Romeo and Juliet

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Language and Word Play Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Love Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Language and Word Play Theme Icon
Servants Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Romeo and Juliet, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Language and Word Play Theme Icon

Romeo and Juliet constantly play with language. They pun, rhyme, and speak in double entendres. All these word games may seem like mere fun, and they are fun. The characters that pun and play with language have fun doing it. But word play in Romeo and Juliet has a deeper purpose: rebellion. Romeo and Juliet play with language to escape the world. They claim they are not a Montague and a Capulet; they use words to try to transform day, for a moment, into night; they hide their love even while secretly admitting it. Other characters play with language too. In particular, Mercutio and the Nurse make constant sexual puns implying that while everyone is running around talking about high ideals like honor and love, sex and other base desires are at the root of human existence.

So language in Romeo and Juliet serves two opposing purposes. It allows some characters to escape the world into intense love, while it allows other characters to reveal that the world of love, honor, and high ideals are just masks people use to cover their animal instincts.

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Language and Word Play Quotes in Romeo and Juliet

Below you will find the important quotes in Romeo and Juliet related to the theme of Language and Word Play.
Act 1, scene 1 Quotes
Why then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first created;
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker)
Page Number: 1.1.181-184
Explanation and Analysis:

The first scene seems to obey the same order as the Prologue: first, a fight breaks out on the street between members of the rival households, and then we see our star-cross’d lover on the stage. Romeo's metaphors echo the contradictory language of the typical Petrarchan lover – a lover who echoes the paradoxical phrases of the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch. Romeo is not yet pining after Juliet, however; here, he longs for the woman Rosaline, whom he feels is the most beautiful woman in the world. Since Romeo begins the play so ardently in love with another woman, we will certainly see his entire love story with Juliet, as the Chorus promised us. Yet, Romeo’s professed love for Rosaline does incite a bit of doubt over the validity of his true feelings for Juliet later, discoloring what has entered popular culture as a famous story of true love—it's important to remember that the protagonists are only young teenagers, experiencing throes of passion that could easily change or disappear.

In this scene, as Romeo is expressing this passion, he shares it with his friend Benvolio—he can't seem to keep it to himself. This introduces the notion that love does not merely occur between two individuals; others can and will mediate the expressions and feelings of love.

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Act 1, scene 4 Quotes
Romeo: I dream'd a dream to-night.
Mercutio: And so did I.
Romeo: Well, what was yours?
Mercutio: That dreamers often lie.
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Mercutio (speaker)
Page Number: 1.4.53-56
Explanation and Analysis:

Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, and several other maskers and torch-bearers are walking through the streets to the Capulet’s household, in order to attend their feast tonight. As they travel, they engage in witty banter that still informs us about the characters’ emotional states – particularly because Romeo seems determined to remain somber and refuse to join in the others’ revelry. Romeo, for instance, divulges that he had a dream which makes him harbor trepidations about attending this feast at all. Romeo’s friend Mercutio, who was actually invited to the feast because he is unrelated to Romeo and the other Montagues, wittily refuses to tolerate Romeo’s attitude. After claiming that he, too, had a dream, Mercutio wittingly says that he learned “that dreamers often lie” in this dream itself. Yet, Mercutio is not merely mocking Romeo here; this comment also alludes to his larger skepticism about love.

Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
You kiss by th'book.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Page Number: 1.5.121
Explanation and Analysis:

At Lord Capulet’s feast, Romeo is drawn to Juliet’s beauty, and he professes that she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. Without knowing who she is, he comes to her and asks to kiss her. When he asks, he (somewhat sacrilegiously) uses religious lexicon – comparing her hand to a “holy shrine,” describing his lips as “two blushing pilgrims” – as he creates metaphors to describe the physical actions he is proposing (such as holding hands and kissing). Juliet parallels this, using such spiritual terminology as well. After they kiss twice, though, she tells Romeo that he kisses “by the book,” or by the rules. Here, she implies that Romeo kisses her just as he ought to, bringing their conversation down to worldly rules and away from the spiritual realm that Romeo was creating with his words.

Act 2, scene 2 Quotes
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo, Montague
Page Number: 2.2.36-39
Explanation and Analysis:

It seems that Juliet cannot forget Romeo either; she begins to speak to herself about him, while he watches from below. As Juliet ponders aloud, she does not only ask why her love is a Montague, her family’s rival household; she asks why ("wherefore" means "why") he is “Romeo,” inviting us into a broader discussion about the power and purpose of naming and language in general. Can verbal expression truly rearrange bonds between individuals? Juliet claims that Romeo could “deny thy father and refuse thy name”; in other words, Romeo could genuinely separate himself from his family through spoken words and through refusing to own the name they gave him. Through marriage, Juliet could certainly do this; if she marries Romeo (and he is “sworn my love”), then she will legally as well as emotionally “no longer be a Capulet.” Juliet will continue to reflect on this theme as this scene, one of the most famous love scenes in all of drama, continues. This reminds us that much of love comes from words and wordplay.

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; —
Thou art thyself though, not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title: — Romeo, doff thy name;
And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Page Number: 2.2.41-52
Explanation and Analysis:

As Juliet continues to dwell upon this theme of love and language, the audience can realize the extent of her emotional upset. She presses further, even saying that Romeo “art thyself” and is “not a Montague.” Although Romeo may be embedded within the societal network of the Montague family, his physical body is his own; his identity as a Montague is not a “hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man.” Juliet starts to repeat herself, again urging Romeo to refuse his name: “O, be some other name!”; “Retain that dear perfection … without that title”; “Romeo, doff thy name.” Such repetition must come from a tumultuous state of mind. Despite her emotional furor, through, Juliet inspires a larger conversation about naming, language, and societal identity in general with her famous “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, / By any other word would smell as sweet” observation. (i.e. does language affect even our senses? Science suggests it actually does, but that's another question.) She closes this soliloquy by wholly giving herself to her lover: “Take all myself.”

I take thee at thy word:
Call me but love, and I'll be new baptis'd;
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Juliet
Page Number: 2.2.53-55
Explanation and Analysis:

Romeo finally reveals his presence, after Juliet has declared her love for him on her balcony. His reply echoes the same themes which Juliet mentioned: love and language, individual and society. Romeo claims that he can “be new baptis’d,” if Juliet will “call me but love.” Of course, he cannot truly baptize himself, as this ceremony is performed by a social figure—a priest who is invested with authority by human society and by the Christian God, who himself expresses his love in covenants: solemn agreements which can be delivered through language. Romeo himself provides the first possible solution to the two lovers’ difficult situation; it is not surprising that, for “star-cross’d” individuals with “death-mark’d” love, such an idealized solution is an impossibility.

Act 3, scene 1 Quotes
Romeo: Courage, man; the hurt cannot be much.
Mercutio: No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church-door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve: ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man.
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Mercutio (speaker)
Page Number: 3.1.99-102
Explanation and Analysis:

Mercutio receives a wound from Tybalt during their fight, and it is indeed mortal, although Romeo claims it isn't as he attempts to inspire courage in his friend. Mercutio is under no such delusion; his dark pun that he will be a “grave man” tomorrow (a man who is somber or a man who is in a grave) demonstrates his acknowledgment of his true condition. Mercutio is ever the realist, about his own life and about others’ lives. Mercutio will die, and he will become a victim of the feud between the Capulets and Montagues, although he does not belong to either family. This indicates the extent to which these two households’ rivalry affects the larger society of Verona.

Act 3, scene 5 Quotes
Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree.
Believe me love, it was the nightingale.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 3.5.1-5
Explanation and Analysis:

The nightingale has a rich tradition as a symbol in medieval romances, and it is fitting that Juliet references this creature when she attempts to convince Romeo that it is not yet day and their night of love-making is not over. Although Juliet was earlier willing to acknowledge the separation between day and night (when she said she would say good-bye until night became day), here she conflates the two. It is now day, but Juliet situates herself and Romeo within a fictitious night. This indicates how the lovers’ situation has grown more desperate, which Juliet also suggests herself, with her description of “the fearful hollow of thine ear”—both lovers are afraid of the coming day, and what it may bring.