Romeo and Juliet

by

William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Allusions 2 key examples

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Definition of Allusion
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals, historical events, or philosophical ideas... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to other literary works, famous individuals... read full definition
In literature, an allusion is an unexplained reference to someone or something outside of the text. Writers commonly allude to... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio's Language:

 Mercutio's language is arguably the most intricate and advanced in the entire play. His linguistic cunning lends him power and status among the other noblemen—all of whom use language as a weapon—and highlights both his sense of humor and his deep-seated cynicism about conventional notions of life and love. 

For instance, in Act 1, Scene 4, Mercutio uses personification to explain his views on dreams to Romeo: 

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his side to the dew-dropping south.

Here, Mercutio personifies both dreams and the wind, simultaneously comparing the two: dreams are "the children of an idle brain," reflecting fantasies even more "inconstant" and changeable than the wind, "who woos / Even now the frozen bosom of the north," then turns around to "the dew-dropping south." This elaborate series of images and comparisons reflects Mercutio's skepticism about the idea of reading too much into dreams, which he views as both mercurial and disconnected from real life. Mercutio's language may seem overdone, but his long-windedness implies that he takes his own ideas seriously.

Later, in Act 2, Scene 1, Mercutio again uses personification to mock foolish lovers:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.

Here, as in other moments in the play, Mercutio pokes holes in the notion of romantic love as something pure, valiant, and desirable. Instead, he likens romantic love to a misguided "blind" man who lusts after women but has no success with them sexually—comparing women to "fruit" (specifically the "medlar," fruit said to resemble genitalia) to make a risqué, objectifying joke through metaphor. 

Similarly, in Act 2, Scene 4, Mercutio employs a simile to joke about Romeo's belief in romantic love before launching into a series of pointed allusions: 

Without his roe, like a dried herring. O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in. Laura to his lady was a kitchen wench (marry, she had a better love to berhyme her), Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy, Helen and Hero hildings and harlots, Thisbe a gray eye or so, but not to the purpose.—Signior Romeo, bonjour. There’s a French salutation to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.

By comparing Romeo to a "dried herring" "without his roe," Mercutio both criticizes Romeo's lovesick appearance—he looks as thin as a herring without its eggs—and implies that he seems weak and effeminate. Romantic love, Mercutio suggests, is just passion expressed for its own sake, without any subsequent action. Instead, Romeo should be sexually adventurous and not just emotional. 

Mercutio then doubles down on this critique of Romeo and romantic love by alluding to the poet Petrarch and his frequent object of desire, Laura, as well as other famously beautiful and desirable women throughout history, including Cleopatra and Dido. These women, Mercutio argues, were only remembered as beautiful because the men who wrote about them were unquestioningly obsessed with them and had idealized them—just as Romeo has idealized Rosaline. 

Mercutio's volubility and ease with various literary devices make him an impressive speaker and a challenging verbal opponent. Though Mercutio's brashness and pride leads to his own death halfway through the play, his wordplay is never bested. 

Act 2, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio's Language:

 Mercutio's language is arguably the most intricate and advanced in the entire play. His linguistic cunning lends him power and status among the other noblemen—all of whom use language as a weapon—and highlights both his sense of humor and his deep-seated cynicism about conventional notions of life and love. 

For instance, in Act 1, Scene 4, Mercutio uses personification to explain his views on dreams to Romeo: 

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his side to the dew-dropping south.

Here, Mercutio personifies both dreams and the wind, simultaneously comparing the two: dreams are "the children of an idle brain," reflecting fantasies even more "inconstant" and changeable than the wind, "who woos / Even now the frozen bosom of the north," then turns around to "the dew-dropping south." This elaborate series of images and comparisons reflects Mercutio's skepticism about the idea of reading too much into dreams, which he views as both mercurial and disconnected from real life. Mercutio's language may seem overdone, but his long-windedness implies that he takes his own ideas seriously.

Later, in Act 2, Scene 1, Mercutio again uses personification to mock foolish lovers:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.

Here, as in other moments in the play, Mercutio pokes holes in the notion of romantic love as something pure, valiant, and desirable. Instead, he likens romantic love to a misguided "blind" man who lusts after women but has no success with them sexually—comparing women to "fruit" (specifically the "medlar," fruit said to resemble genitalia) to make a risqué, objectifying joke through metaphor. 

Similarly, in Act 2, Scene 4, Mercutio employs a simile to joke about Romeo's belief in romantic love before launching into a series of pointed allusions: 

Without his roe, like a dried herring. O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in. Laura to his lady was a kitchen wench (marry, she had a better love to berhyme her), Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy, Helen and Hero hildings and harlots, Thisbe a gray eye or so, but not to the purpose.—Signior Romeo, bonjour. There’s a French salutation to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.

By comparing Romeo to a "dried herring" "without his roe," Mercutio both criticizes Romeo's lovesick appearance—he looks as thin as a herring without its eggs—and implies that he seems weak and effeminate. Romantic love, Mercutio suggests, is just passion expressed for its own sake, without any subsequent action. Instead, Romeo should be sexually adventurous and not just emotional. 

Mercutio then doubles down on this critique of Romeo and romantic love by alluding to the poet Petrarch and his frequent object of desire, Laura, as well as other famously beautiful and desirable women throughout history, including Cleopatra and Dido. These women, Mercutio argues, were only remembered as beautiful because the men who wrote about them were unquestioningly obsessed with them and had idealized them—just as Romeo has idealized Rosaline. 

Mercutio's volubility and ease with various literary devices make him an impressive speaker and a challenging verbal opponent. Though Mercutio's brashness and pride leads to his own death halfway through the play, his wordplay is never bested. 

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Explanation and Analysis—Greek and Roman Mythology:

Romeo and Juliet features several allusions to Greek and Roman mythology. Such allusions are common features of Shakespeare's plays, which drew heavily on ancient legends. In Romeo and Juliet, they serve to underscore the importance of divinity; at the same time, they augment the characters' ornate, lyric dialogue and help reveal their desires, intentions, and beliefs. 

For example, in Juliet's ode to nighttime in Act 3, Scene 2, she summons the night by saying, "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds / Toward Phoebus’ lodging." Phoebus (also known as Apollo) is the Greek god of the sun—so "Phoebus' lodging" would be the sunset (to which daylight, symbolized by "fiery-footed steeds," is moving, and will soon disappear). Juliet hopes to hasten the sunset so that Romeo will be able to clandestinely visit her; by alluding to Phoebus, who controls the coming of day and night, she is highlighting her own constrained, inferior position and giving herself over to divine power in a kind of prayer. 

An allusion to Roman mythology comes in Mercutio's monologue about Romeo in Act 2, Scene 1, when he jokingly commands Romeo to "[s]peak to my gossip Venus one fair word / One nickname for her purblind son and heir." Venus is the Roman goddess of love, and Mercutio is mocking both her and her son, Cupid, who shoots arrows that make people fall in love. Though Venus is depicted in Roman mythology as exceptionally beautiful and powerful, Mercutio diminishes her by describing her as a "gossip" and portraying Cupid as blind (as he is sometimes characterized in various modern interpretations). This allusion helps Mercutio to make a point about romantic love, and Romeo's love in particular: it is superficial (engendering "gossip") and wrongheaded. 

In the next scene in Act 2, Juliet refers to Jove—or Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods—in her dialogue with Romeo: "Yet, if thou swear’st, / Thou mayst prove false. / At lovers’ perjuries, / They say, Jove laughs." Jove is often portrayed as a meddling god who seeks to punish mankind for their foibles. Here, Juliet portrays him in a similar way, as a trickster who "laughs" at the false things lovers say to one another. Juliet's allusion to Jove demonstrates her wariness about Romeo—whose professions of love she does not yet fully believe—and emphasizes her worldliness and preternatural wisdom. Though she is essentially a child (at thirteen years old), Juliet understands that people, and especially lovers, do not always speak the truth; this understanding lends her uncommon power and authority as a character. 

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Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Greek and Roman Mythology:

Romeo and Juliet features several allusions to Greek and Roman mythology. Such allusions are common features of Shakespeare's plays, which drew heavily on ancient legends. In Romeo and Juliet, they serve to underscore the importance of divinity; at the same time, they augment the characters' ornate, lyric dialogue and help reveal their desires, intentions, and beliefs. 

For example, in Juliet's ode to nighttime in Act 3, Scene 2, she summons the night by saying, "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds / Toward Phoebus’ lodging." Phoebus (also known as Apollo) is the Greek god of the sun—so "Phoebus' lodging" would be the sunset (to which daylight, symbolized by "fiery-footed steeds," is moving, and will soon disappear). Juliet hopes to hasten the sunset so that Romeo will be able to clandestinely visit her; by alluding to Phoebus, who controls the coming of day and night, she is highlighting her own constrained, inferior position and giving herself over to divine power in a kind of prayer. 

An allusion to Roman mythology comes in Mercutio's monologue about Romeo in Act 2, Scene 1, when he jokingly commands Romeo to "[s]peak to my gossip Venus one fair word / One nickname for her purblind son and heir." Venus is the Roman goddess of love, and Mercutio is mocking both her and her son, Cupid, who shoots arrows that make people fall in love. Though Venus is depicted in Roman mythology as exceptionally beautiful and powerful, Mercutio diminishes her by describing her as a "gossip" and portraying Cupid as blind (as he is sometimes characterized in various modern interpretations). This allusion helps Mercutio to make a point about romantic love, and Romeo's love in particular: it is superficial (engendering "gossip") and wrongheaded. 

In the next scene in Act 2, Juliet refers to Jove—or Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods—in her dialogue with Romeo: "Yet, if thou swear’st, / Thou mayst prove false. / At lovers’ perjuries, / They say, Jove laughs." Jove is often portrayed as a meddling god who seeks to punish mankind for their foibles. Here, Juliet portrays him in a similar way, as a trickster who "laughs" at the false things lovers say to one another. Juliet's allusion to Jove demonstrates her wariness about Romeo—whose professions of love she does not yet fully believe—and emphasizes her worldliness and preternatural wisdom. Though she is essentially a child (at thirteen years old), Juliet understands that people, and especially lovers, do not always speak the truth; this understanding lends her uncommon power and authority as a character. 

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Act 2, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio's Language:

 Mercutio's language is arguably the most intricate and advanced in the entire play. His linguistic cunning lends him power and status among the other noblemen—all of whom use language as a weapon—and highlights both his sense of humor and his deep-seated cynicism about conventional notions of life and love. 

For instance, in Act 1, Scene 4, Mercutio uses personification to explain his views on dreams to Romeo: 

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his side to the dew-dropping south.

Here, Mercutio personifies both dreams and the wind, simultaneously comparing the two: dreams are "the children of an idle brain," reflecting fantasies even more "inconstant" and changeable than the wind, "who woos / Even now the frozen bosom of the north," then turns around to "the dew-dropping south." This elaborate series of images and comparisons reflects Mercutio's skepticism about the idea of reading too much into dreams, which he views as both mercurial and disconnected from real life. Mercutio's language may seem overdone, but his long-windedness implies that he takes his own ideas seriously.

Later, in Act 2, Scene 1, Mercutio again uses personification to mock foolish lovers:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.

Here, as in other moments in the play, Mercutio pokes holes in the notion of romantic love as something pure, valiant, and desirable. Instead, he likens romantic love to a misguided "blind" man who lusts after women but has no success with them sexually—comparing women to "fruit" (specifically the "medlar," fruit said to resemble genitalia) to make a risqué, objectifying joke through metaphor. 

Similarly, in Act 2, Scene 4, Mercutio employs a simile to joke about Romeo's belief in romantic love before launching into a series of pointed allusions: 

Without his roe, like a dried herring. O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in. Laura to his lady was a kitchen wench (marry, she had a better love to berhyme her), Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy, Helen and Hero hildings and harlots, Thisbe a gray eye or so, but not to the purpose.—Signior Romeo, bonjour. There’s a French salutation to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.

By comparing Romeo to a "dried herring" "without his roe," Mercutio both criticizes Romeo's lovesick appearance—he looks as thin as a herring without its eggs—and implies that he seems weak and effeminate. Romantic love, Mercutio suggests, is just passion expressed for its own sake, without any subsequent action. Instead, Romeo should be sexually adventurous and not just emotional. 

Mercutio then doubles down on this critique of Romeo and romantic love by alluding to the poet Petrarch and his frequent object of desire, Laura, as well as other famously beautiful and desirable women throughout history, including Cleopatra and Dido. These women, Mercutio argues, were only remembered as beautiful because the men who wrote about them were unquestioningly obsessed with them and had idealized them—just as Romeo has idealized Rosaline. 

Mercutio's volubility and ease with various literary devices make him an impressive speaker and a challenging verbal opponent. Though Mercutio's brashness and pride leads to his own death halfway through the play, his wordplay is never bested. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+
Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Greek and Roman Mythology:

Romeo and Juliet features several allusions to Greek and Roman mythology. Such allusions are common features of Shakespeare's plays, which drew heavily on ancient legends. In Romeo and Juliet, they serve to underscore the importance of divinity; at the same time, they augment the characters' ornate, lyric dialogue and help reveal their desires, intentions, and beliefs. 

For example, in Juliet's ode to nighttime in Act 3, Scene 2, she summons the night by saying, "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds / Toward Phoebus’ lodging." Phoebus (also known as Apollo) is the Greek god of the sun—so "Phoebus' lodging" would be the sunset (to which daylight, symbolized by "fiery-footed steeds," is moving, and will soon disappear). Juliet hopes to hasten the sunset so that Romeo will be able to clandestinely visit her; by alluding to Phoebus, who controls the coming of day and night, she is highlighting her own constrained, inferior position and giving herself over to divine power in a kind of prayer. 

An allusion to Roman mythology comes in Mercutio's monologue about Romeo in Act 2, Scene 1, when he jokingly commands Romeo to "[s]peak to my gossip Venus one fair word / One nickname for her purblind son and heir." Venus is the Roman goddess of love, and Mercutio is mocking both her and her son, Cupid, who shoots arrows that make people fall in love. Though Venus is depicted in Roman mythology as exceptionally beautiful and powerful, Mercutio diminishes her by describing her as a "gossip" and portraying Cupid as blind (as he is sometimes characterized in various modern interpretations). This allusion helps Mercutio to make a point about romantic love, and Romeo's love in particular: it is superficial (engendering "gossip") and wrongheaded. 

In the next scene in Act 2, Juliet refers to Jove—or Jupiter, the Roman king of the gods—in her dialogue with Romeo: "Yet, if thou swear’st, / Thou mayst prove false. / At lovers’ perjuries, / They say, Jove laughs." Jove is often portrayed as a meddling god who seeks to punish mankind for their foibles. Here, Juliet portrays him in a similar way, as a trickster who "laughs" at the false things lovers say to one another. Juliet's allusion to Jove demonstrates her wariness about Romeo—whose professions of love she does not yet fully believe—and emphasizes her worldliness and preternatural wisdom. Though she is essentially a child (at thirteen years old), Juliet understands that people, and especially lovers, do not always speak the truth; this understanding lends her uncommon power and authority as a character. 

Unlock with LitCharts A+