What are some examples of allusion in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

Romeo and Juliet contains several allusions to Greco-Roman mythology. These allusions aid characterization and the creation of imagery.

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One example of an allusion in Romeo and Juliet is the reference in act 1, scene 4 to Queen Mab, the Queen of the fairies in Celtic folklore. Another example can be found in act 3, scene 2, when Juliet refers to Phaethon, who in Greek mythology is the son of the sun god, Helios.

In act 1, scene 4, Mercutio delivers a long, surreal monologue about Queen Mab. Queen Mab was known in Celtic folklore as a mischievous and playful fairy, and in Mercutio's monologue she plants mischievous dreams into sleepers' heads. She gives to soldiers dreams of "cutting foreign throats," and to parsons she gives dreams of being appointed to higher positions within the church. The meaning of Mercutio's monologue is that Queen Mab has planted a mischievous dream in Romeo's head. Mercutio is implying that Romeo's dream is his love for Rosaline, and that that dream, because it was planted by the meddling Queen Mab, should not be taken too seriously.

Later in the play, in act 3, scene 2, Juliet is waiting anxiously for the morning to come because in the morning, she will see Romeo again. She is impatient to see Romeo again, and so she tries to hurry time along by invoking the Greek myth of Phaethon. Phaethon was the unruly son of the sun god, Helios. One day, so the myth goes, Phaethon took his father's chariot, which Helios would use to pull the sun across the sky. Phaethon drove the chariot recklessly and too quickly and crashed the chariot, along with the sun, into the earth. Juliet invokes this story to indicate that she would like time now to go as quickly as it did when Phaethon pulled the sun across the sky. There is a tragic irony to this allusion, as the destruction consequent of Phaeton's recklessness foreshadows the tragedy that is later consequent of Romeo and Juliet's recklessness.

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Romeo and Juliet largely alludes to Greco-Roman mythology, particularly Cupid, the Roman god of erotic love, and Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. With the play's focus on desire and romantic yearning, such allusions are fitting, reflecting the passions which govern the characters and the romance at the center of the story.

In general, the allusions in Romeo and Juliet serve to further describe the characters. When discussing Rosaline with Benvolio, Romeo laments that she won't be hit by "Cupid's arrow," a reference to her dedication to a chaste life. He further compares her to Diana, the Roman goddess who represents chastity. Mercutio refers to Cupid as the "blind bow-boy" when talking about Romeo's lovesickness, both characterizing Romeo and love itself as illogical and ridiculous. Mercutio also refers to the hot-headed Tybalt as the "prince of cats," a reference to a character with the same given name from the medieval animal fable Reynard the Fox. This serves to both emphasize Tybalt's personality and to belittle him by comparing him to an animal character.

Characters also use allusions to give color to their poetic language. Montague describes a sunrise as drawing the "shady curtains from Aurora's bed," Aurora being the goddess of the dawn. When Juliet eagerly awaits the consummation of her marriage to Romeo, she evokes Phoebus, the god of the sun, to emphasize her passionate feelings.

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An allusion is a moment when an author makes a reference to another work of literature. The reference can include "a person, place, event, or another passage" found in another piece of literature (Dr. Wheeler, "Literary Terms and Definitions"). Romeo and Juliet is most definitely full of allusions. Several different allusions can actually be found in the very fist scene. Most of Shakespeare's allusions refer to either Greek or Roman mythology, and these serve as allusions because Greek and Roman mythology was recorded in writing. Therefore, any reference to Greek or Roman mythology is a literary reference. Below are a few allusions explained to help you get started.

After Prince Escalus breaks up the whole-city riot, we see Lord Montague talking with Benvolio about how he is concerned about his son Romeo. One thing Montague says is that Romeo has been seen at dawn crying morning after morning. He also says that at dawn, Romeo finally retires to his room to sleep, drawing the curtains. Montague describes the dawn in the lines:

... But all so soon as the all-cheering sun
Should in the farthest East begin to draw
The shady curtains from Aurora's bed... (I.i.130-32)

The phrase "draw the shady curtains from Aurora's bed" refers to Roman mythology and is therefore an example of allusion. Aurora was the Roman goddess of the dawn. The image portrays the sun drawing the curtains from the goddess of the dawn's bed.

Romeo later makes two more allusions to Roman mythology. Romeo refers to Cupid in the lines, "Alas that love, whose view is muffled still, / Should without eyes see pathways to his will!" (169-70). Cupid is the Roman god of erotic love and is always portrayed as being blind folded. Hence, we know that this reference to love with a "muffled" view, or blind view, is actually an allusion to Cupid. Later, when talking about Rosaline, he says:

She hath Dian's wit,
And, in strong proof of chastity well arm'd,
From Love's weak childish bow she lives uharm'd. (211-13)

Diana was the goddess of both hunting and childbirth. However, ironically, as the goddess of childbirth, she was also a sworn virgin. Hence, Romeo is saying here that, like Diana, Rosaline has vowed to remain chaste. Therefore, we see that this reference to "Dian" and "Chastity" is an allusion to the goddess Diana of Roman mythology.

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