I hadn’t read Romeo and Juliet since college and my impression was that it was two hours of that damn balcony scene and half an hour of fencing. So I am glad I read it again because after a few false starts and with the help of the BBC, I enjoyed it. Like the rest of the plays I’ve read, it’s gotten under my skin.
All the commentaries I’ve looked at agree on two things: “Wherefore art thou Romeo?” does not mean “Where are you Romeo?” It means “Why is your name Romeo?” Pass it on because it would be nice if the pedants could get over it. The other thing everyone mentions is that the play is bursting with romantic, bawdy and sexual innuendo.
I was plugging away at the text when I got to Mercutio’s mention of Queen Mab and a little tinkerbell went off. Queen Mab. The Queen Mab speech. (http://www.monologuearchive.com/s/shakespeare_067.html) This carried me back to my junior high school years when the Franco Zefferelli movie of Romeo and Juliet came out. My friends and I saw the movie. We bought the soundtrack. We read every Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine that covered its stars. We bought the sheet music to the theme song. My friend Mary played it on her flute and I played it on the piano. We sang the sappy words with all the earnestness and solemnity of 14-year-old girls who had only a vague notion of what a virgin was. (I say had because I’m not sure the species exists any longer.)
We loved that movie and it encouraged us to read the play. Mary started calling everyone “ladybird.” She was prone to spout things like “Beautiful tyrant! Fiend angelical!” (III, ii) She memorized the Queen Mab speech and told me it was full of dirty words but we didn’t know which ones those were. (I still don’t.) We acted out the balcony scene. We tried to drape ourselves so our small breasts would burst into our necks like Juliet’s.
I have to say that I still needed the antics of the filmed versions to pick up a lot of the “bawdy and sexual” references. The Pelican Shakespeare is circumspect in its footnotes, apologetically citing an occasional phallic symbol or intoning “with ribald innuendo.” In the films the men grab their codpieces to emphasize their points. Now because this never would have been encouraged when I was in junior high school or even college, I suppose on the grounds that we were puerile enough, I am going to wallow in some of the sexual references:
*Draw thy tool. (I, i)
*The blind bow-boy’s butt-shaft (II, iv)
*This driveling love is like a great natural that runs lolling up and down to hide his bauble in a hole. (II, iv)
*. . .the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon. (II, iv)
And then there is the reference that took my breath away once I understood that die is an Elizabethan term for orgasm and death is shortly to take Romeo:
*Give me my Romeo; and when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night. . . (III, ii)
Here is more from Romeo and Juliet:
*Star-crossed lovers. (I, i)
*Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health
Still-waking sleep. . . (I, i)
*It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear (I, v)
*But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east and Juliet is the sun! (II, ii)
*What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. (II, ii)
*Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow. . .
*For naught so vile that on earth doth live
But to the earth some special good doth give;
For aught so good but, strained from that fair use,
Revolts from the true birth, stumbling on abuse. (II, iii)
*fool’s paradise (II, iv)
*A plague a both your houses! (III, i)
*O true apothecary. . . O happy dagger (V, iii)