Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Page 10 of 24   -   1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24   Purchase full notes for £5.95 (aprox $9.28)

70 ‘Clubs, bills and partisans!’ – One of the Citizens in the crowd is calling for men to arm themselves. A ‘bill’ is ‘a long-handled weapon with a concave blade, or a kind of concave axe with a spike at the back and a spear-tipped shaft’ (OED). A ‘partisan’ is a nine foot long pike or spear.

74 ‘A crutch! A crutch!’ – His wife is implying that Capulet is too old for sword-play. The image of these two old men being held back from fighting by their wives is broadly comic.

80 ‘Profaners of this neighbour-stained steel’ – The idea is probably that the citizens of Verona should use their ‘steel’ against enemies not their neighbours. For their weapons to be ‘neighbour-stained’ is a sort a sacrilege against their civic duty – hence the Prince calls them ‘Profaners’. Alternatively – but less likely – their swords are ‘neighbour-stained’ in that they have been used in the defence of Verona against neighbouring city states, and have hence been employed in a ‘sacred’ duty.

83 ‘With purple fountains issuing from your veins’ – The ‘your’ is emphatic: the injuries the Prince sees about him are self-inflicted, in the sense that all the citizens of Verona should form one, civic ‘body’.

84 ‘On pain of torture from those bloody hands’ – understood ‘those [same] bloody hands’. Literally, it would be Escalus himself who would order those who disobey him to be tortured, but he is part of the injured ‘body’ of Verona too, and for him to have to injure his own fellow citizens is as unnatural as for them to fight amongst themselves. It is possible to construe that by ‘bloody hands’ Escalus means he will allow any who disobey him to be tortured by their own enemies, but that seems unlikely: the overarching trope of these lines is of a body injuring and torturing itself.

85 ‘mistemper’d’ – ‘disharmonious’, with a pun on the fact that swords are ‘tempered’ (beaten on an anvil) when they are forged. There may also be a glance at the fact that the brawlers are behaving ‘intemperately’.

87 ‘an airy word’ – ‘airy’ means insubstantial here, with a glance at such words being ‘mere breath’.

93 ‘Canker’d with peace, to part your canker’d hate.’ – A ‘canker’ is an old form of the word ‘cancer’ – though this could mean little more than a sore or ulcer in Shakespeare’s time (cf. modern ‘chancre’ that derives from the same root). It is easy to see how the Montague’s and Capulet’s ‘hate’ is cancerous; ‘peace’, however, could be cancerous too, since ‘civil brawls’ were seen as an inevitable result of too long a period of peace – war, then as now, having a strong tendency to unite a country behind its leaders. Cf. the alternative reading of ‘neighbour-stained steel’ above.

100 ‘Freetown’ – The name of Capulet’s house in Brooke, Shakespeare’s source, which here becomes the residence of Escalus; apparently an attempt to translate ‘Villafranca’.

103 ‘nephew’ – Montague is Benvolio’s uncle.

previous     next
Purchase full notes for £5.95 (aprox $9.28)

William Shakespeare