What is the meaning of the repetition of the word "thrust," especially in the banter between Sampson and Gregory in Act 1, Scene 1 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Act 1, Scene 1, the recurring motif of the word "thrust" is being used to portray violent actions, either through sword fighting, or even in sexual connotations. In this scene, the word "thrust" actually has a double meaning and refers to either violence or sexual activity. In the opening conversation, the Capulet servants Sampson and Gregory are bantering back and forth about whether or not Sampson would actually be brave enough to fight the Montagues, should they run into any. Their bantering conversation, full of puns, also becomes slightly suggestive and full of sexual innuendos. Sampson declares that he would "take the wall of any man or maid of Montague's," meaning that he would "tear down the castle wall" surrounding any Montague. In other words, he is saying that he would easily be able to tear down any Montagues' defenses. Gregory retorts that since the walls of the castle are always the weakest spots of defense, Sampson's proclamation that he'll tear down the castle walls actually proves that Sampson is weak. We see this in Gregory's response, "That shows thee a weak slave; for the weakest goes to the wall" (12). In other words, since the castle wall is the weakest, only the weakest go there. This leads Sampson to make the sexually suggestive comment that since women are weaker they are always "thrust to the wall" (14). The word "thrust" can refer to violent force, like being pushed against the wall, but since he is speaking of women, it also has sexual connotations. Sampson is using "thrust" in a similar way in his next lines,

Therefore I will push
Montague's men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall. (15-16)

Again, "thrust" can refer to force, such as driving a sword, but since he is saying he will "push" away the men and "thrust" the women, we see that he is using "thrust" with sexual connotations.

Benvolio, however, uses the term "thrust" in a purer light. When Lady Montague asks Benvolio to explain how the fight started, he uses the word "thrust" to describe Tybalt's violent activity, depicting Tybalt's "thrusts and blows" as coming more and more frequently until the Prince finally comes and separates them. We see this in his lines,

While we were interchanging thrusts and blows,
Came more and more, and fought on part and part,
Till the Prince came, who parted either part. (109-111)

Hence we see that the word "thrust" isĀ  being used as a recurring motif in Act 1, Scene 1 to either describe violent action or to be used as a sexual innuendo.


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