Greek and Roman Allusions: Like many of Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet uses multiple allusions to Greek and Roman Mythology because humanism was a dominant philosophy in the Early Modern Renaissance.
In act 2, scene 4, Mercutio gives a speech that references many myths about doomed lovers right before Romeo and Juliet meet at the Capulet ball. The following list reminds us that these characters, much like the mythological characters mentioned, are doomed lovers:
- Dido and Aeneas: In The Aeneid, Dido commits suicide when Aeneas leaves her to fulfill his destiny.
- Petrarch and Laura: Petrarch, the inventor of the sonnet, wrote to Laura, a beautiful woman he could never have. She died before he could tell her he loved her.
- Marc Anthony and Cleopatra: Antony and Cleopatra declared war against the Roman Emperor and lost. Anthony was tricked into killing himself when he thought Cleopatra dead; she committed suicide after hearing of his death.
- Hero and Leander: Leander drowns when a storm blows out the light Leander leaves in her tower to guide him; she then leaps from the tower to be with him.
- Thisbe and Pyramus: Pyramus kills himself when he believes Thisbe has been eaten by a lion. Thisbe kills herself with his sword when she sees her slain lover.
- Helen of Troy: Paris of Troy’s lust, love, and subsequent kidnapping of Helen sparked the Trojan War.
Other Notable Allusions:
- King Cophetua (act 2, scene 1): This is a fairy tale in which King Cophetua cannot love any woman until he sees a beggar dressed in rags outside his castle. He vows to marry her and they live happily ever after.
- Cupid (act 1, scene 1; act 1, scene 4; act 2, scene 1; act 2, scene 5): This is the Roman God of love.
- Echo and Narcissus (act 2, scene 2): Echo is cursed to repeat the last words that anyone says to her. Narcissus is the man she loves and follows even though he rejects her.