Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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97 ‘Herself pois’d with herself in either eye.’ – Much of the imagery in this part of the play revolves around eyes, seen both as the true seat of female beauty, and also as the means, via the gaze of the male, by which that beauty is judged. But the eyes, as Romeo has just said, can be ‘heretics’ and ‘liars’. Here Benvolio points out that Romeo could never have come to a true estimation of Rosaline’s beauty, since he has only seen her alone, where she can only be judged or weighed (‘pois’d’) against herself. The expression ‘in either eye’ can be roughly glossed as meaning ‘in every look you take’ (as there are no other women to look at): the idea seems to be that Romeo’s eyes constitute a set of scales used to weigh (here, to judge) such matters.

98 ‘that crystal scales’ – referring to Romeo’s eyes (see note above).

99 ‘Your lady’s love’ – an inversion: Benvolio means: ‘Your love for your lady.’

100 ‘well’ – meaning ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ here.

Act One, Scene Three

2 ‘Now by my maidenhead at twelve year old, I bade her come.’ – The emphasis needs to be on ‘bade’; the Nurse is telling Lady Capulet that she has already called Juliet, and she adds a comical oath –‘by my maidenhead at twelve year old’ – when even the Nurse would most likely be a virgin. The age is probably significant: the audience know that Juliet is one year older than twelve – an age when, as far as the nurse is concerned – she may be ready to lose her virginity. The bawdiness in the play is a constant undercurrent to the purity of Romeo and Juliet’s love.

3 ‘ladybird’ – ‘sweetheart’. This probably doesn’t refer to the beetle, as that sense is first attested to over a century after Shakespeare. The difficulty with the meaning of ‘ladybird’ is caused by the Nurse’s immediate reaction to her use of the term: ‘God forbid.’ Could ‘ladybird’ have been a slang term for ‘prostitute’ or for something similarly derogatory? There is no evidence to support such a reading, but it seems in keeping with the Nurse’s general personality and choice of diction.

10 ‘of a pretty age’ – ‘of a good age’. The question of Juliet’s age has already been raised by the Nurse’s ‘at twelve year old’. As a young woman about to be a bride, Juliet should perhaps be spoken to by her mother alone; as a child, it makes sense for her beloved Nurse to be present. Lady Capulet’s change of mind about the Nurse hearing their discussion may well betray her own uncertainty about Juliet marrying so young – something about which her husband has already expressed his doubts. While girls could be married at twelve in Elizabethan England (and boys at fourteen), it was far from being usual. Most brides were about twenty-two or twenty-three.

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William Shakespeare