Explain the following exchange from Romeo and Juliet:

Mercutio: Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.

Romeo: Not I, believe me: you have dancing shoes,

With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead

So stakes me to the ground I cannot move.

The exchange from Romeo and Juliet in which Romeo says, "You have dancing shoes / with nimble soles" shows Mercutio encouraging Romeo to forget his troubles and dance. Romeo replies that while Mercutio has nothing to concern him but the nimbleness of his dancing, Romeo's soul is weighed down with unrequited love.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The above quotation is an example of punning, or wordplay. Romeo's feeling pretty down in the dumps and so isn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of going to the Capulets' party. But his good friend Mercutio thinks it will be good for Romeo to go to the party and...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

The above quotation is an example of punning, or wordplay. Romeo's feeling pretty down in the dumps and so isn't exactly thrilled at the prospect of going to the Capulets' party. But his good friend Mercutio thinks it will be good for Romeo to go to the party and dance; it will lift his depressed spirits.

However, Romeo's not convinced. And it's here that we see him indulge in a spot of wordplay. Mercutio may have dancing shoes with nimble soles, but he has a soul of lead that keeps him firmly rooted to the spot.

Mercutio's characteristically good mood is reflected by the nimble soles of his shoes. He certainly won't have any trouble dancing the night away. But it couldn't be more different for poor old Romeo. His sadness, as exemplified by his soul of lead, means that he will not be able to dance.

Lead is a heavy metal, and so Romeo's description of his soul as being made of this material is apt indeed. If Mercutio is happy, Romeo is sad. If Mercutio is feeling in a light mood, Romeo's mood is heavy and leaden. And if Mercutio is able to dance due to the nimble soles of his shoes, Romeo is unable to follow suit due to his soul of lead.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In this exchange from act 1, scene 4 of Romeo and Juliet, Mercutio is attempting to persuade Romeo to forget his woes and enjoy the dance. Romeo replies that this is easy enough for Mercutio and his friends. They have nothing to concern them but dancing. His soul, by contrast, is heavy and weighs him down, preventing him from dancing or from enjoying himself.

The central image in Romeo's retort is provided by the pun on "sole" and "soul." This is one of Shakespeare's favorite pieces of wordplay which he uses again, for instance, in The Merchant of Venice. The contrast between these homonyms is striking, since the sole is the lowest part of the body while the soul is the essential spirit, which survives death. The place of the sole is on the ground, whereas the soul is supposed to be light and airy. Romeo is saying that Mercutio's soles are light while his own soul is heavy; but he is simultaneously remarking that Mercutio is motivated by the lowest part of his nature while Romeo follows a higher path.

The exchange shows that, despite Mercutio's brilliant flights of fancy, Romeo's wits are a match for his, even when Romeo is oppressed by unrequited love. Later, after meeting Juliet, Romeo becomes even more daring in his verbal battles with his friend, and the audience has a clearer sense of their normal relations, when Romeo's soul is not so heavy.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In act 1, scene 4, Mercutio, Romeo, Benvolio, and several of their friends arrive at the Capulet ball. Before they enter, Mercutio encourages Romeo to dance in order to lift his spirits. When Mercutio tells Romeo to dance, Romeo responds by saying,

Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes
With nimble soles. I have a soul of lead
So stakes me to the ground I cannot move (Shakespeare 1.4.13–16).

Romeo uses a clever pun, a play on words that have the same pronunciation but entirely different meanings, by using the words "soles" and "soul." Romeo also uses a metaphor by comparing his soul to lead, which is a dull, heavy metal. Romeo is essentially telling Mercutio that he has nimble soles on the bottom of his shoes because he is in a good, enthusiastic mood. In contrast, Romeo says that his soul is similar to lead, which will prevent him from enjoying the party and dancing with the ladies in attendance. Romeo's negative response corresponds to his depressed, melancholy mood because Rosaline does not love him. However, Romeo immediately dismisses his feelings for Rosaline the second he lays eyes on Juliet.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This very clever pun appears as Romeo, Mercutio and the other Montague men are on their way to Capulet's party in Act I, Scene 4 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. A pun is a play on the multiple meanings of a word or two words that sound alike but have different meanings. Shakespeare was one of the greatest punsters of all time and more elaborate puns appear later in the play during the exchange between Romeo and Mercutio in Act II, Scene 4. In this scene Romeo is still depressed over his unrequited love for Rosaline and Mercutio is trying to cheer him up by convincing him that when they get to the party Romeo should dance. The pun involves the homophones soul and sole. Homophones occur when two words sound the same but have both different definitions and different spellings. Romeo claims that Mercutio has "nimble soles," meaning the bottoms of his shoes, but that he has a "soul of lead" because he is sad over his love for a girl who will not return his affection. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team