"A Plague On Both Your Houses"

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Context: The time is the day after the masked ball at which Romeo met and fell in love with Juliet. Mercutio and Benvolio, friends of Romeo, have this morning found Romeo, and have teased him about his whereabouts on the night before. Further, Romeo has been sought out by Juliet's nurse and has appointed his meeting place with her. Benvolio is a quiet-tempered and benevolent man. Mercutio is quick tempered and changeable–mercurial. Now they are walking on the street. Benvolio says that the day is hot and they should retire because if they meet the Capulets they "shall not 'scape a brawl." Mercutio, however, will not go away. The Capulets approach. A fight is being provoked. Romeo enters and tries to stop it. But Tybalt, the Capulet who is determined to fight, and Mercutio draw. They fight, and Mercutio is struck down. Three times he curses the houses of Montague and Capulet, in one of Shakespeare's fine condemnations of this feuding. To Romeo's comment that the wound "cannot be much," Mercutio replies:

No 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a church door, but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. Ask for me to-morrow, and you shall find me a grave man. I am peppered, I warrant, for this world. A plague a both your houses! . . .

"A Thousand Times Good Night"

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Context: Romeo and Juliet have for some minutes been declaring their love for each other. She is standing in the window; he is in the orchard below. Juliet cannot fully understand why Romeo came to see her. She wonders if he loves her, and if his "bent of love be honorable," and his "purpose marriage." Juliet's nurse, standing inside the room, becomes increasingly alarmed at how long Juliet is talking and at the prospect of their being discovered. She calls for Juliet to come back into the rooms. Juliet is torn between fear for Romeo and her desire to drag out the last bitter-sweet moment of being with him. She speaks first to the nurse and then to Romeo, trying to quiet the former and to be sure that the latter fully understands her love and will send for her tomorrow: "Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite: / And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay. / And follow thee my lord throughout the world." Then the following words pass between them:

To cease thy strife, and leave me to my grief.
To-morrow will I send.
So strive my soul–
A thousand times good night. [Exit above.]
A thousand times the worse, to want thy light.
Love goes toward love as schoolboys from their books,
But love from love, toward school with heavy looks.

"Eyes Look Your Last"

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Context: Juliet, who is already secretly married to Romeo, is being forced by her parents to marry Count Paris. Seeking means to avoid this detested fate, Juliet is told by Friar Lawrence that she should consent to the wedding, and he will give her a potion which she can drink the night before the wedding, and it will make her seem lifeless for forty hours. Friar Lawrence plans to inform Romeo of the events, but the message miscarries. Romeo hears of Juliet's death, returns from his banishment, and goes to the Capulet tomb. There he meets and slays Paris, then forces the entry to the tomb. When he sees Juliet, he thinks she looks marvelously lifelike, but he determines to drink the poison he has brought with him. He then speaks his last words to the apparently lifeless Juliet:

. . .
O here
Will I set up my everlasting rest;
And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars
From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes look your last.
Arms, take your last embrace. And lips, o you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death.
. . .

"Fortune's Fool"

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Context: At a masked ball in Verona, Romeo of the Montague family falls in love with Juliet of the rival Capulet family. The next day Romeo and Juliet are secretly married, hoping to end the feud of the Montague and Capulet families, who would never have condoned the marriage if permission had been sought. Just after the marriage Romeo, who is determined to keep peace, refuses to draw his sword on Juliet's insulting kinsman, Tybalt, until Tybalt slays Mercutio, Romeo's quick-tempered friend and defender. Incited, Romeo kills Tybalt, is warned by his companion Benvolio to flee the wrath of the prince, and exclaims that he is "fortunes's fool."

Romeo away, be gone.
The citizens are up, and Tybalt slain.
Stand not amazed, the Prince will doom thee death,
If thou art taken. Hence, be gone, away.
O I am fortune's fool!

"He Jests At Scars That Never Felt A Wound"

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Context: Both Romeo and Juliet have declared their love for each other during the masked ball at the house of the Capulets. Now the party has ended. Romeo is unable to sleep and is wandering down a lane beside the walled orchard belonging to the Capulets. Hearing his friends Benvolio and Mercutio approaching and fearing that they will tease him for his inconstancy in love, Romeo climbs over the orchard wall. Benvolio and Mercutio think that Romeo is hiding close by. Mercutio, remembering Romeo's former passionate infatuation for "fair Rosaline" and thinking that this love is no more serious and enduring than that former one, "conjures" Romeo to reveal his presence:

. . .
Romeo! Humours! Madman! Passion! Lover!
Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh,
Speak but one rhyme and I am satisfied;
Cry but, ay me, pronounce but love and dove;
Speak to my gossip Venus one fair word,
One nickname for her purblind son and heir,
Young Abraham Cupid, he that shot so true,
When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid.
. . .
After this taunting has ended and Benvolio and Mercutio have departed, Romeo remarks that these people cannot know anything of his love because they have never loved:
He jests at scars that never felt a wound.

"Jove Laughs At Lovers' Perjuries"

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Context: In the Capulet orchard after the masked ball at which Romeo saw Juliet and instantly fell hopelessly in love with her, and she with him, Romeo has stood long under the balcony professing to himself his love for this daughter of the enemy family, and describing her beauty. Juliet, above him, completely unaware of Romeo's presence, pours out her love. Finally, unable to conceal his presence longer, Romeo announces himself. Juliet is flustered. At first she doubts his identity. Next she is frightened for his safety, because if he is caught here, her family will slay him. Then she is embarrassed at having revealed her love too quickly and too easily. Though young, she knows that lovers' vows may not be kept. As the Roman poet Tibullus (54?-18? BC, III, 6, 49) said long ago: "Jupiter laughs at the perjuries of lovers." Juliet's words differ only slightly, but her meaning not at all.

. . .
Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say ay,
And I will take thy word; yet if thou swear'st,
Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries
They say Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully.
. . .

"O Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?"

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Context: Romeo is in the Capulet garden below Juliet's window. Juliet appears at the window above, unaware that Romeo is below. Romeo then speaks at his love but not loud enough to disturb her. Romeo is not so much aware as is Juliet of the danger of their situation in being the children of enemy families. He is, rather, bewitched by her beauty and wants to come close: "O that I were a glove upon that hand, / That I might touch that cheek," he says. Juliet then sighs, and Romeo, enraptured, speaks and listens:

. . .
O speak again bright angel, for thou art
As glorious to this night being o'er my head,
As is a winged messenger of heaven
Unto the white-upturned wond'ring eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him,
When he bestrides the lazy pacing clouds,
And sails upon the bosom of the air.
O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father, and refuse thy name.
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

"O True Apothecary! Thy Drugs Are Quick"

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Context: In Verona Romeo, of the house of Montague, falls in love with and secretly marries Juliet, of the rival house of Capulet. Determined to end the feud of the families, Romeo accepts the insults of Tybalt, a Capulet, but, when Tybalt kills Mercutio, Romeo's friend and defender, Romeo draws his sword and slays him. Romeo, who has fled to Mantua for safety, hears that Juliet is dead (actually she has taken a potion to make her appear dead to avoid marrying Paris as her parents insist). Romeo goes to the tomb where Juliet lies, apparently in death, takes a fatal poison, and, as he prepares to die says:

. . .
Eyes look your last.
Arms, take your last embrace. And lips, O you
The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss
A dateless bargain to engrossing death.
Come bitter conduct, come unsavory guide,
Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on
The dashing rocks thy sea-sick weary bark.
Here's to my love! O true apothecary!
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.

"Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow"

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Context: Juliet cannot force herself to break off her interview with Romeo, who is standing in the orchard beneath her balcony, though she fully realizes the wisdom of her nurse in urging her to come away. She is torn between wisdom and love. She exits, leaving Romeo to comment on her beauty and his love, but then she reappears to urge further that Romeo send for her the next day so that they can be married. Finally, it is agreed that Juliet will send a messenger at nine the next morning, and Romeo can then send her his final plans. Juliet would have Romeo go, but would also have him stay:

'Tis almost morning: I would have thee gone.
And yet no farther than a wanton's bird,
That lets it hop a little from her hand,
Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,
And with a silken thread plucks it back again,
So loving-jealous of his liberty.
. . .
Good night, good night. Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

"She Hangs Upon The Cheek Of Night As A Rich Jewel"

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Context: Romeo, a Montague who is love sick over "fair Rosaline," attends with his family friends a masked ball at the home of his enemies, the Capulets. There he sees the masked Juliet, a Capulet. He immediately falls completely in love with this daughter of his family's enemy. The ardor with which he expresses his love reveals Romeo's immaturity, his former inconstancy in love, and the high and rich poetic tone of the play, as he tells how Juliet's beauty is superior to all earthly surroundings and beyond compare:

O she doth teach the torches to burn bright.
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,
And touching hers make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it sight,
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.

"Star-crossed Lovers"

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Context: For this greatest of all love stories, Shakespeare uses Arthur Brooke's Tragicall History of Romeus and Juliet (1562), which derives from earlier versions in Italian and French. This story of young love doomed to end in frustration and catastrophe has always been one of Shakespeare's most beloved works. Set in Italy during the hot summer, the play covers only a week in the lives of the enemy families, the Montagues and Capulets, and their two children. In the Prologue that opens the play, a Chorus–like the choruses in Classical drama–sets the scene, the tragic action, and the consequence of the folly of the lovers' parents.

Two households both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life;
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents' strife.
The fearful passage of their death-marked love,
And the continuance of their parents' rage,
Which, but their children's end, naught could remove,
Is now the two hours' traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend.

"Swear Not By The Moon"

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Context: In the first face-to-face meeting when the two lovers are alone, Romeo and Juliet have declared their love. Juliet, however, with maidenly hesitation and restraint, fears that she has declared her love too easily and too soon. She is afraid that though Romeo protest his love, he may not love her as ardently or as long as she loves him. At this point in their relationship, she fears, perhaps wisely, that Romeo is likely to swear more on the spur of the infatuated moment than he will care to fulfill in the sane daylight. It is natural for Romeo to swear by the moon because the moon is already on his mind, as it always is on the minds of lovers, and because, when he first saw Juliet standing in the window, he called her "the sun," and said that in her "rising" she would "kill the envious moon, / Who is already sick and pale with grief, / That thou her maid art far more fair than she." Juliet, however, knows that lovers always swear on the moon, and she wants Romeo to swear on something more constant. She would rather Romeo would "swear by thy gracious self, / Which is the god of my idolatry," or better yet that he "not swear at all."

O swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

"The Strength Of Twenty Men"

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Context: Romeo has been banished from Verona after the death of Tybalt. At Mantua, where he waits for news of Juliet which Friar Laurence was to send, Balthasar, Romeo's servant, brings word that Juliet "sleeps in Capels' monument,/ And her immortal part with angels lives." Romeo then swears that he will be with Juliet that night. Calling on an apothecary, he seeks means by which he can join Juliet's "immortal part." The apothecary says that he has death-dealing drugs but protests that it is against the law to sell them. Romeo points out the apothecary's poverty and offers riches for the "mortal drugs." The apothecary says, "My poverty, but not my will consents." He then hands over the drug and the following conversation ensues:

Put this in any liquid thing you will
And drink it off, and if you had the strength
Of twenty men, it would dispatch you straight.
There is thy gold, worse poison to men's souls,
Doing more murder in this loathsome world,
Than these poor compounds that thou mayest not sell.
I sell thee poison, thou hast sold me none.
Farewell, buy food, and get thyself in flesh.
. . .

"The Very Pink Of Courtesy"

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Context: The morning after the masked ball at the home of the Capulets, Romeo's friend Mercutio learns from Benvolio that Romeo was not at home all night and that Juliet's fiery cousin Tybalt has sent a letter–apparently a challenge–to Romeo's home. Mercutio, unaware that Romeo has transferred his affection for haughty Rosaline to lovely Juliet Capulet, mocks both Romeo's lovestricken condition and Tybalt's exaggerated compliments and foppish ways, including his fencing style. When Romeo comes by, Mercutio engages in a play of verbal wit with him, each punning on the other's words. The word play begins with a pun on the name for a counterfeit coin–a slip.

. . .
You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.
Good morrow to you both. What counterfeit did I give you?
The slip sir, the slip, can you not conceive?
Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great, and in such a case as mine a man may strain courtesy.
That's as much as to say, such a case as yours constrains a man to bow in the hams.
Meaning to curtsy.
Thou hast most kindly hit it.
A most courteous exposition.
Nay I am the very pink of courtesy.

"What's In A Name?"

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Context: Romeo stands beneath the window enraptured at the sight of his beloved Juliet above him. He feels that he should reveal his presence in the orchard but is too much bewitched. Instead of speaking to her, he debates with himself whether he should speak. While he remains silent, Juliet, completely unaware of his presence, without shame or self-consciousness, pours out her love and her awareness of the terrible plight of these "star-crossed" lovers because they are members of warring families. Her speech contains one of her more beautiful and pathetic statements, the poignant rhetorical question:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O be some other name.
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo doff thy name,
And for thy name which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.

"Wild-goose Chase"

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Context: The morning after Romeo and Juliet have fallen desperately in love and have made their plans to meet again, Mercutio and Benvolio, Romeo's friends, are walking a street in Verona searching for Romeo, who did not come home all night. They think that the "pale hearted wench, that Rosaline,/ Torments him so, that he will sure run mad." After a little more talking, however, they come upon Romeo and accuse him of having purposely given them the slip the preceding night. All three engage in punning and verbal skirmishing. As Romeo gets the better of Mercutio for the moment, the latter protests:

Nay if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done; for thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than I am sure I have in my whole five. . . .

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Character and Theme Quotes