Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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179 ‘Still-waking sleep that is not what it is!’ – The Montagues and Capulets seem almost to be ‘sleep-walking’ into these altercations. This ‘is not what it is’ because the two sides are, in fact, awake, although they act as though they were asleep.

180 ‘This love feel I that feel no love in this.’ – In the last line of his (comic) mediation, Romeo acknowledges that he is as much part of the problem as any of his peers: he feels the same love for his family, even though he can see no love in the consequences of those feelings – i.e. in the wreckage and blood left (or imagined) on stage after the riot.

181 ‘coz’ – ‘cousin’

183 ‘Why such is love’s transgression’ – It is a ‘transgression’ of sorts for Benvolio to weep, but his behaviour is excused, since it is motivated by love.

184-186 ‘Griefs of mine lie heavy in my breast,/ Which thou wilt propagate to have it press’d/ With more of thine.’ – Romeo states that he has his own sorrows, which will be made worse if Benvolio adds to them his own sadness at his friend’s unhappiness. The idea is that griefs are ‘heavy’ like a stone that might be used to press a vine stock down onto the ground so that it takes root and propagates another plant.

188-9 ‘Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs;/ Being purg’d, a fire sparkling in lovers’ eyes;/ Being vex’d, a sea nourish’d with lovers’ tears;’ – Note the threefold formula of these lines, which chart the course of love, from the sighs of unfulfilled longing, via the recognition of love in the eyes of another, to the tearful vexations of caring too much for them. It is interesting that Romeo is using obviously romantic imagery here, but he is still speaking of the love Benvolio has expressed for him. Such courtly passions between men were far from being anathema in Shakespeare’s time, who himself addressed many of his more ‘romantic’ sonnets to a man. The imagery here seems to derive from alchemy: the sighing lover creates a ‘fume’; this is then ‘purg’d’ of smoke to reveal a ‘fire’; finally the fire is quenched – ‘vex’d’ – with a sea of tears.

191 ‘a madness most discreet,’ – the lover behaves as a kind of ‘civil lunatic’.

192 ‘A choking gall, and a preserving sweet.’ – Love is both bitter, like ‘gall’, causing one to choke with tears (Benvolio has just said he himself weeps for Romeo’s sorrows) and at the same time it is something ‘sweet’ and enduring (a glance at the way honey and sugar are used to preserve fruit and other foodstuffs).

193 ‘Soft, I will go along.’ – ‘Soft’ means, literally, ‘be gentler’; a good colloquial equivalent here would be ‘Wait a minute!’

194 ‘And if you leave me so, you do me wrong.’ – referring both to Romeo physically leaving Benvolio’s side and also to him leaving him without an answer.

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William Shakespeare