Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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134 ‘The shady curtains from Aurora’s bed’ – Aurora was the goddess of the dawn and loved a mortal, Tithonus. The shady curtains refers to the dark clouds of night being dispelled by the sun. Four-poster beds were the norm in Shakespeare’s time for all but the poorest with thick curtains all around to keep the cold out. The line glances at the marriage bed of two lovers who wed across the divide between the world of the gods and that of men (although technically Aurora was a Titan). As with Romeo and Juliet, the marriage of Aurora and Tithonus ended in tragedy, as Zeus granted the latter immortality, but not eternal youth, so that he aged but could not die. In a more general sense, the thought of a lovers’ union is painful to the lovesick Romeo and adds a further reason to his spurning of the sun.

139 ‘Black and portentous must this humour prove’ – The ‘humour’ is ‘Black’ because it is, literally, black bile – melancholy – that is affecting Romeo’s mental state; it is ‘portentous’ because excessive melancholy was believed to lead to madness and suicide. Bile, in reality, is always a shade of yellow and ‘black bile’ does not exist: it was perhaps mistaken from the results of some pathology or infection involving the stomach.

146 ‘Is to himself – I will not say how true –’ – Romeo is not ‘being true to himself’ as he is acting uncharacteristically.

148 ‘sounding’ – A nautical term meaning to plumb the depth of an expanse of water to discover whether land or a dangerous underwater shelf or sandbank is close by. Often used metaphorically, and still current in the phrase ‘To sound him or her out.’

149 ‘As is the bud bit with an envious worm’ – a leaf bud eaten by a caterpillar. The word ‘worm’ has a rich variety of connotations, and the modifier ‘envious’ suggests doubts and negative feelings ‘worming’ their way into Romeo’s mind. The image in the line (which may incidentally have inspired William Blake’s ‘The Sick Rose’) is proleptic of Romeo and Juliet’s tragedy: neither of the lovers – who would currently be regarded as little more than children – will spread their ‘sweet leaves to the air’ in maturity.

‘Enter ROMEO’ – In his plays, Shakespeare frequently utilises the simple technique of having his characters talk at length about the hero just before he enters.

156 ‘I would thou wert so happy by thy stay/ To hear true shrift.’ – ‘shrift’ means ‘confession’ (as in Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent); ‘happy’ means ‘fortunate’ and so the whole phrase can be glossed: ‘I hope your staying [to talk with him] will have the good fortune of leading him to confess to you [why he is unhappy].’

162 ‘Not having that which, having, makes them short.’ – Romeo is not being particular evasive here: Benvolio immediately guesses his meaning, which is that, when in love, time seems to pass more quickly. It is love then which Romeo lacks.

167 ‘in his view’ – ‘in prospect’ i.e. when the lover is anticipating the delights of love rather than suffering its pangs.

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William Shakespeare