From Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
1. fast, sc. asleep.
2. slug-a-bed, slug in a bed, lazy creature; 'slug' being often
used as a type of laziness from its sleepy motion. The word
here, however, seems like a coinage of the Nurse, a compound of
'sluggard' and 'lie-abed.'
4. Marry, and amen, by the Virgin, blessed be her name;
amen, so be it, said as though in invoking the Virgin she had
implied a blessing on her name; the phrase occurs again in
i. H. IV. ii. 4. 128, though in the not very pious mouth of
6. take ... bed, catch you asleep.
7. Will it not be? can't I wake you?
8. down again, lying down again after you have got up and
9. I must ... you, I can't let you sleep on, however tired you
11. well-a-day, see note on iii. 2. 28.
13. What noise is here? what is the reason for all this noise here?
14. heavy, sorrowful, lamentable.
15. my only life, you who are everything in life to me.
18. For shame, why is there all this delay?
21. out, alas! Here out intensifies the exclamation of grief, and
has much the same sense of completeness as in Temp. iv. 1. 101,
"And be a boy right out"; Cor. iv. 5. 127, "thou hast beat me
out Twelve several times." Shakespeare has the phrase often,
e.g. M. W. iv. 5. 64, W. T. iv. 4. 110, and in Oth. v. 2. 119,
"Out, and alas!"
22. is settled, no longer flows freely in her veins.
28. Ties up ... speak. As Capulet immediately afterwards
breaks out into a passionate lament, Malone supposes that
Shakespeare, when writing this line, had in his mind the poem of Romeus and Juliet, in which, though the mother makes a long
speech, the father does not utter a word. But it was possible
for Capulet to be struck dumb at first and afterwards to find his
29. Come ... church? Staunton would give this line to Paris,
on the ground that at this juncture the Friar is too critically placed to be anxious to lead the conversation. He thinks, too,
that Capulet's answer tends to show that Paris had asked the
question. To me it seems clear that Capulet, in the first line of
his speech, briefly answers the Friar's question, and then turns
to Paris in the words " son," etc. The Friar had good reason
to be anxious to find out whether his potion had had its effects;
and Dyce well asks, "Would the deeply-enamoured Paris speak
of his Juliet merely as 'the bride'?"
36. living, my possessions, property; cp. W. T. iv. 3. 104,
"within a mile where my land and living lies"; M. V. iii. 2. 158,
V. i. 286. Capell made the unnecessary conjecture 'life-leaving' and has been followed by some editors.
37. thought long, been long and eagerly expecting.
41. In lasting labour, in the long toil; perhaps with an allusion to labour in the sense of 'pangs of childbirth,' as in A. G.
iii. 7. 81, "With news the time's with labour and throes forth, Each minute, some."
42. one poor. It seems doubtful wliether he means 'ill fated
wretch that she was,' or 'one only'; but in the following words,
one poor and loving child, poor is certainly used in the latter
sense, as in V. A. 207, "What were thy lips the worse for one
poor kiss?" and Cor. v. 1. 27, "For one poor grain or two."
43. to ... solace in, to find comfort in ; cp. Cymb. i. 6. 86, "To
hide me from the radiant sun, and solace I' the dungeon by a
44. catch'd, a form of the participle used again in L. L. L. v.
2. 69, A. W. i. 3. 176, and of the past tense in Cor. i. 3. 68.
45. woe, ... day. In this and the two following speeches,
Grant White thinks that Shakespeare was probably ridiculing
the translation of Seneca's tragedies, published in 1581. But
the lines do not seem out of place in the mouth of the speakers.
51. Beguiled, cheated; as more commonly in Shakespeare.
Nowadays the word more generally means to deceive pleasingly,
to drive away anything unpleasant by an agreeable delusion;
and in this sense also Shakespeare uses it, though less frequently.
54. not life ... death, not 'my life,' as I have so often called
you, but still in death my loved one.
55. Despised, treated by Fate with contumely: distressed, afflicted, a stronger sense than the word now usually has and
closer to its Latin source districtus, torn asunder, sc. by grief.
56. Uncomfortable, cheerless, joyless; but with more of an
active force than the word now has, and similar to "discomfortable" in R. II. iii. 2. 36, "Discomfortable cousin!"
57. our solemnity, see note on i. 5. 59.
5S. not my child, no longer to be called 'my child.'
61, 2. Confusion's ... confusions, the cure of such a terrible
sorrow has no being in such tumultuous abandonment to grief;
confusion is used in two senses here, the trouble that confounds,
paralyses, us, and the frantic disorder consequent upon that
trouble. For lives Lettsom would read lies, but the former word
seems much more expressive and forcible, 'has no vitality, no
principle of life and efficacy.'
63. Had part in, shared in.
65. keep from death, preserve from death, hold back from
death when it laid its grasp upon her.
66. But heaven ... life, but heaven preserves his share in her in
67. her promotion, her rise in life by marriage with the prince's
68. your heaven, your highest idea of happiness and glory.
71. in this love ... ill, this manner of showing your love does
not evidence any true love, any love worthy of the name.
72. is well, is at rest, is in happiness; a frequent euphemism
for being dead. Cp. A. C. ii. 5. 33, where, in answer to the
Messenger's report that Antony "is well," Cleopatra says, "But,
sirrah, mark, we use To say the dead art are well; also W. T. v. 1.
30, Macb. iv. 3. 179.
75. rosemary, a herb commonly used at funerals as an emblem
of immortality, from being an evergreen, and of lasting affection,
it being supposed to strengthen the memory. See above, ii. 4.
77. In all ... church, see note on iv. 1. 109-12.
78. fond, over-loving; see note on iii. 3. 52.
79. Yet nature's ... merriment, yet the tears which natural
affection bids us shed are laughed at by reason, are, if viewed in
the 'dry' light of reason, a mere weakness.
80. festival, for the purpose of festivity; an adjective, as is
funeral in the next line; for the former, cp. K. J. iii. 1. 76,
"this blessed day Ever in France shall be kept festival"; for the
latter, J. C. iii. 1. 245, "You shall not in your funeral speech
81. their office, their proper use.
83. a sad burial feast. This custom, derived from the Romans,
still obtains in Ireland among the lower classes, and the feast is
called a 'wake,' i.e. a vigil, or sometimes, from a misunderstanding of that term, 'a waking of the dead.'
84. dirges, mournful chants; from the Lat. dirige, direct,
guide, the first word of a chant used by Catholics at the burial
service, from Psalms, v. 8, "Dirige, Dominus mens, in conspectu
tuo vitam meam," "Guide my life, Lord, in Thy sight":
sullen, originally meaning 'solitary,' then 'morose,' 'gloomy.'
85. serve for, are used as a decoration for.
88. every one prepare, let every one prepare.
90. lour, frown; see note on ii. 5. 6; ill, evil deed.
92. put up our pipes, sc. in their cases, preparatory to going
95. the case ... amended. The Musician pretending to take the
Nurse's word case as referring to the case of his instrument,
answers, Yes, in truth, it might be a better one. Delius compares a similar pun in W. T. iv. 4. 844, "though my case be a
pitiful one, I hope I shall not be flayed out of it."
96. 'Heart's ease,' a popular tune at the time.
97. have me live, see me lively, in good spirits.
99, 100. My heart ... woe. "The burthen of the first stanza of
A Pleasant New Ballad of Two Lovers: 'Hey hoe! my heart is
full of woe'" (Steevens): dump, a melancholy strain in music;
said to be used also for a dance. The colloquialism 'in the
dumps,' i.e. in a dismal humour, may still be heard. Of course
Peter's merry is an intentional contradiction of terms, as
Staunton points out.
105. give it you soundly, pay you out well for refusing to play.
107. gleek. 'To give the gleek,' said to be taken from an old
game at cards called gleek, was to scorn or flout, and by some
there is supposed to be a pun on the word gleeman or gligman, a
109. win I give you the serving-creature, I will retort by
calling you serving-creature.
110, 1. Then will I ... pate, my reply to your insult will be a
blow on your head with my dagger: I will carry no crotchets, I
will put up with no insults, endure none of your caprices; with
a pun on crotchets in its musical use = a quaver.
111, 2. I'll re you ... me, I'll play a pretty tune on your head
with my dagger. A similar figure of speech from music is 'I'll
beat you into fiddle-strings.' re, fa, the names given in the
singing of the notes of the gamut or scale in music to the notes D and F; note, of course with a pun on 'note,' = pay attention
to what I say, and 'note' in music.
114. put out, extinguish, have done with.
116. Then have at you with my wit, then here goes for a blow
at you with my wit.
123. Catling, or catgut, the intestines of sheep from which the
strings of string instruments are made.
125. Rebeck, a three-stringed fiddle; cp. L'Allegro, 94, "And
the jocund rebecks sound."
126, 7. sound for silver, play for money.
130. I cry you mercy, I beg your pardon for asking you: you
are the singer, sc. and therefore cannot be expected to answer
for the musicians.
130, 1. I will say for you, I will answer myself in your stead.
135. pestilent knave, insolent and troublesome fellow.
136. Jack, see note on ii. 4. 121.
136, 7. tarry for the mourners, wait here till the funeral
procession comes forth and then accompany it to the grave. The
propriety of this scene has been much debated. Coleridge thinks
that as the audience knew that Juliet was not dead, "it is,
perhaps, excusable," though not a thing to be imitated by
inferior hands. Knight thus defends it: "Rightly understood,
it appears to us that the scene requires no apology. It was the
custom of our ancient theatre to introduce in the irregular pauses
of a play that stood in the place of a division into acts, some
short diversion, such as a song, a dance, or the extempore
buffoonery of a clown. At this point of Romeo and Juliet there
is a natural pause in the action, and at this point such an interlude would probably have been presented whether Shakspere had
written one or not.
The stage direction in the second quarto puts this matter, as it appears to us, beyond a doubt. That
direction says, 'Enter Will Kempe,' and the dialogue immediately begins between Peter and the musicians. Will Kempe
was the Liston of his day; and was as great a popular favourite
as Tarleton had been before him. It was wise, therefore, in
Shakespere to find some business for Will Kempe, that should
not be entirely out of harmony with the great business of his play. This scene of the musicians is very short, and, regarded
as a necessary part of the routine of the ancient stage, is excellently managed. Nothing can be more naturally exhibited
than the indifference of hirelings, without attachment, to a
family scene of grief. Peter and the musicians bandy jokes; and, although the musicians think Peter 'a pestilent knave,'
perhaps for his inopportune sallies, they are ready enough to
look after their own gratification, even amidst the sorrow which
they see around them. A wedding or a burial is the same to
them. 'Come, we'll in here — tarry for the mourners, and stay dinner.' So Shakespere read the course of the world — and it is
not much changed." In Clarke's opinion, too, "the intention
was to show how grief and gaiety, pathos and absurdity, sorrow
and jesting, elbow each other in life's crowd; how the calamities
of existence fall heavily upon the souls of some, while others,
standing close beside the grievers, feel no jot of suffering or
sympathy" ... The grave-digger in Hamlet, the porter in Macbeth, and the clown in Othello are equally jocose amid scenes not
less tragic, and the hired mourners at a modern funeral would
hardly be libelled by a comparison with Peter and the musicians,
except that their wit would probably have less wit in it."
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_4_5.html >.