In Act One, Scene One of Romeo and Juliet, what does the color purple mean?  

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poetrymfa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Act One, Scene One of Romeo and Juliet opens with insults being swapped between various members (Sampson, Gregory, Abraham, etc.) of the Capulet and Montague houses. Although Benvolio (a friend of the Montagues) attempts to settle the squabble, Tybalt (a Capulet) antagonizes the man until he joins the fight. This leads to an actual brawl between the Capulets and Montagues, which is only stopped when the Prince of Verona arrives on the scene and declares:

What, ho! you men, you beasts,

That quench the fire of your pernicious rage

With purple fountains issuing from your veins,

On pain of torture, from those bloody hands

Throw your mistemper'd weapons to the ground,

And hear the sentence of your moved prince.

By referencing the "purple fountains" of blood being spilled from their veins, the Prince is calling for the fighting families to consider their socioeconomic standing. Although they are members of the upper class, they are behaving like "beasts" by fighting in the streets.

To clarify, the color purple was regulated under Sumptuary Laws in Elizabethan England and could only be worn by royalty; thus, the fact that these people's blood runs purple is a sign of their wealth and status. Mentioning this color alerts audience members to the elite nature of the Capulet and Montague houses and enables the Prince to scold both families by shaming them into behaving in a way that is befitting of their elevated social positions. 

Further Reading:
dneshan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Act 1, scene 1 of the play, Prince Escalus states, "...you men, you beasts /That quench the fire of your pernicious rage / With purple fountains issuing from your veins..."  The Prince, is in the process of reprimanding the two families -- the Montagues and the Capulets -- for another fight which disturbed the streets of Verona.  In mentioning the "purple fountains issuing from" their veins he is referring to their blood -- the purple refers to the fact that both families are wealthy and of the upper class.  In Shakespeare's time, only the upper class well allowed to wear or own anything containing the color purple, mostly due to how expensive it was to buy purple dye.  Therefore, in mentioning that these two families have purple blood, he is letting the audience know that these are not just common families, but rather wealthy and from the elite, upper class. 

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Romeo and Juliet

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