Romeo and Juliet

by: William Shakespeare

Juliet

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? (I.ii.)

This line may be one of the most frequently quoted, and frequently misunderstood, lines in all of Shakespeare. Though Juliet is standing on her balcony, unaware of Romeo below her, the line doesn’t mean she’s asking where he is. Wherefore means why, so Juliet is asking why Romeo is who he is—namely, a Montague, and therefore her sworn enemy.

My only love sprung from my only hate
Too early seen unknown, and known too late! (I.v.)

Juliet complains that she saw Romeo and fell in love with him “too early,” before she knew he was her enemy. Almost everything happens to Juliet too early. She is told to prepare herself for marriage before she is ready, she marries Romeo before she can get her parents’ permission, her marriage to Paris is moved forward twice, and Romeo arrives at her tomb before she has time to wake up.

What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot,
Nor arm nor face nor any other part
Belonging to a man. Oh, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet. (II.ii)

Juliet is practical. She argues that Romeo’s name is not a part of his body, so it’s not an essential part of him. The audience might think of Romeo’s genitals when she lists “any other part / Belonging to a man,” especially since Juliet’s language is often physical and erotic. But here she is also philosophical, exploring language’s relationship to how we experience reality.

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
My love as deep; the more I give to thee,
The more I have, for both are infinite. (II.ii.)

Like Romeo, Juliet sees love as a kind of freedom, “boundless” and “infinite.” The suggestion that Juliet will “give” her “bounty” to Romeo is the most explicitly erotic moment in their conversation so far. Throughout the play, Juliet takes the lead in the sexual side of their relationship.

Hist, Romeo, hist! O for a falconer’s voice
To lure this tassel-gentle back again. (II.ii)

Earlier in this scene, Romeo imagined himself with “light wings.” In these lines, Juliet picks up on this image to picture Romeo as a tame falcon and herself as a falconer. Juliet’s image suggests she feels she has power over him. The fact that she takes Romeo’s metaphor and bends it to her own purposes also suggests her sense of power in their relationship.

Come, gentle night, come, loving black-browed night,
Give me my Romeo, and when I shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars. (III.ii.)

In these lines, Juliet looks forward to her wedding night in explicitly sexual terms. “Die” was Elizabethan slang for orgasm, which turns her image of Romeo as a sky full of stars into a metaphor for sexual climax. The violence of the image also reminds us that in Romeo and Juliet, sex and violence are never far apart.

So tedious is this day
As is the night before some festival
To an impatient child that hath new robes
And may not wear them. (III.ii.)

As Juliet expresses her sexual maturity by longing for her wedding night, she compares herself to an “impatient child.” This serves to remind the audience that Juliet is not yet fourteen. Throughout the play, Juliet matures and reaches major life events too early, which foreshadows that she will also die much too young.

O God, I have an ill-divining soul!
Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low,
As one dead in the bottom of a tomb. (III.v.)

Just before Romeo and Juliet met, Romeo had an intuition that his life was about to take a tragic turn. In this scene, which is the lovers’ last scene alive together, it is Juliet’s turn to foresee their tragic fate. These two moments bookend the lovers’ relationship and show that from beginning to end, Romeo and Juliet share a single fate and experience it together.

I will kiss thy lips.
Haply some poison yet doth hang on them
To make me die with a restorative. (V.iii.)

These are Juliet’s last words. She imagines the poison that has killed Romeo as a “restorative,” a medicine that can put an end to her suffering. One of the play’s major themes is the inseparability of good and evil, love and hate, poison and cure. Juliet’s death is tragic, but she also celebrates it as a way of escaping a life without her beloved.