Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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169 ‘Alas that love whose view is muffled still/ Should without eyes see pathways to his will.’ – ‘Love’ here is actually Cupid or Eros, who shoots arrows of love even though he is blind – his ‘view is muffled still’, ‘still’ meaning ‘forever’. In spite of his handicap, Eros still manages to find ‘pathways’ to effect ‘his will’ by causing people to fall in love. It would be better were it not so, says Romeo.

171 ‘O me! What fray was here?’ – The preoccupied Romeo has only just noticed that the street he has found himself in was recently the scene of a riot.

173 ‘Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.’ – This line is sometimes explained as a reference to Romeo’s being in love (with Rosaline), but the reading seems unlikely. It makes more sense if Romeo is talking about the love within families and their acolytes: the internal loyalty – the ‘love’ – within the clan that leads to violence against those outside is more responsible for what has happened than simple hatred. If this reading is correct, then it is – strangely perhaps – ‘family love’ or ‘clan love’ which is the subject of Romeo’s subsequent meditation on the paradoxes of love – a love that could cause such a brawl in the streets. In fact, as can been seen below, such a reading – although unorthodox – fits the text of what follows much better than a purely Petrarchan exposition of the paradoxical experience of being in love. Romeo is, in fact, comically parodying such – by Shakespeare’s time – rather tired Petrarchan binaries in phrases such as ‘brawling love’ and ‘loving hate’.

174 ‘O brawling love, O loving hate,’ – The ‘clan-love’ of the Montagues and Capulets has caused much hatred and several brawls.

175 ‘O anything of nothing first create!’ – ‘O anything that is first created out of nothing.’ The phrase fits the ‘love’ expressed in the street brawl perfectly, since it was itself the consequence of ‘nothing’ – Sampson biting his thumb. The paradox here is that proverbially ‘nothing can come of nothing’.

176 ‘O heavy lightness, serious vanity,’ – The brawl was about nothing (‘vanity’ in the sense of ‘meaningless’), but had serious (‘heavy’) consequences.

177 ‘Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!’ – The ‘forms’ Romeo refers to are both the gentlemen who took part in this riot and the ‘forms’ of their noble behaviour in fighting for the honour of their house. The result of all this ‘well-seeming’, however, is a ‘Misshapen chaos’.

178 ‘Feather of lead’ – the ‘nothing with serious consequences’ idea again; ‘bright smoke’ – noble forms of behaviour leading to something chaotic and unpleasant; ‘cold fire’ – a fire of love that in reality brings a chill (perhaps of death); ‘sick health’ – the clans’ ‘noble’ and ‘honourable’ behaviour seems healthy, but is in fact part of a disease in the ‘body politic’.

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William Shakespeare