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Vocabulary in Romeo and Juliet

Vocabulary Examples in Romeo and Juliet:

The Prologue

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"Chorus..."   (The Prologue)

In Greek tragedy, a chorus was a group of actors that would comment on or interpret the main action of the play for the audience. They usually did so by speaking and moving together. In the Early Modern period, this role was reduced to a single actor who would deliver the prologue and epilogue to a play. The presence of a chorus at the beginning of the play establishes a connection between the audience and the players on stage and commands them to pay attention to the story.

"mistempered..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Shakespeare adapted this word, which previously meant either ill-mixed or deranged. Here "mistempered" means the weapon was made for an evil purpose. In this way, Shakespeare paints the feud as so bad that it infects even the fundamental characteristics of the weapons used to carry it out.

" heartless hinds?..."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Heartless hinds" is a metaphor that compares Sampson and Gregory to deers without a stag to lead them. Notice that Tybalt enters the fray when Benvolio steps in to stop it. While Tybalt will not fight the lesser members of the Montague clan, Benvolio is Romeo's cousin and therefore a worthy opponent because of his elevated social class. Notice how the class system is embedded within this conflict.

"thrust his maids to the wall...."   (Act I - Scene I)

Sampson conflates fighting with sexual violence here in order to demonstrate his dominance over the Montagues. By "thrusting his maids to the wall," he means he will rape Montague women, and by "pushing the men away from the wall" he means he will take the virginity that belongs to Montague men for himself. Notice that this love story begins in a place in which women are violently treated as objects that demonstrate male physical prowess and status within the feud.

"take the wall ..."   (Act I - Scene I)

Elizabethan streets sloped down away from the wall towards a central canal where refuse flowed. Socially superior members of society would walk against the wall where it was safer and cleaner. With this assertion, Sampson claims that he is socially superior to the Montagues. There is also a violent sexual innuendo that implies raping the men and women of the Montague clan as a woman's virginity was referred to as the "wall."

"moved..."   (Act I - Scene I)

In this context "moved" means to react to an insult. It also plays on fencing terminology in which "moved" means being forced to retreat backwards by a frontal attack. The play on words establishes these characters as clown characters. Shakespearian drama often uses clowns to underscore or demonstrate the main conflict of the play in a way that is easily accessible and entertaining to the audience.

"choler..."   (Act I - Scene I)

This play on words references the four humors, the dominant medical theory used to explain dispositions and diseases in Shakespeare's time. It was believed that the four humors had to be in proper balance because imbalance would cause extreme emotions. Too much of the "choleric" humor caused anger. With this play on words the characters move between social stereotypes that mock coal miners and medical knowledge.

"carry coals...."   (Act I - Scene I)

"Carry coals" was a popular phrase used by dramatists in Shakespeare's time that meant to put up with insults. Coal carriers were considered menial workers, meaning that calling someone a coal carrier was a way of insulting their social status.

"stint..."   (Act I - Scene III)

In this time period "stint" meant to stop or cease action. Notice that the Nurse does not stop telling the story when Lady Capulet asks her to stop talking but does listen to Juliet. This demonstrates the close relationship between the Nurse and Juliet. While Lady Capulet coldly tells her to stop talking, Juliet entreats her to end her tale with the loving affection of a daughter to a mother. This is another place in which familial relations are figured in an odd way. At the beginning family causes bloodshed and brawls, and here familial allegiance is outside of blood.

"Lammastide..."   (Act I - Scene III)

Lammas Day is the festival of wheat harvest that occurs on the first of August. Juliet's birthday is July 31st, or Lammas Eve. The Nurse is asking how long until Juliet's birthday to find out how old she is. This could be a rhetorical device used to tell the audience that Juliet will be fourteen in two weeks. Notice how much importance the adults in this play place on Juliet's exact age. It has now been the topic of two conversations in the first three scenes of the play.

"healths five fathom deep..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"Healths" is a colloquialism that means to drink a toast. "Five fathoms deep" is a nautical measurement that equals about thirty feet. This metaphor uses hyperbole to imply that soldiers drink a lot.

"smelling out a suit..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"Smelling out a suit" means to find a someone to petition government officials, or pay off government officials, so that the courtier has influence in the court. Notice that the dreams Queen Mab gives reveals Mercutio's opinion of each group of people. Lawyers only care for money, women's lips only care for kisses, and courtiers only care for influence within the court.

"tithe-pig..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

A parson was a pastor or vicar of a small church. Tithe was the tax, generally a tenth of the parishioner's income or livestock, that a church would collect in order to support itself. Sometimes a church would collect tithe in the form of livestock, such as pigs. Claiming that the parson would dream of tithe is a subtle suggestion that there was corruption within the church as this holy man dreams of money or payment rather than God.

"wagoner..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"Wagoner" is a coachman or driver. This description of her collar, whip, wagon, etc. demonstrates how tiny she is and imbues her with whimsical imagery that situates her story in the world of fantasy.

"atomies..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"Atomies" in this context means a little fairy. Queen Mab travels into men's bedrooms as they sleep followed by her subjects.

"dun..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"Dun" refers to a dark or gloomy color. But it also occurs in a then common phrase "dun is in the mire," in which dun means horse. This colloquial phrase was used to say that something was at a stand-still or dead-lock. Mercutio invokes this saying in order to contradict Romeo's outlook: even if the "dun is in the mire" and the situation is hopelessly at a stand-still, Mercutio and Benvolio are determined to pull him out of the "mire," metaphorically his lovesick, gloomy disposition.

"prolixity..."   (Act I - Scene IV)

"Prolixity" means longwinded or wordy spoken or written language. It was custom in this time period to send a messenger ahead of one's party if they were going to show up in masks and wished to remain anonymous. The messenger was supposed to beg apology from the host with rhetoric. Romeo asks if they should send this messenger, and Benvolio tells him that such formalities are now out of date.

"book..."   (Act I - Scene V)

This is a colloquialism that means to do something expertly. It employs a double meaning though as "the book" also refers to the Bible. Juliet here references Romeo's ability to "kiss by the book" in order to erase the sin metaphors into which they had fallen. Rather than the kiss being something sinful, the kiss becomes something that is sanctioned by "the book" or the Bible. In turn this marks their forbidden love as something that is good and lawful rather than sinful.

"Pentecost..."   (Act I - Scene V)

In the Christian tradition, the Pentecost is the day that Christ descended from heaven after his resurrection to revisit his apostles. The apostles received the spirit by speaking in tongues and were transformed from fearful men to men able to accept martyrdom. This statement essentially means let the days go by as fast as they want.

"makes dainty..."   (Act I - Scene V)

"Makes dainty" is a colloquial phrase that means to hesitate. Here he implies that any woman who does not want to dance has corns, hardened layers of skin on the feet caused by wearing shoes that were too small. Corns were associated with witches and old age much like warts and hairy moles, and would have been something a young lady would want to hide. Notice that while he entreats the men to dance, he shames the women into dancing.

"trencher..."   (Act I - Scene V)

A "trencher" was a wooden serving platter. Scene five begins with servants clearing away the dinner plates to signal that Romeo and his friends missed dinner. They have arrived just in time for the dance. Notice how Shakespeare uses dialogue to signal location, time passing, and events not figured on stage without directly stating them.

"Bondage is hoarse..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Here Juliet references her "bondage," or servitude, to her family in order to lament her inability to loudly call out to Romeo. Because she is "imprisoned" by her family, she cannot openly express her love or call to her lover, and must instead talk to him in hoarse whispers.

"bent..."   (Act II - Scene II)

In this context, "bent" means inclination or desire. Marriage and courtship were much different in Shakespeare's time. Generally, relations of any kind outside of marriage, including kissing, vowing love, or being alone together, were seen as dishonorable. Marriages were arranged by parents and courtships were supervised by a servant such as a nurse or a family member. Because Romeo and Juliet's families would never consent to this marriage, they must police their desire without the help of social conventions. This rapid engagement and marriage could be seen as more evidence of the backwards world created by their parent's feud.

Thus, Romeo and Juliet must make all of the arrangements for their marriage and police their own honor.

"o'erperch..."   (Act II - Scene II)

This means to fly over. It connotes overcoming a great obstacle. The heaviness of "overperched" is juxtaposed with the lightness of "love's wings" to suggest that love makes even the most daunting of obstacles easy to overcome. Romeo answers Juliet's fears by implicitly asserting that love can overcome all odds.

"counsel..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Counsel" in this context means one's private thoughts. This question affirms that Juliet did not know that Romeo was listening to her.

" baptiz'd;..."   (Act II - Scene II)

Here Romeo refers to Baptism, the Christian tradition which symbolizes rebirth of a new more holy self. Notice that Juliet's love, not faith in God, is what would grant Romeo his new self.

"O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?..."   (Act II - Scene II)

"Wherefore" means why, as in Why are you Romeo? Notice that Juliet asks Romeo to forsake his name but only states his first name, not the title, Montague, that is so problematic. This is an example of apostrophe, a type of dramatic speech in which a character speaks to an inanimate object or person who is absent. Juliet does not know that Romeo can hear her.

"vestal livery..."   (Act II - Scene II)

A "vestal livery" is the outfit worn by virgins who serve Diana. The "sick and green" to which Romeo refers is the green sickness, or virgin sickness. It was believed in Shakespeare's time that a girl going through puberty suffered from anemia and could only be cured of this disease if they were relieved of their virginity. Here Romeo chastises Diana's virgin outfit and thus makes an argument against Juliet's virginity.

"shrift..."   (Act II - Scene III)

A "shrift" is the penance that a priest offer to someone after they confess. Notice that the Friar believes Romeo has come to confess, implying that his actions during the previous night were sinful.

"mickle..."   (Act II - Scene III)

"Mickle" means large in bulk or size. The Friar is introduced to the audience as someone who knows a lot about herbs and plants. He goes on to talk about both curing and poisonous plants. In this way, the Friar's speech underscores the theme of good and bad, love and violence mixing, and inadvertently foreshadows the tragic end of the play.

"protest..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

"Protest" in this context means a formal or emphatic declaration. The Nurse takes Romeo's words to be a formal declaration of his love for Juliet.

"jacks..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

"Jacks" here means cheeky young men. The Nurse is offended by Mercutio's words and is angry with Peter for not defending her. Notice how the Nurse's indignation excessively delays her message to Romeo.

"compliments..."   (Act II - Scene IV)

This means to be good at dueling. "Captain of compliments" means essentially the same thing as the modern day Master of Ceremonies. Mercutio follows this description with an extended metaphor comparing Tybalt's dueling prowess to music.

"bear the burden..."   (Act II - Scene V)

This statement refers to the consummation of their marriage that night. The Nurse complains that she must find a ladder so that Romeo can climb through Juliet's window that night, but teases Juliet that she is the one who will have "toil" that night.

"heralds..."   (Act II - Scene V)

"Heralds" means messengers. Here, Juliet unintentionally touches on one of the themes presented in the previous scene: there are too many messengers, or people intervening, in Romeo and Juliet's love. This is also foreshadowing as their reliance on messengers will eventually lead to the tragic end of the story.

"blazon..."   (Act II - Scene VI)

In this context, "blazon" means to trumpet or praise something highly. This is not to be confused with the poetic blazon. Romeo uses language that implies music in order to describe his joy and their union.

"My blood..."   (Act III - Scene I)

Mercutio was related to the Prince, not the Capulets or Montagues. The Prince ignores both arguments made by the Montagues and Capulets because their feud took the life of one of his kin.

"book of arithmetic..."   (Act III - Scene I)

The "book of arithmetic" is fighting by calculation, in other words fighting with proper fencing technique. Here, Mercutio is particularly angry because Tybalt did not fight by the book but rather stabbed Mercutio under Romeo's arm. Mercutio laments that it was not a fair fight, and implicates Romeo in his murder.

"peppered..."   (Act III - Scene I)

"Peppered" means done for. As soon as Mercutio makes his joke about being dead the next day, he realizes that it is not a joke but rather the truth. In this moment he becomes angry and his language changes from playful and punning to serious and literal.

"Alla stoccata..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This is a fencing term that means "at the thrust," "on gaurde," or let's begin. Mercutio challenges Tybalt to battle in order to redeem Romeo's "vile submission," or perceived cowardice.

"field..."   (Act III - Scene I)

"Field" in this context means a battlefield. Mercutio takes up Tybalt's insult and converts "man," meaning manservant, into "man" meaning opponent in battle. Notice that Mercutio keeps escalating the insults so that they suggest physical violence.

"my man..."   (Act III - Scene I)

"My man" was the address form one used to refer to their servant. In this context, Tybalt is calling Romeo is "man," or servant, in order to disrespect Romeo and infuriate Mercutio.

"Zounds..."   (Act III - Scene I)

This is an insult that combines "God's wounds" into one word. God's wounds references the wounds Jesus received while on the cross and was seen as an incredibly offensive insult in Shakespeare's time.

"envious..."   (Act III - Scene II)

"Envious" in this context means angry or full of ill-will. However, it also invokes the other meaning of envious, to be full of jealousy. Juliet believes that the Nurse is talking about Romeo being dead and that he was taken by death because heaven was jealous of their love or full of malice.

"curtain..."   (Act III - Scene II)

Here, "curtain" refers to the cloak of night and the curtain that encircled a bed to block out light and prying eyes. Curtain in this sense invokes both secrecy and the marriage bed. In this way, Juliet marks the night as a place in which her love with Romeo will manifest and be allowed to exist.

"tender..."   (Act III - Scene IV)

Tender means both fond feeling and legal currency. Notice that when Capulet discusses his daughter's marriage, he uses monetary terms as if she is a business transaction.

"move our daughter...."   (Act III - Scene IV)

"Move our daughter" in this context means to convince her to marry you. In the last two scenes, the other characters in the play have suggested that everyone in the Capulet House will be grief stricken by Tybalt's death. However, this scene opens with the Capulets and Paris planning Juliet's marriage and talking about Tybalt's death as if it were an inconvenience. This either demonstrates the cold nature of Juliet's parents or that in the context of the feud death has become commonplace.

"challenge..."   (Act III - Scene V)

"Challenge" in this context means to demand possession of. The Nurse here argues that since Romeo is banished, he will never return for her. In this logic, she is essentially unwed because her husband is gone.

"hurdle..."   (Act III - Scene V)

A "hurdle" was a type of sledge used to carry prisoners to their executions. Notice that Capulet's teasing metaphors have become vicious, even violent. He either refers to her as property that he can barter or sell, or as a prisoner who he can sentence and execute at will. Juliet is figured as a possession.

"gives you thanks..."   (Act III - Scene V)

This is a phrase that means "no thank you." Lady Capulet reduces all of Juliet's protests to a simple and disrespectful "no thank you" and demonstrates that she was not listening when Juliet was speaking earlier.

"conduit..."   (Act III - Scene V)

A "conduit" is a pipe. This is a teasing metaphor for Juliet's tears. Notice again that the Capulets do not take sorrow seriously; they continuously mock and chide Juliet for feeling her cousin's death.

"temper..."   (Act III - Scene V)

"Temper" means to mix or concoct. Again, Juliet is able to appease her mother and protect her love: if Juliet is the one to make the "poison" she can make a harmless mixture.

"friend..."   (Act III - Scene V)

In this context, "friend" means kinsman. This line can be read in two ways. Lady Capulet could be compassionately reiterating what she said before and telling Juliet that all of her grief will not bring Tybalt back to life. Or, Lady Capulet could be telling Juliet that her grief is selfish because it loses sight of the friend, Tybalt, to focus on itself. In both readings, Lady Capulet is telling Juliet to stop mourning her cousin.

"unstain'd..."   (Act IV - Scene I)

"Unstained" in this context means pure. We know that Juliet has already lost her virginity in this play, thus "purity" no longer means virginal but faithful. As long as no one else possesses her, she remains "unstained." However, this understanding of purity ironically makes Juliet into an object: in order to remain pure, she must remain Romeo's possession.

"mouse-hunt..."   (Act IV - Scene IV)

A "mouse-hunt" was a colloquial term for chasing women. Lady Capulet challenges her husband's claim that he has stayed up late for less important things by saying that these less important things were pursuing women.

"cot-quean..."   (Act IV - Scene IV)

This means a man who plays a housewife. The Nurse is chiding Capulet for managing the arrangements for Juliet's wedding.

"promotion..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

"Promotion" in this context refers to Juliet's social status. The Capulets were trying to "promote" Juliet from unwed maiden to married woman.

"pennyworths..."   (Act IV - Scene V)

This means a small quantity of something, such as sleep. The Nurse is teasing Juliet for over sleeping. She has not yet realized that Juliet is "dead."

"cordial..."   (Act V - Scene I)

"Cordial" in this context suggests that the poison is a remedy or medicine. Romeo sees the poison as a remedy because it will relieve him of his sorrow for Juliet's death. This urge shows a direct reversal in Romeo's desires from the beginning of the scene. In the beginning, Juliet rescues Romeo from death; by the end, Romeo resigns himself to death for her.

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