Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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36 ‘rushes’ – often strewn over floors as a kind of makeshift carpet.

37-38 ‘For I am proverb’d with a grandsire phrase –/ I’ll be the candle-holder and look on.’ – To be a ‘candle-holder’ was, proverbially, to be an onlooker: the phrase probably derives originally from the server holding a candle up for the priest to read in church; ‘a grandsire phrase’ is both an old saying and the sort of thing a grandfather would say.

39 ‘The game was ne’er so fair and I am done.’ – ‘The game of love was never so good [as when I first saw Rosaline] and now I am done with it.’ Rosaline could also be ‘The game’ in the sense of the objective of a hunt. A specific Elizabethan proverb relating to being a ‘candle-holder’ referred to not taking part in a gambling game, and a reference to this is probably intended here.

40 ‘dun’s the mouse, the constable’s own word.’ – ‘the mouse is brown’ (‘dun’) was a phrase meaning ‘hidden, invisible’ as would be a brown mouse at night. Mercutio is quibbling on ‘done’, the last word of Romeo’s speech. To be hidden is ‘the constable’s own word’ since the night watch’s job was to patrol the streets as quietly and surreptitiously as possible in an attempt to catch malefactors.

41ff ‘If thou art dun […]’ – ‘If you are brown, we’ll draw you up out of the mire of love [which has covered you in mud].’

42 ‘save your reverence’ – the equivalent of ‘pardon my French’. Originally an apology for inappropriate language in the presence of a priest or similar, here Mercutio is comically apologising to Romeo – a ‘priest of love’ – for referring to his emotions with the word ‘mire’. Given the mock formality of the interpolation, the audience would probably be expecting Mercutio to say an obscene word for excrement instead of ‘love’: ‘save your reverence’ – rather like ‘gardez l’eau’ or ‘gardy loo’ – was also a phrase associated with emptying chamber pots of their contents.

43 ‘we burn daylight’ – ‘we’re wasting time.’ Romeo in his next line deliberately takes him literally, presumably with some gesture to the skies – it is, of course, night.

45 ‘light lights by day’ – i.e. ‘[as if we were] lighting lamps in the daytime.’

46-47 ‘Take our good meaning, for our judgement sits/ Five times in that ere once in our five wits.’ – Mercutio suggests that reason (‘judgement’) is five times the worth of our (five) senses (‘wits’) – an apt point as Romeo is pretending to be confused because his senses tell him it is night not day.

49 ‘’tis no wit to go.’ – ‘it is not good sense to go.’ Romeo has apparently had a premonitory dream – and his meeting with Juliet will, in truth, end tragically.

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William Shakespeare