
exclamation as he sees Dalila approaching in all her finery,
Samson Agonistes, 710, et seqq., "But who is this, what thing of
sea or land? Female of sex it seems. That, so bedecked, ornate,
and gay, Comes this way, sailing Like a stately ship Of Tarsus,
bound for the isles of Javan or Gadire, With all her bravery on,
and tackle trim, Sails filled, and streamers waving," etc.
91. a shirt and a smock, a man and a woman; the undergarment of each being used for the persons.
93. Anon! here! present.
94. My fan. The commentators point out that the fans of those
days were very large and might well require a man to carry them.
95. Good Peter, ... face, do, good Peter, give it to her, etc.
97. God ye ... gentlemen, see note on i. 2. 57.
99. Is it good den? is it so late as that? is it past noon, that
one ought to say 'good even'?
105. I am the youngest ... worse, I am that young Romeo you seek, the youngest in fact of those who bear that name, in
the absence of any less worthy of it. Romeo jestingly alters the
ordinary form of excuse, 'for fault of a better.'
107. is the worst well? does this 'worst,' as Romeo by inference calls himself, satisfy you? took, understood.
109. confidence, conference; as in M. A. iii. 5. 3, "Marry, sir, I would have some confidence with you that decerns you nearly"
(Dogberry's speech); and again M. W. i. 4. 172.
110. indite, invite; which the first quarto reads, though the
word is doubtless Benvolio's mocking imitation of the Nurse's
113, 4. lady, lady, lady, the burden of the Ballad of Susanna,
of which Staunton quotes a stanza from Percy's Reliques.
116. merchant, formerly used in a contemptuous sense, like the
modern 'huckster': ropery, possibly only the Nurse's mistake
for 'roguery,' though the word was commonly used for roguery,
mischief, with an allusion to the hangman's rope; so also 'rope-
tricks,' 'rope-ripe,' 'roper.'
118. stand to, maintain.
120. a', he; in Old Englishha and a are sometimes found = he,
she, it, they; a' is common in the old dramatists, and we even
find 'am for them, e.g. Middleton, The Phoenix, ii. 2, "Should
still affect 'am. "
120, 1. I'll take him down, I'll make him pay for it: an a' ... is,
and would do so even if it were, etc.: Jacks, saucy fellows; so
"a Jack-sauce," II. V. iv. 7. 148. Skeat quotes Tyrwhitt on
Chaucer's 'Sir John': "I know not how it has happened that in
the principal modern languages, John, or its equivalent, is a name
of contempt, or at least of slight. So the Italians use Gianni,
from whence Zani; the Spaniards Juan, as bobo Juan, a foolish
John; the French Jean, with various additions; and in English,
when we call a man a John, we do not mean it as a title of
122. Scurvy, literally afflicted with scurf, hence mean, vile.
123. flirt-gills. "An arbitrary transposition of the compound
word gill-flirt, that is a flirting-gill, a woman of light behaviour ...
Gill was a current and familiar term for a female"... (Nares):
skains-mates. "The word skain, I am told by a Kentishman, was
formerly a familiar term in parts of Kent to express what we now
call a scape-grace, or ne'er-do-well .... Others derive the word from skean, a
sword, and mate, companion, i.e. brothers of the sword, roystering companions, with which Schmidt compares the G. spiesgeselle.
124, 5. And thou ... pleasure, and you could stand there could
you, and allow me to be insulted as any scoundrel chose! shame
on you for your cowardice!
133. what she hade ... myself. Distrusting Romeo's attendant,
the Nurse comes to the conclusion that she cannot better perform
her errand than by keeping back the very object of that errand.
134. a fool's paradise, a state of fallacious happiness. Milton, P. L. iii. 495, has a "Paradise of Fools" which he makes
identical with the Limbo to which he consigns all popish observances, insignia, and their wearers.
138. weak dealing. 'Wicked' has been suggested for weak, but
the point seems to lie, as Clarke observes, in the Nurse's intending to use a most forcible expression, and blundering upon a
most feeble one. Fleay, apud Daniel, suggests that, if any
change is needed, the old word wicke, still in use in the midland
counties in the sense of foul, wicked, should be adopted.
139. commend me, give my best compliments; literally recommend me to her favour (by bearing my loving greetings).
141. Good heart, my good fellow; a form of familiar address,
like 'poor heart,' 'old heart,' 'noble heart.'
152. Go to, nonsense, you must.
156. a tackled stair, a rope ladder; like the ratlines or ratlins
of a vessel, the small transverse ropes across the shrouds forming
157, 8. which to the high ... secret, by which I must in the
darkness of night convoy myself to the summit, pinnacle, of my happiness; the 'top-gallant sail' in a vessel is the sail above the
top-sail, and the nautical figure in top-gallant and convoy is
suggested to Romeo's mind by the "tackled stair."
159. quit, requite; as very frequently in Shakespeare, both in
a good and a bad sense.
164. Two may keep ... away, two may keep a secret, if one is
168, 9. that would ... aboard, that would be only too glad to
'get a cut at her,' to make her his own: lieve, gladly; lieve, or
lief, like "fain" in the previous line, is properly an adjective
meaning dear, pleasing.
170. sometimes. "But a few hours have in fact elapsed since
last night's interview between the lovers, yet the dramatic effect
of a longer period is thus given to the interval by the introduction of the single word 'sometimes'" (Clarke): and tell her, by
telling her: properer, handsomer; proper, Lat. proprius, one's
own, then what becomes a man, and so handsome.
172. versal, universal.
173. Doth. An instance of the singular inflection preceding a
plural subject: a letter, one and the same letter: rosemary, in
Haml. ii. 5. 175, Ophelia says, "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance," to which adage Juliet in her "prettiest sententious
of it" was probably referring; the word has nothing to do with
either the flower or with the name Mary, being from the Lat.
ros marinus, dew of the sea, i.e. the plant that delights in the
spray of the sea.
175. that's the dog's name. From its resemblance to the snarling
of a dog, the letter R was by the Romans called 'the dog's letter,'
and Jonson in his English grammar says "R is the dog's letter,
and hurreth in the sound." The Nurse having heard the adage,
substitutes name for letter.
175, 6. R is for the — No; ...letter, R is for the dog, she was
going to say, but breaks off and continues, I know your name
does not begin with such an ugly sound. The old copies give
"R is for the no," which Tyrwhitt emended "R is for the dog,
No"; the reading in the text is Ritson's conjecture.
176, 7. she hath ... of it, she frames the prettiest sentences or
sentiments about it.
182. apace, quickly; "at an earlier period the word was
written as two words, a pas, as in Chaucer.... It is also to be
remarked that the phrase has widely changed its meaning. In
Chaucer ... it means 'a foot-pace,' and was originally used of
horses when proceeding slowly, or at a walk. The phrase is composed of the Eng. indef. article a, and the M. E. pas, Mod. E.
pace, a word of F. origin" (Skeat, Ety. Dict.).
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/romeo_2_4.html >.