Explanatory Notes for Act 5, Scene 3
From Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
Stage Direction. A churchyard. "It is clear that Shakespeare, or some writer whom he followed, had in mind the
churchyard of Saint Mary the Old in Verona, and the monument of
the Scaligers which stood in it. We have nothing in England
which corresponds to this scene, and no monument or vault in
which such scenes as this could be exhibited" ... (Hunter).
1. aloof, away, at a distance; "from a, prep. + loof, luff,
weather-gage, windward direction; perhaps immediately from
Du. loef, in te loef, to the windward"... (Murray, Eng. Dict.).
2. Yet, contradicting his first order to give him the torch.
3. lay ... along, lie down at full length.
4. Holding ... ground, in which position the tread of any one
approaching would be more easily heard; hollow, and therefore
more readily reverberating to any sound; so T. S., Ind. ii. 48,
"And fetch shrill echoes from the hollow earth."
6. Being, it being.
7. But thou ... it, without your hearing it.
10. to stand alone, to be alone; there being no reference to his
standing or his lying down as directed by Paris.
13. canopy, covering...: is dust and stones, i.e. not a fitting canopy for one like
15. distill'd by moans, forced from the eyes by grief.
16. obsequies, funeral rites; Lat. obsequiae, funeral rites,
literally 'following close upon': keep, observe, pay.
9. cursed, because interrupting him.
20. To cross my obsequies, to hinder the obsequies I am paying.
21. Muffle, wrap me in darkness; Steevens compares the word,
used in a neuter sense, Comus, 330, "Unmuffle, ye faint stars";
and Dyce points out that a 'muffler' "is a sort of wrapper worn
by women, which generally covered the mouth and chin, but
sometimes almost the whole face." In M. W. iv. 2. 73, one is
produced by Mrs. Ford to disguise Falstaff in.
22. mattock, a kind of pick-axe for tearing up the earth.
26. all aloof, quite away; so that he might not witness what
28. Why I descend, my reason for descending.
32. In dear employment, in a matter of the greatest importance; "'dear' is used of whatever touches us nearly either
in love or hate, joy or sorrow" (Cl. Pr. Edd. on Haml. i. 2. 182,
"my dearest foe").
33. jealous, suspicious; cp. Lear, i. 4. 75, "which I have
rather blamed as mine own jealous curiosity."
34. shall intend to do, may have an intention of doing; shall
indicating some further intention he certainly will have.
35. joint by joint, piecemeal, each joint from the other.
36. hungry, as though the churchyard was for ever longing for
fresh corpses, never satisfied however many might be buried in it.
37. The time ... savage-wild, the thoughts in my mind are wild
even to savageness and this midnight hour well accords with
39. empty, starving.
41. that, giving him money.
43. For all this same, in spite of all these injunctions and
44. His looks I fear, not as regards his own personal safety,
but as regards Romeo's intentions against himself.
45. Detestable. Accented on the first syllable, as in iv. 5. 56,
K. J. iii. 4. 29.
48. And, in despite ... food, out of hatred to you, not to satisfy
your gluttonous voracity, I will cram you with my own body also.
50. with which grief, owing to which grief.
52. is come, the omission of the nominative is most common
with 'has,' 'is,' 'was'; see Abb. § 400.
55. Can vengeance ... death? is it possible that you are not
satisfied with the vengeance you have already taken in killing
Tybalt? a particular, not a general, question.
56. Condemned, not merely condemned by law, but accursed
for his intentions.
58. therefore, for that very purpose.
59. Good gentle youth. "The gentleness of Romeo was shown
before as softened by love, and now it is doubled by love and
sorrow, and awe of the place where he is" (Coleridge).
60. gone, dead; a euphemism.
61. Let them affright thee, let their deaths deter you from
such a rash act as that of seizing a man so desperate as myself.
62. another sin, i.e. of killing him.
67. A madman's ... away, a madman in a lucid interval of mercy
bade you run away, and thus you escaped to tell the tale.
68. conjurations, earnest appeals, entreaties; cp. R. II. iii. 2.
23, H. V. i. 2. 29; the verb in this sense is common enough.
70. have at thee, see note on i. 1. 59.
71. the watch, the police, as we should now say.
74. peruse, examine closely; originally meaning to use
thoroughly or carefully.
76. betossed, storm-tossed, violently agitated.
77. attend him, pay heed to his words.
78. should have, was to have; see Abb. § 325.
81. To think, in thinking; the infinitive used indefinitely.
82. One writ ... book, one, like myself, entered as a debtor in
misfortune's account-book; or perhaps only enrolled in the list of
83. triumphant, glorious, splendid; cp. A. C. ii. 2. 189, "a
most triumphant lady."
84. a lantern. "A spacious round or octagonal turret full of
windows, by means of which cathedrals, and sometimes halls, are
illuminated. See the beautiful lantern at Ely Minster" (Steevens).
86. a feasting presence, a stateroom in all the splendour of a
feast; cp. R. II. i. 3. 289, "Suppose ... The grave whereon thou
tread'st the presence strewed"; H. VIII. iii. 1. 17, "the two
great cardinals Wait in the presence."
87. Death, the abstract for the concrete; Lettsom conjectures
Dead, and Dyce so reads: a dead man, sc. himself, whom he now
regards as nothing better than dead.
89. keepers, attendants.
90. A lightning before death. "A proverbial phrase, partly
deduced from observation of some extraordinary effort of nature,
often made in sick persons just before death; and partly from a
superstitious notion of an ominous and preternatural mirth,
supposed to come on at that period, without any ostensible
reason." So in Addison's pathetic description of Sir Roger's
death, Spectator No. 115, "Indeed we were once in great hope
of his recovery, upon a kind message that was sent him from the
widow lady whom he had made love to the forty last years of his
life; but this only proved a lightning before death."
90-2. How may I ... Death, but my merry mood (sc. as exhibited
in 1. 89) has none of the brightness which lights up the minds of
dying men: the honey ... breath, your honeyed breath; cp.
Haml. iii. 1. 164, "That suck'd the honey of his music vows."
93. no power ... upon, no power to deface.
94, 5. beauty's ensign ... cheeks, beauty's ensign, the roseate
flush of youth and health, still flies proudly in your cheeks; a
metaphor from a flag flying bravely on the walls of a fortress
that defies its besiegers.
96. is not advanced there, has not yet been able to displace the
ensign of your beauty; advanced, a technical term for the waving
of standards, as in M. W. iii. 4. 85, "I must advance the colours
of my love. And not retire;" K. J. ii. 1. 207, "These flags of
France, that are advanced here Before the eye and prospect of
97. sheet, winding-sheet, in which it is customary to wrap a
corpse, as in iii. H. VI. i. 1. 129, ii. 5. 114.
101. Forgive me, cousin. "Inexpressibly beautiful and moving
is this gentleness of Romeo's in his death hour. His yearning to
be at peace with his foe, his beseeching pardon of him and calling
him kinsman in token of final atonement, his forbearance and
even magnanimity towards Paris, his words of closing consideration and kindly farewell to his faithful Balthasar, all combine to
crown Romeo as the prince of youthful gentlemen and lovers" (Clarke).
103. unsubstantial, immaterial, incorporeal; cp. Lear, iv. 1. 7,
"Thou unsubstantial air that I embrace."
107. this palace of dim night, the darkness of the tomb.
109. thy chamber-maids, your attendants; in Hamlet the
imagery regarding worms is of a very different type; see iv. 2.
20 et seqq.
110. Will I set up ... rest, I am determined to find my last long
home. The origin of the phrase 'to set up one's rest' has been
much debated. According to Steevens, it is taken from the
manner of firing the harquebuses, which was so heavy that a
supporter, called a rest, was fixed in the ground before the piece
was levelled to take aim. Others derive it from a term used in
games at cards, more particularly primero, in which the rest was
the stake laid down, and 'to set up one's rest' was to announce
the highest stake that the player was prepared to make on the
cards he held in his hand. Probably the two ideas were combined to express a settled resolution.
111, 2. And shake ... flesh, and, weary as I am of life, no longer
submit to be driven hither and thither as my ill-starred fate may
115. A dateless ... death, an eternal bargain with death that
sooner or later seizes on everything; dateless is here used in a
legal sense; and in R. II. i. 2. 151, "The sly slow hours shall
not determinate The dateless limit of thy dear exile," both "dateless" and "determinate" are allusive to the same phraseology:
so too engrossing in the sense of purchasing or seizing in the
116. conduct, conductor; as above, iii. 1. 120; here the drug
he is about to swallow. Possibly, from the combination of conduct, pilot, and bark, Shakespeare, as in R. III. i. 4. 46, was
thinking of Charon, the ferryman of souls over the river Styx ... conductor of
118. sea-sick, life being commonly compared to an ocean.
119. true, sc. in having said that the effect of the drug would
be instantaneous, and perhaps with the sense of his being a true
physician of his (Romeo's) evils.
121. be my speed, guide and help me.
122. stumbled. In those days of omens considered an unlucky
accident; so in R. III. iii. 4. 86, Hastings, when on his way to
death, after speaking of an ill dream of Stanley's, continues,
"Three times to-day my foot-cloth horse did stumble. And
startled, when he look'd upon the Tower, As loath to bear me to
the slaughter-house"; on which Tawney quotes Melton's Astrologaster, "That if a man stumbles in the morning, as soon as he
comes out of doores, it is a sign of ill lucke."
125. yond, that which I see yonder.
126. grubs, insects, worms, etc.: as I discern, as well as I can
132. My master ... hence, my master fancies I have gone home.
135. Fear, not the physical fear of some danger to himself, but
a presentiment of some evil befallen Romeo.
137-9. As I did sleep ... him. Balthasar believes that what he
had actually seen was nothing but a dream, or possibly he may
not like to confess that he really witnessed the combat.
142. masterless. that no longer own a master; again applied
to swords in Cymb. ii. 4. 60.
143. To lie discolourd, by lying stained with blood; the infinitive used indefinitely; see Abb, § 356: this place of peace,
this place which should be sacred from all quarrels.
145. what an unkind hour, what a cruel hour is this which
148. comfortable. In speaking of "certain words dealing with
the agent," Walker, Crit. Exam. etc., pp. 99, 100, says "comfortable — and in like manner uncomfortable and discomfortable —
are uniformly applied to a person, or to a thing personified, the
idea of will and purpose being always implied in them." Among
other passages which he quotes in illustration are Tim. iv. 3. 497,
A. W. i. 1. 86, Lear, i. 4. 327, R. II. iii. 2. 36, and that in the
151. that nest, as we should say, 'that den,' though nest gives
a fuller idea of abundance. In "a nest of traitors," W. T. ii.
3. 81, there is the same idea of fullness.
152. unnatural. Steevens says that the sleep of Juliet was unnatural as being brought on by drugs, and this has always seemed
to me to be the sense. Delius and Schmidt interpret "where it is unnatural to sleep."
153. contradict, contend against.
155. Thy husband ... dead, your husband lying there in your
arms is dead.
156. dispose of thee, make arrangements for your living.
158. to question, to talk, to discuss what is best.
162. timeless, untimely, premature.
163. O churl, said in loving reproach.
164. To help me after, to enable me to follow you.
166. a restorative, a medicine which will restore me to the
truest life, a life of union with you in death.
169. there rust, not in your own natural sheath, but in the
sheath of my breast; the first quarto gives rest, which many
editors prefer, and possibly this is supported by the antithesis
with Let me die, though to me rust seems the more expressive
172. whoe'er. For neglect of the inflection of who, see Abb.
§ 274: attach, apprehend; a legal term.
175. this two days, see note on iv. 3. 40.
177. some others search, let some seek out others.
178. these woes, these miserable ones.
179. ground, with a wretched pun.
180. circumstance, further detail, particulars, or perhaps inquiry into such detail; cp. above, ii. 5. 36.
186. A great suspicion. Said with true Dogberry solemnity.
187. is so early up. As if the misadventure, like himself, had
risen early from bed, was stirring early; cp., for the quasi-personification, K. J. v. 5. 21, "The day shall not be up so soon
189. should it be, can it possibly be.
192. With open outcry, like dogs in full cry after game.
193. startles, suddenly bursts forth; this intransitive use is
now obsolete, to 'start' being used in its stead.
195. dead before, as she had been supposed to be.
197. know, ascertain by inquiry.
202. hath mista'en, has mistaken its proper abode: his house,
203. on the back, daggers being worn behind the back.
204. And it mis-sheathed, for it, the reading of the second
quarto, most editors prefer is, which the other copies give. In
this case the words "for, lo, ... Montague" are parenthetical.
205. 6. is as a bell ... sepulchre, is like a bell summoning me
to my death: cp. K. J. ii. 1. 201, "Who is it that hath warned
us to the walls?" and Macb. ii. 1. 62-4. "the bell invites me.
Hear it not, Duncan, for it is a knell That summons thee to
heaven or to hell."
208. down, struck down in death; with a play on the words
up and down.
211. conspires ... age, conspires to put an end to an old man
213. O thou untaught! O ill-disciplined one! manners, regarded as a singular in thought; see Abb. § 335.
214. To press ... grave? comparing the rudeness to that of
pressing before a father into a room, etc.
215. the mouth of outrage, your passionate exclamations.
Staunton compares i. H. VI. iv. 1. 126, "are you not ashamed
With this immodest clamorous outrage To trouble and disturb the
king and us?". where the reference is to the "audacious prate"
of York, Somerset, etc.
216. ambiguities, obscure relation of events; now generally
used of language which may bear two meanings.
217. descent, origin; carrying on the metaphor of a stream
that flows downward from its source.
218, 9. will I ... death, I will put myself at the head of your
grievances and lead you on to vengeance, even if that vengeance
be the death of those to whom those grievances are due.
220. And let ... patience, and let calamity submit patiently to
calm endurance; patiently control your sense of injury.
221. parties of suspicion, those suspected, those who have a
part, share, in the suspicion that is abroad.
222. I am ... least, I, though least capable (physically) of such
a deed, am most suspected of having committed it.
224. Doth make against me, tell against me, as witnesses
against me; time and place is to be taken as a single idea.
225, 6. both to impeach ... excused, to accuse myself while
pleading my excuse, and at the same time to clear myself while
decreeing my condemnation; i.e. to accuse myself on account of
my actions, to excuse myself on account of my intentions. For
a similar collocation, cp. A. C. iv. 12, 8, 9, "His fretted fortunes
give him hope, and fear, Of what he has, and has not"; W. T.
iii. 6. 165, "though I with death, and with Reward, did threaten
and encourage him Not doing it, and being done." In impeach
the original idea is that of hindering, F. empecher, to hinder, the
first step in an accusation being to hinder the accused from
227. in this, in, or of, this matter.
228, 9. for my short ... tale, for the short time I have to live is
not long enough for a tedious tale; my short date of breath = the
short date of my breath; cp. for the transposition, A. C. iv. 6.
39, "My latter part of life," i.e. the latter part of my life;
Haml. iv. 5. 213, "His means of death," i.e. the means of his
death; and see Abb. § 423.
232. their stol'n marriage-day, the day of their stolen marriage,
of their marriage stealthily celebrated.
234. Banish'd, caused to be banished.
236. siege, attack, assault; cp. above, i. 1. 218. and K. J.
V. 7. 16, "his (sc. death's) siege is now Against the mind." So
Lamb talks of "an obsession of grief."
239. bid, past tense.
240. rid her from, enable her to escape from.
245. form, appearance.
246. as this dire night. Allen on Temp. i. 2. 70, "as at this
time," considers as in such expressions to mark a greater or less
precision or emphasis; Abbott, § 114, though regarding as in
definitions of time as apparently redundant, thinks that here it
may mean 'as (he did come),' which seems to me to be a great
forcing of language.
247. borrowed grave, grave not properly her own.
248. Being the time. "This belongs to 'as this dire night'"
250. stay'd, prevented.
252. hour, metrically a dissyllable; see Abb. § 480.
254. closely, in secrecy.
256. some minute, a minute or so.
258. true, faithful in his love.
260. this work of heaven, i.e. Romeo's death.
262. too desperate, sc. to care for life without Romeo: would
not go, refused to go.
263. as it seems. The Friar having left her was not actual
witness of her suicide.
267. some hour, some short time. i.e. for it cannot be long
before I shall die in the course of nature.
269. still, ever: for, as being.
270. what can ... this? what evidence can he give as to this
272. in post, see note on v. i. 21.
275. going in the vault, as he entered the vault.
278. raised, summoned, called up.
279. what made your master, what was your master doing
here? what business or object had he in coming here.
282. Anon, suddenly; see note on ii. 2. 137.
283. by and by, presently, after a short interval.
285. make good, confirm, substantiate.
291. See, what ... hate, see how your hatred is punished.
292. That heaven ... love! in the fact that heaven employs the
love that was exchanged between Romeo and Juliet (and which
should have been a bond of union to the two families) as a
means to crush all happiness out of your lives.
293. winking at, partially closing my eyes to, not taking that
vigorous notice which, as the head of the state, I was bound to
296. This is ... jointure, the only dowry you can make my daughter; jointure, properly the property estated on the wife by
the husband when they are joined in marriage.
299. by that name, as 'Verona.'
300. at such rate be set, be valued at so high a price.
302. As rich, in equal splendour.
303. Poor ... enmity, an inadequate atonement for our hatred.
304. glooming, gloomy; which the fourth folio gives. The participle seems more forcible from its notion of activity.
305. for sorrow, on account of sorrow.
306. Go hence, to have, accompanying me hence, in order that
we may have.
307. Some ... punished. In the novel from which the plot is
taken, says Steevens, we find that the Nurse was banished for
concealing the marriage, Balthasar set at liberty as having only
acted in obedience to Romeo's orders, the Apothecary tortured
and hanged, and the Friar allowed to retire to a hermitage near
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/romeo_5_3.html >.
"In Sophocles, Haemon killed himself at the tomb of Antigone, as does Romeo in the tomb of Juliet; but Sophocles does not show us this scene of love and death; gloomy vaults do not accord with ideas of love and marriage in Greek art.
But in Romeo's case, on the contrary, the horror redoubles his ardour; he feels more impassioned, more enthusiastic, more loving, if I may dare to say so, not merely because this is the last time that he will contemplate Juliet's beauties, but because — am I deceived? — these funeral scenes harmonize with the fancy of this lover, the creation of Shakespeare's genius. Note his words; he speaks with neither horror nor disgust -— of what? — of the very worms which are to devour his adored one. Thus did he picture Juliet, and never did he love her more fondly, no! not even when he left her at the first beams of the morning, at the first song of the lark; not even when the dawn shone upon their loving adieux were Romeo's words so burning as in this frightful charnel-house; nature awaking wreathed in smiles from a night of love spoke less impressively to his heart than the aspect of the grave." Saint-Marc Girardin. Read on...
An Example of Tragic Irony... The audience watching Romeo and Juliet knows from the Prologue that the lovers will die, but neither character is aware of his or her fate. This makes the passing references to death spoken by the lovers all the more shocking to the audience. Read on...