What are some examples of classical allusions in Romeo and Juliet?
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! (I, v)
Ethiope is an allusion to Ethiopia. Ethiopian slaves were often found in Moorish harems wearing very beautiful and expensive jewelry in their ears to impress upon all who saw them the wealth of their owners.
There are so many classic references and allusions in this play. Pay attention to your footnotes and sidenotes as you read...you will find many more using this method, and soon you will find them on your own without the help of the footnotes and sidenotes. Enjoy!
Here are a few:
- The use of a Chorus; classical Greek dramas always include a chorus
- I.1--Goddess of Morning Aurora
- II.1--Venus, Cupid, King Cophetua (not Greek, but still an allusion)
- II.2--Jove (or Jupiter/Zeus)
- II.4--Dido, Helen, Hero, Cleopatra
- II.5--Cupid again
- III.2--Phoebus, Phaeton
- III.5--Cynthia (another name for the goddess Artemis)
- IV.1--goddess of love (not named, but Aphrodite)
I hope this helps!
I would also add that there are some facinating Pre-Christian British allusions as well. The Friar's opening speech is laden with ancient herbalism and magic references. Mercutio has a monologue in Act II (I think- I taught this awhile ago and I don't have my notes in front of me) about Queen Mab, a fairy queen (and these aren't Disney-fied fairies). These sort of refernces would have appealed to the lower reaches of society, who were regular play-goers in Shakespear's day.
Here is a link to an example of a classical allusion from Act I: