home contact

Romeo and Juliet

Please see the bottom of the page for explanatory notes.

ACT II SCENE IV A street. 
MERCUTIOWhere the devil should this Romeo be?
Came he not home to-night?
BENVOLIONot to his father's; I spoke with his man.
MERCUTIOAh, that same pale hard-hearted wench, that Rosaline.
Torments him so, that he will sure run mad.
BENVOLIOTybalt, the kinsman of old Capulet,
Hath sent a letter to his father's house.
MERCUTIOA challenge, on my life.
BENVOLIORomeo will answer it.
MERCUTIOAny man that can write may answer a letter.10
BENVOLIONay, he will answer the letter's master, how he
dares, being dared.
MERCUTIOAlas poor Romeo! he is already dead; stabbed with a
white wench's black eye; shot through the ear with a
love-song; the very pin of his heart cleft with the
blind bow-boy's butt-shaft: and is he a man to
encounter Tybalt?
BENVOLIOWhy, what is Tybalt?
MERCUTIOMore than prince of cats, I can tell you. O, he is
the courageous captain of compliments. He fights as20
you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and
proportion; rests me his minim rest, one, two, and
the third in your bosom: the very butcher of a silk
button, a duellist, a duellist; a gentleman of the
very first house, of the first and second cause:
ah, the immortal passado! the punto reverso! the
MERCUTIOThe pox of such antic, lisping, affecting
fantasticoes; these new tuners of accents! 'By Jesu,
a very good blade! a very tall man! a very good
whore!' Why, is not this a lamentable thing,
grandsire, that we should be thus afflicted with
these strange flies, these fashionmongers, these
perdonnez-moys, who stand so much on the new form,
that they cannot at ease on the old bench? O, their
bons, their bons!32
[Enter ROMEO]
BENVOLIOHere comes Romeo, here comes Romeo.
MERCUTIOWithout his roe, like a dried herring: O flesh, flesh,
how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers
that Petrarch flowed in: Laura to his lady was but a
kitchen-wench; marry, she had a better love to
be-rhyme her; Dido a dowdy; Cleopatra a gipsy;
Helen and Hero hildings and harlots; Thisbe a grey
eye or so, but not to the purpose. Signior
Romeo, bon jour! there's a French salutation
to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit
fairly last night.
ROMEOGood morrow to you both. What counterfeit did I give you?
MERCUTIOThe slip, sir, the slip; can you not conceive?
ROMEOPardon, good Mercutio, my business was great; and in
such a case as mine a man may strain courtesy.
MERCUTIOThat's as much as to say, such a case as yours
constrains a man to bow in the hams.
ROMEOMeaning, to court'sy.49
MERCUTIOThou hast most kindly hit it.
ROMEOA most courteous exposition.
MERCUTIONay, I am the very pink of courtesy.
ROMEOPink for flower.
ROMEOWhy, then is my pump well flowered.
MERCUTIOWell said: follow me this jest now till thou hast
worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it
is worn, the jest may remain after the wearing, sole singular.
ROMEOO single-soled jest, solely singular for the
MERCUTIOCome between us, good Benvolio; my wits faint.60
ROMEOSwitch and spurs, switch and spurs; or I'll cry a match.
MERCUTIONay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have
done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of
thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five:
was I with you there for the goose?
ROMEOThou wast never with me for any thing when thou wast
not there for the goose.
MERCUTIOI will bite thee by the ear for that jest.
ROMEONay, good goose, bite not.70
MERCUTIOThy wit is a very bitter sweeting; it is a most
sharp sauce.
ROMEOAnd is it not well served in to a sweet goose?
MERCUTIOO here's a wit of cheveril, that stretches from an
inch narrow to an ell broad!
ROMEOI stretch it out for that word 'broad;' which added
to the goose, proves thee far and wide a broad goose.
MERCUTIOWhy, is not this better now than groaning for love?
now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo; now art
thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature:
for this drivelling love is like a great natural,
that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole.
BENVOLIOStop there, stop there.
MERCUTIOThou desirest me to stop in my tale against the hair.
BENVOLIOThou wouldst else have made thy tale large.
MERCUTIOO, thou art deceived; I would have made it short:
for I was come to the whole depth of my tale; and
meant, indeed, to occupy the argument no longer.
ROMEOHere's goodly gear!
[Enter Nurse and PETER]
MERCUTIOA sail, a sail!90
BENVOLIOTwo, two; a shirt and a smock.
NurseMy fan, Peter.
MERCUTIOGood Peter, to hide her face; for her fan's the
fairer face.
NurseGod ye good morrow, gentlemen.
MERCUTIOGod ye good den, fair gentlewoman.
NurseIs it good den?
MERCUTIO'Tis no less, I tell you, for the bawdy hand of the
dial is now upon the prick of noon.
NurseOut upon you! what a man are you!
ROMEOOne, gentlewoman, that God hath made for himself to
NurseBy my troth, it is well said; 'for himself to mar,'
quoth a'? Gentlemen, can any of you tell me where I
may find the young Romeo?
ROMEOI can tell you; but young Romeo will be older when

you have found him than he was when you sought him:
I am the youngest of that name, for fault of a worse.
NurseYou say well.
MERCUTIOYea, is the worst well? very well took, i' faith;
wisely, wisely.
Nurseif you be he, sir, I desire some confidence with
BENVOLIOShe will indite him to some supper.
MERCUTIOA bawd, a bawd, a bawd! so ho!
ROMEOWhat hast thou found?
MERCUTIONo hare, sir; unless a hare, sir, in a lenten pie,
that is something stale and hoar ere it be spent.
An old hare hoar,
And an old hare hoar,
Is very good meat in lent
But a hare that is hoar
Is too much for a score,
When it hoars ere it be spent.
Romeo, will you come to your father's? we'll
to dinner, thither.
ROMEOI will follow you.
MERCUTIOFarewell, ancient lady; farewell,
'lady, lady, lady.'
NurseMarry, farewell! I pray you, sir, what saucy
merchant was this, that was so full of his ropery?
ROMEOA gentleman, nurse, that loves to hear himself talk,
and will speak more in a minute than he will stand
to in a month.119
NurseAn a' speak any thing against me, I'll take him
down, an a' were lustier than he is, and twenty such
Jacks; and if I cannot, I'll find those that shall.
Scurvy knave! I am none of his flirt-gills; I am
none of his skains-mates. And thou must stand by
too, and suffer every knave to use me at his pleasure?
PETERI saw no man use you a pleasure; if I had, my weapon
should quickly have been out, I warrant you: I dare
draw as soon as another man, if I see occasion in a
good quarrel, and the law on my side.
NurseNow, afore God, I am so vexed, that every part about
me quivers. Scurvy knave! Pray you, sir, a word:
and as I told you, my young lady bade me inquire you132
out; what she bade me say, I will keep to myself:
but first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her into
a fool's paradise, as they say, it were a very gross
kind of behavior, as they say: for the gentlewoman
is young; and, therefore, if you should deal double
with her, truly it were an ill thing to be offered
to any gentlewoman, and very weak dealing.
ROMEONurse, commend me to thy lady and mistress. I
protest unto thee--
NurseGood heart, and, i' faith, I will tell her as much:
Lord, Lord, she will be a joyful woman.
ROMEOWhat wilt thou tell her, nurse? thou dost not mark me.
NurseI will tell her, sir, that you do protest; which, as
I take it, is a gentlemanlike offer.
ROMEOBid her devise
Some means to come to shrift this afternoon;
And there she shall at Friar Laurence' cell
Be shrived and married. Here is for thy pains.150
NurseNo truly sir; not a penny.
ROMEOGo to; I say you shall.
NurseThis afternoon, sir? well, she shall be there.
ROMEOAnd 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 top-gallant of my joy
Must be my convoy in the secret night.
Farewell; be trusty, and I'll quit thy pains:
Farewell; commend me to thy mistress.160
NurseNow God in heaven bless thee! Hark you, sir.
ROMEOWhat say'st thou, my dear nurse?
NurseIs your man secret? Did you ne'er hear say,
Two may keep counsel, putting one away?
ROMEOI warrant thee, my man's as true as steel.
NURSEWell, sir; my mistress is the sweetest lady--Lord,
Lord! when 'twas a little prating thing:--O, there
is a nobleman in town, one Paris, that would fain
lay knife aboard; but she, good soul, had as lieve
see a toad, a very toad, as see him. I anger her
sometimes and tell her that Paris is the properer
man; but, I'll warrant you, when I say so, she looks
as pale as any clout in the versal world. Doth not
rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?
ROMEOAy, nurse; what of that? both with an R.
NurseAh. mocker! that's the dog's name; R is for
the--No; I know it begins with some other
letter:--and she hath the prettiest sententious of
it, of you and rosemary, that it would do you good
to hear it.
ROMEOCommend me to thy lady.
NurseAy, a thousand times.180
[Exit Romeo]
NursePeter, take my fan, and go before and apace.

Next: Romeo and Juliet, Act 2, Scene 5


Explanatory Notes for Act 2, Scene 4

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 of ceremony.

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 button."

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 seat.

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 upon ceremony.

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, state, show.

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 "confidence."

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 English ha 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 honour...."

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 a ladder.

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 away.

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 Dec. 2013. < >.

How to cite the sidebar:
Mabillard, Amanda. Notes on Shakespeare. Shakespeare Online. 20 Dec. 2013. < >.


Even more...

 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
 Life in Stratford (structures and guilds)
 Life in Stratford (trades, laws, furniture, hygiene)
 Stratford School Days: What Did Shakespeare Read?

 Games in Shakespeare's England [A-L]
 Games in Shakespeare's England [M-Z]
 An Elizabethan Christmas
 Clothing in Elizabethan England

 Queen Elizabeth: Shakespeare's Patron
 King James I of England: Shakespeare's Patron
 The Earl of Southampton: Shakespeare's Patron
 Going to a Play in Elizabethan London

 Ben Jonson and the Decline of the Drama
 Publishing in Elizabethan England
 Shakespeare's Audience
 Religion in Shakespeare's England

 Alchemy and Astrology in Shakespeare's Day
 Entertainment in Elizabethan England
 London's First Public Playhouse
 Shakespeare Hits the Big Time

Notes on the Nurse

microsoft images "A trusted member of a high-born household, she fancies her behaviour to be modelled on their example, plumes herself on decorum, in her walks abroad must be attended by her own servant, like her betters must be careful of the proprieties of the fan, with due self-respect must bridle at the familiarities of that 'saucy merchant,' Mercutio, 'so full of his ropery,' and let it be known to all men that she is 'none of his flirt-gills'". K. Deighton. Read on...


More to Explore

 Romeo and Juliet: Complete Play with Explanatory Notes
 Themes and Motifs in Romeo and Juliet
 Stage History of Romeo and Juliet
 Romeo and Juliet: Examination Questions and Answers

 Queen Mab in Plain English
 Romeo, Rosaline, and Juliet
 The Importance of Romeo and Rosaline

 Romeo and Juliet Plot Summary (Acts 1 and 2)
 Romeo and Juliet Plot Summary (Acts 3, 4 and 5)
 Romeo and Juliet and the Rules of Dramatic Tragedy
 Romeo and Juliet: Teacher's Notes and Classroom Discussion

 What Is Accomplished in Act I?
 The Purpose of Romeo's witticisms in 2.1.
 Friar Laurence's First Soliloquy
 The Dramatic Function of Mercutio's Queen Mab Speech


Points for Discussion... "It may be said that in this more than in any other play Shakespeare comes near to being a commentator on himself, and to giving us his own authority for the true interpretation. In the prologue it is the author who speaks: this opening of the plot exhibits, not sin and its consequences, but a suggestion of entangling circumstance; when he speaks of the "fatal loins" of the parents, the "star-cross'd lovers," and their "misadventured piteous overthrows," Shakespeare is using the language of destiny and pathos. For what is spoken in the scenes the speakers alone are responsible; yet a succession of striking passages has the effect of carrying on the suggestion of the prologue - dramatic foreshadowings, unconscious finger-pointings to the final tragedy, just like the shocks of omen that in ancient drama brought out the irony of fate." (Richard G. Moulton, The Moral System of Shakespeare)


 Mercutio's Death and its Role in the Play
 Costume Design for a Production of Romeo and Juliet
 Shakespeare's Treatment of Love

 Shakespeare on Fate
 Sources for Romeo and Juliet
 The Five Stages of Plot Development in Romeo and Juliet
 Annotated Balcony Scene, Act 2
 Blank Verse and Rhyme in Romeo and Juliet

 How to Pronounce the Names in Romeo and Juliet
 Introduction to Juliet
 Introduction to Romeo
 Introduction to Mercutio
 Introduction to The Nurse

 Introduction to The Montagues and the Capulets
 Famous Quotations from Romeo and Juliet
 Why Shakespeare is so Important

 Shakespeare's Language
 Shakespeare's Boss: The Master of Revels
 What is Tragic Irony?
 Seneca's Tragedies and the Elizabethan Drama
 Characteristics of Elizabethan Drama

Notes on Shakespeare...

Shakespeare's parents, Mary Arden and John Shakespeare, had eight children. Shakespeare had two sisters named Joan, one born in 1558 and the other in 1569. No one knows first-born Joan's exact date of death, but it is assumed that she died in infancy. Second-born Joan survived her famous brother by more than 30 years. Read on...


The Globe Theatre was constructed in 1599, out of timber taken from the Theatre. It stood next to the Rose, on the south side of the Thames, and was the most elaborate and attractive theatre yet built. The Globe was designed and constructed for the Chamberlain's Men by Cuthbert Burbage, son of the Theatre's creator, James Burbage. The lease for the land on which the Globe stood was co-owned by Burbage and his brother Robert, and by a group of five actors -- Will Kempe, Augustine Phillips, John Heminge, Thomas Pope, and William Shakespeare. Much of Shakespeare's wealth came from his holdings in the Globe. Read on...

In Elizabethan England, during the times when plays were not completely outlawed, going to the theatre was the favourite activity of the masses. When disease ravaged London, actors would travel across the English countryside, entertaining farmers. There were also many days devoted to feasting, such as Mad Day, Midsummer Day, and Ascension Day (just to name a few), when people would drink and make merry. Read on...

Shakespeare's complex sentence structures and use of now obsolete words lead many students to think they are reading Old or Middle English. In fact, Shakespeare's works are written in Early Modern English. Once you see a text of Old or Middle English you'll really appreciate how easy Shakespeare is to understand (well, relatively speaking). Read on...

Shakespeare was familiar with seven foreign languages and often quoted them directly in his plays. His vocabulary was the largest of any writer, at over twenty-four thousand words. Read on...