What are some classical allusions in the play Romeo and Juliet?

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tmcquade | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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Many classical allusions come up in the play Romeo and Juliet.  One of the first is seen when Romeo and Benvolio are talking, and Romeo is complaining that Rosaline does not return his love.  According to Romeo:
"She'll not be hit with Cupid's arrow; she hath Dian's wit" (I, i).
Cupid, the son of Aphrodite and god of love, was well-known for his arrows which could cause people to fall in love.  However, the goddess Diana - goddess of the hunt and moon - wisely avoided his arrows and remained one of the few virgin goddesses.    Another allusion comes up when Romeo and some of his friends are heading to the Capulet party.  Romeo, still heartsick about Rosaline, is feeling depressed and says he's in no mood for a party.  Mercutio, tired of his complaining, says:
"You are a lover; borrow Cupid's wings,
And soar with them above a common bound" (I, iv).
Later, Mercutio also mocks Romeo for giving too much weight to his dreams.  He launches into a long speech about Queen Mab, the queen of the fairies:
"O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep" (I, iv).
When Romeo and Juliet speak at Juliet's balcony, several allusions come up.  One memorable one is when Juliet asks whether Romeo loves her:
"Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say 'Ay,'
And I will take thy word: yet if thou swear'st,
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries
They say Jove laughs" (II, ii).
Jove, aka. Jupiter or Zeus, was king of the gods and well-known for his many affairs.  His wife Hera was always questioning him as to his whereabouts, and he frequently made up lies to cover up his trysts.  Thus, he would "laugh" and find it funny when other lovers do the same.   After Juliet says good night to Romeo, she wants him back and states:
"Hist! Romeo, hist! O, for a falconer's voice,
To lure this tassel-gentle back again!
Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud;
Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies,
And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine With repetition of my Romeo's name" (II ii).
Echo was the poor nymph cursed by Hera, or Juno, because she talked too much and helped to cover up one of Zeus's affairs.  Her punishment was to only be able to repeat what was said to her.  When she fell in love with Narcisus and he did not return her love, she retreated to a cave and wasted away until all that was left was her voice.   Juliet also uses an allusion in Act III as she waits anxiously for Romeo to ascend her balcony on the night of their wedding.  She urges:
"Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus' lodging: such a wagoner
As Phaethon would whip you to the west,
And bring in cloudy night immediately" (III, ii).
Phoebus was the sun god who would drive his sun chariot across the sky, changing day to night.  Phaeton was a son of Pheobus, and when one day he asked his father to let him drive the sun chariot across the sky, his father hesitantly agreed.  Phaeton found he could not control the horses, and they went much too fast, leaving fires in their wake.  Zeus zapped him with a thunderbolt to halt his destruction.  Juliet, however, wishes for a driver such as Phaeton because she wants night to come quickly.

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