How does language form contribute to meaning in Act 1, Scene 5 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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

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One category of language form is syntax, which refers to the use of grammar to combine words, phrases, and clauses to create meaning. In Act 1, Scene 5, Shakespeare uses several noteworthy syntactical structures to highlight key points and create meaning.

One interesting use of syntax as a part of language form can be seen in Romeo's first lines in this scene. Romeo addresses a nearby servant to ask who Juliet is, saying:

What lady's that, which doth
enrich the hand
Of yonder knight? (I.v.42-44)

What is syntactically interesting about these lines is that Shakespeare makes use of the word which to create a non-essential clause. The non-essential clause is, "which doth / enrich the hand / Of yonder knight," while the essential clause is, "What lady's that" (42-44). The use of which to form a non-essential clause shows us that Romeo thinks it is unimportant that Juliet is dancing with someone else. Not only that, it tells us that it is something he would rather not think about. The essential element in this sentence asks who Juliet is, showing us that only Juliet is truly important to Romeo.

A second use of syntax as a category of language form can be seen in Tybalt's lines when he hears Romeo's voice. In Tyablt's lines, Shakespeare deliberately changes the grammatical word order to add emphasis, which is called hyperbaton, as we see in Tybalt's lines:

Now, by the stock and honour of my kin,
To strike him dead I hold it not a sin. (60-61)

Especially in line 61, the subject and verb of the sentence are I hold, which appear in the middle of the line, while the predicate is "[t]o strike him dead," which appears first. In normal, grammatical word order, the subject comes first, followed by the verb, which is followed by the rest of the predicate. If we were to rewrite these two lines, we would use the transitional word now, followed by an introductory clause, followed by the subject and predicate, and we would have: "Now, by the stock an honour of my kin, I hold it not a sin to strike him dead." However, using the predicate first, as Shakespeare did, emphasizes the phrase "strike him dead." This emphasis serves to foreshadow Romeo's upcoming death, but it also serves to characterize Tybalt by showing us how Tybalt dwells on things such as revenge and murder due to his hot, fiery temper.


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