Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

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3 ‘I mean, and if we be in choler, we’ll draw.’ – ‘What I meant was, if someone makes us angry, we’ll draw our swords.’ Choler (yellow stomach bile) was one of the four humours, substances found in the human body associated with matters of health and personality. Someone with too much choler would get angry, and Sampson is pretending that he is spoiling for a fight.

4 ‘draw your neck out of collar’ – Gregory again comically misunderstands his friend. To keep your neck out of the collar was to avoid the hangman’s noose.

6 ‘But thou art not quickly moved to strike.’ – Gregory amusingly reverses the word order of Sampson’s boast. The latter is, it seems, something of a coward.

10-11 ‘I will take the wall of any man or maid of Montague’s’ – The Elizabethan street was not a clean, pavemented thoroughfare: taking the wall was to take the least begrimed path (nearest the houses) and make others walk in the filth. It is still considered good manners to pass somebody on the road side of the pavement.

13 ‘the weakest goes to the wall’ – a proverb, meaning the weakest will fail in difficulty.

14-15 ‘women, being the weaker vessels, are ever thrust to the wall.’ – The expression ‘weaker vessels’ for the female sex had become proverbial, but many in Shakespeare’s audience would have known its context: St Peter’s statement that a woman should be honoured for being the ‘weaker vessel’ (1Peter 3:7) not sexually assaulted as here. There is a strain of sometimes violent bawdiness in Romeo and Juliet that acts as a backdrop to the true, transcendent love of the protagonists.

19 ‘The quarrel is between our masters and us their men.’ – That is, it should not involve the womenfolk of either house. This proviso of Gregory’s is ironic, seeing that Juliet in particular comes to suffer greatly from this ‘quarrel’.

20-22 ‘when I have fought with the men, I will be civil with the maids, I will cut off their heads.’ – The word ‘civil’ is often amended to ‘cruel’, but this spoils the contrast in the line between fighting and then being ‘civil’. As is explained in the next two speeches, by ‘cut off their heads’ Sampson means that he will take the young women’s ‘maidenheads’ or virginity, which he thinks of as ‘civil’ behaviour (since it leads to pleasure).

26 ‘They must take it in sense that feel it.’ – Gregory is being deliberately literal-minded again, taking ‘sense’ to be an actual sensation rather than a meaning.

27-28 ‘Me they shall feel when I am able to stand, and ’tis known I am a pretty piece of flesh.’ – Sampson boasts about the size of his erection.

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William Shakespeare
the Unkindness of Ravens If you have found our critical notes helpful, why not try the first Tower Notes novel, a historical fantasy set in the time of the Anglo-Saxon invasions.

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The Unkindness of Ravens by Anthony Paul