What device was Shakespeare using when he compared "sole" and "soul" in Act I, Scene IV of Romeo and Juliet?

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Shakespeare uses a pun when he uses the homophones “sole” and “soul” in Act 1.

A pun is a joke that makes use of language, including how words sound.

The world “sole” means the bottom of one’s foot.  The word “soul” means our inner spiritual being.  These are homophones because they sound alike, but do not have the same meaning.  It is a pun because Shakespeare takes advantage of their similar sound to make a joke.

Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes(15)

With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead

So stakes me to the ground I cannot move. (Act 1, Scene 4)

Romeo is basically saying that since he feels sad, he is not able to dance.  In order to dance, you have to be happy.  He is not happy because his girl Rosaline left him.  Romeo does not seem to be too depressed to make a pun though!

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kmj23's profile pic

kmj23 | (Level 2) Educator

Posted on

In Act I, Scene IV, of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare uses a pun, a play on words, in one of Romeo's sentences:

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 words "sole" and "soul" both have different meanings. A sole refers to the bottom of a person's shoe, while a soul is the name given to the spiritual part of a person. Shakespeare uses these words interchangeably, however, because they have a similar sound.

By using this pun, Shakespeare adds some humor to this sentence: Romeo is unable to dance not because he is wearing the wrong shoes but because he feels so depressed that his body is heavy and stuck to the ground. 

Shakespeare also uses this pun to make a humorous comparison between Mercutio and Romeo. The reader has an image of Mercutio dancing lightly on his feet because he has "nimble soles" on his shoes while Romeo is weighed down by his own misery as he pines for Rosalind.

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