Allusion in Romeo and Juliet
Allusion Examples in Romeo and Juliet:
The Prologue 1
"From forth the fatal loins of these two foes(5) A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows Doth, with their death, bury their parents’ strife. The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love, And the continuance of their parents’ rage,(10) 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...." See in text (The Prologue)
Notice that this play begins with a sonnet that unveils the entire plot of the story. The use of the sonnet here draws our attention to the form, or construction, of the words Shakespeare uses. This literary device coupled with the choice to begin the story with a spoiler suggests that the purpose of this play is not the plot but the way in which the plot is constructed. This prologue asks the audience to pay attention to form.
Act I - Scene I 1
"Dian’s..." See in text (Act I - Scene I)
Diana is the Roman god of the hunt and chastity. In the Diana Acteon myth, Acteon, a young hunter, sees Diana bathing naked by accident while out hunting with his dogs. To punish him for his sight, Diana turns Acteon into a stag, and he is then torn apart by his own dogs. In comparing Rosaline to Diana, Romeo makes her both unattainable and dangerous to love. He uses this allusion to elevate his own love to the level of mythic stories.
Act II - Scene I 1
"King Cophetua..." See in text (Act II - Scene I)
King Cophetua and the beggar maid is a fairy tale from the Early Modern period. In it, King Cophetua lacks desire for any woman until he spies a beautiful beggar woman dressed in rags outside his castle. He vows to marry her or kill himself, and she agrees to be his wife and queen. The two live out a happy marriage and are then buried in the same tomb.
Act II - Scene II 2
"Echo..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
Echo is a mythological character who fell in love with Narcissus, a beautiful man who was capable of loving only himself. Once rejected by her love, Echo pined after Narcissus in a cave until there was nothing left of her but her voice. Juliet alludes to Echo in order to emphasize her dedication to calling for Romeo; she would make both herself and Echo hoarse with his name.
"Jove..." See in text (Act II - Scene II)
Jove is another name for Jupiter, the king of the Roman Gods fashioned after the Greek god Zeus. This line is an allusion to the then common saying from Ovid's Ars Amatoria, “Jupiter from on high smiles at the perjuries of lovers."
Act II - Scene IV 6
"Thisbe..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
Pyramus and Thisbe is a myth from Ovid's Metamorphosis about two tragic lovers separated by a wall in Bablyon. Pyramus and Thisbe fall in love but are forbidden to wed because of their parent's rivalry. They whisper to each other through a crack in the wall and arrange to meet in front of Ninus' tomb. Thisbe arrives first and runs away when she comes across a lion, dropping her scarf as she runs. Pyramus sees her scarf and the lion, assumes that Thisbe has died and impales himself on his sword. When Thisbe returns, her grief over Pyramus's death causes her to kill herself with the same sword.
"Hero ..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
Hero and Leander is a Greek myth in which Hero, a priestess of Aphrodite, falls in love with Leander, a young man from Egypt. Hero lives in a tower across a straight from Leander. Every night she lights a lamp to guide Leander as he swims across the water so that they can make love every night. One night a terrible storm blows out Hero's light, Leander loses his way and drowns. Hero then throws herself from the tower to join her lover in the afterlife.
"Helen..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
Helen was the most beautiful woman in the world and the wife of Sparta's King Menelaus. Paris, the Prince of Troy, finds Helen so beautiful that he kidnaps her to take her as his own. This kidnapping caused the Trojan War.
"Cleopatra..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
Cleopatra was the queen of the ancient Egyptians. Mark Anthony, an important administrator of Rome's government during this time, fell in love with Cleopatra and neglected his duties to his state. Anthony and Cleopatra wage war against Octavius, the Roman ruler, to claim Egypt as their own. Anthony is tricked into killing himself when told Cleopatra is dead and Cleopatra commits suicide after being captured by the Romans and told her lover is dead.
"Dido ..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
In Vrigil's Aeneid, Dido is the queen of Carthage. Aeneas, the Trojan hero and protagonist of Virgil's story, gets derailed from his quest to found Rome when he falls in love with Dido. When he resumes his mission and desserts his lover, Dido kills herself.
"Laura,..." See in text (Act II - Scene IV)
Laura was the woman about whom Petrarch wrote. Petrarch was the inventor of the sonnet, a fourteen line love poem with a strict rhyme scheme. Laura represents the quintessential love object and the beginning of the unrequited love poetry tradition.
Act III - Scene II 3
"serpent heart..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
"Serpent heart" is an allusion to Satan in the Garden of Eden. Satan tricked Eve into eating the apple that got her and Adam banished from Eden by hiding behind an innocent face.
"Phaeton..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
Phaeton was Phoebus's son who was allowed to drive the chariot carrying the sun when he requested proof of his father's power. However, Phaeton cannot control the horses, and Zeus strikes him down in order to protect the Earth from the sun.
"Phoebus..." See in text (Act III - Scene II)
Phoebus was another name for the Apollo, the God of the sun. The steeds Juliet references are those that pull Apollo's chariot, which carried the sun. Juliet uses this allusion to ask for the night to come faster.
Act III - Scene V 1
"Cynthia's..." See in text (Act III - Scene V)
Cynthia is another name for Artemis the Greek god of the moon. Romeo takes up Juliet's insistence that it is night and not day by using this allusion to say that the light outside comes from the moon instead of the sun. There is a hyperbolic and playful tone to this response. Both Romeo and Juliet know that it is morning but want to prolong the night.