Explanatory Notes for Act 1, Scene 3
From Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan.
*Line numbers have been adjusted.
3. What, an exclamation of impatience at not finding her; so why frequently in the same way: lady-bird, a term of endearment; the lady-bird is really a small scarlet insect which flits about from leaf to leaf.
4. God forbid! sc. that anything should have happened to her.
5. How now! what's the matter, that you call out in this way
7. This is the matter, this is what I want to speak to you
about: give leave awhile, leave us alone for a time; cp. K. J. i. 1. 230, "James Gurney, wilt thou give us leave awhile?" and
i. H. IV. iii. 2. 1, "Lords, give us leave; the Prince of Wales and I Must have some private conference."
11. I have remember'd me, on second thought, there is no need for you to leave us; me, used reflexively; cp. T. N. v. 1. 286, "alas, now I remember me," i.e. now that I come to think of the matter again: thou's, a colloquialism for 'thou shalt,' as in Lear, iv. 6, 246, "ise try " is a provincialism for 'I shall try': counsel,
12. of a pretty age, well grown, of a marriageable age.
13. Faith, in faith, assuredly: unto an hour, exactly.
15. lay, stake as a wager.
16. to my teen, to my sorrow, sorry as I am to say it; cp.
Temp. i. 2. 64, "To think of the teen that I have turned you to."
Here of course for the sake of the jingle with "fourteen."
18. Lammas-tide, "a name for the first of August ... The literal sense is 'loaf-mass,' because a loaf was offered on this day as an
offering of first fruits [sc. of the harvest] ... —A.S. hlaf, a loaf,
and maesse, a mass" (Skeat, Ety. Dict.): -tide, for time, as Nares
remarks, adding, "Tide was also scrupulously used by the
Puritans, in composition, instead of the popish word mass, of which they had a nervous abhorrence. Thus, for Christmas, Hallowmass, Lammas, they said Christ-tide, Hallow-tide, Lamb-tide," Lammas being in those days popularly supposed to be
derived from lamb and tide.
20. Even or odd, ... year, whether the number of days between
now and Lammastide be even or odd, on that day and no other.
21. Come ... night, an instance, as Wright remarks, note on M. N. D. i. 2. 6, 7, of an uneducated person's anxiety to be
22. Susan, her own daughter.
23. of an age, of one and the same age.
24. She was too good for me, I did not deserve so good a child, and therefore she was taken from me...
27. the earthquake. It has been supposed by some that Shakespeare is here alluding to the earthquake that took place in
England in 1580, and that therefore the play was written in 1591; by others that he alludes to the far more serious earthquake in Italy in 1570.
28. wean'd, made to give up being suckled. The word is from the A.S. wenian, to accustom, and, as Skeat points out, the child
who is being accustomed to bread, etc., is at the same time disaccustomed to, or weaned from, the breast. Hence our present
use of the word in the sense of 'disaccustom to.'
30. laid ... dug, sc. in order to make the dug distasteful to the child, wormwood being a plant with a bitter juice. Skeat has
shown that the word has really nothing to do with either worm
or wood, but is from the A.S. wermod = mind preserver, from A.S.
werian, to protect, and A.S. mod, mind, thus pointing back "to
some primitive belief as to the curative property of the plant in
31. Sitting ... wall, again wishing to display her extreme
33. Nay, ... brain, for, believe me, I remember the circumstances most minutely; the use of Nay here is elliptical, and
equivalent to 'nay, do not wonder, for,' 'nay, you need not doubt my memory, for'; bear a brain, much the same as the
more modern 'have a good head,' an expression of which the commentators quote many instances from old writers.
36. To see ... dug! what a pretty sight it was to see it get
augry and quarrel with the dug! tetchy, fretful, peevish; the
sense, says Skeat, is 'full of tetches or teches, i.e. bad habits,
freaks, whims, vices'; of course nothing to do with touchy, which
is often used in the sense of peevish.
37. Shake ... dove-house. Wise (Shakespeare: His Birthplace
and its Neighbourhood, p. 112), remarks, "a peculiar use of the
verb 'quoth' is noticeable among the lower orders in Warwickshire. It is universally applied to inanimate things: for instance,
though the ploughshare could not speak, still the verb 'quoth' would not be inapplicable to it. 'Jerk, quoth the ploughshare,'
that is, the ploughshare went — to use a vulgarism — jerk. So, precisely in this sense in Romeo and Juliet the old Nurse says,
'Shake, quoth the dove-house,' that is,' the dove-house went or began shaking." Cp. Heywood, The Fair Maid of the West, iv.
1, "I was sent to the top-mast to watch, and there I fell fast asleep. 'Bounce,' quoth the guns, down tumbles Clem [the
speaker]." Here the shaking, on on the child's distaste with the dug, is ominous of the Nurse's duty being at an end.
37, 8. 'twas no need ... trudge, there was no need to bid me [goodbye], for the child's quarrelling with the
dug was enough to show that my duties were over.
40. for then ... alone, i.e. for then she was between two and
three years old; the first quarto gives high-lone, and Dyce has
shown that the phrase a high lone, for quite alone, was in use by
40, 1. nay ... about, nay, not only could stand alone, but, I
swear, could have run about everywhere though her feet were
not as steady as they might be; the rood, the cross (of Christ),
sometimes used for the crucifix, i.e. the cross with a figure of
Christ on it.
43. broke her brow, broke the skin of her brow by a fall as
she was running about on her not too steady feet. See note
on i. 2. 52.
63. Peace, ... grace, very good, I have done. May God set
the mark of his favour upon you, show that He loves you! to,
for, as an object of.
65. An I might ... wish, if I might only live to see you
married, my fondest wish would be gratified; once belongs to
live not to married.
69. How stands ... married? how are you disposed as regards
marriage? is your inclination for or against marriage? Cp. A.
Y. L. i. 1. 131, "Orlando hath a disposition to come in disguised
against me to try a fall."
72. I would say ... teat, i.e. but if I were to pay you that
compliment, I should also be complimenting myself.
74. ladies of esteem, honourable ladies, ladies of rank and
75. by my count, if my memory is right.
76, 7. I was ... maid. "In the old poem Juliet's age is set down at sixteen [1. 1864, "Scarce saw she yet full sixteen yeres"];
in Paynter's novel at eighteen ["sith as yet shee is not attayned to the age of xviii. yeares"]. As Shakespeare makes his heroine
only fourteen, Lady Capulet would be twenty-eight; while her husband, having done masking some thirty years, must
be at least three score [60 years old]. Knight veils the disparity, and perhaps improves the passage [by reading a for your], but we
believe without authority" (Staunton).
78. for his love, in marriage; as his bride.
80. As all the world — the Nurse's enthusiasm is too great for
expression: a man of wax, "well made, as if he had been
modelled in wax" (Weston); an explanation which Dyce confirms
by a quotation from Fair Em, a play sometimes attributed to
Shakespeare, i. 3. 50-2, Simpson's ed., "A body, were it framed
of wax By all the cunning Artists of the world. It could not
better be proportioned."
87. every married lineament, all his features, each of which
is in such complete harmony with the rest; cp. ii. H. IV. v. 1.
77, "their spirits are so married in conjunction with the participation of society"; T. C. i. 3. 100, "The unity and married
calm of states."
88. And see ... content, and mark "how one sets off another's
beauty, to satisfy the eye" (Schmidt).
89, 90. And what ... eyes, and whatever is not clearly expressed
in the lines of that face, in those lineaments, find illustrated by
the light of his eyes. In old books the text was illustrated by
comments in the margin, to which the reader was often directed
by an index finger. For other instances in Shakespeare of
a face compared to a book, cp. K. J. ii. 1. 485, Lucr. 615,
M. N. D. ii. 2. 122; for the form margent, cp. Haml. v. 2. 162,
Lucr. 102, L.L.L. ii. 1. 246, in the two latter the figure being
the same as that in the text.
91, 2. This precious book ... cover, to him, though full of excellence, yet incomplete, the bonds of marriage will give that grace
of completeness which the binding gives to the book; cp. K. J.
ii. 1. 437, 8, "He is the half part of a blessed man Left to be
finished by such as she." Mason points out that in cover there
is a quibble on the law phrase for a married woman, styled feme
covert in law-French.
93, 4. The fish ... hide, as the beauty of the element in which
it lives sets off the beauty of the fish, so man is graced by his
union with woman; pride is taken in covering with a beautiful
outside that which is beautiful within, and his innate virtues
will find their complement in your outward beauty. I cannot
believe with Farmer that there is any allusion to the fish-skin
covers in which books were sometimes bound, or with Clarke that
Lady Capulet means to say "the fish is not yet caught which is
to supply this 'cover' or 'coverture.' The bride who is to be
bound in marriage with Paris has not yet been won."
95, 6. That book ... story, that book which locks in a golden
story in golden clasps is by many prized as much for those clasps
as for its precious contents; and your outward beauty will be as
much regarded as his inward excellence.
97, 8. So shall ... less, so shall you be a sharer in all that
adorns him, and by taking him in marriage shall in no way lessen
your own estimation. These two lines summarize the whole passage from "This precious book" to "golden story," and are
entirely opposed to the interpretations of 11. 69, 70, given by
Farmer and Clarke.
100. like of, approve of, accept; for this partitive sense, cp.
Temp. iii. 1. 57, "a shape to like of"; M. A. v. 4. 59, "if you
like of me."
101. I'll look ... move, I will look with the object of liking, if so
be that looking is likely to cause liking. Quibbles abound so
greatly in this scene that I'll look to may have the double meaning of 'I will expect to.'
102. endart mine eye, set darts in; see Abb. § 440, on the force
of en- as a prefix.
103. Than your consent ... fly, than you would approve of my
105. asked for, inquired about: cursed, "because she is not at
hand to help" (Delius).
106. in extremity, on the tip-toe of bustle: wait, attend upon
the guests: straight, straightway; at once.
109. stays, is waiting for your coming.
How to cite the explanatory notes:
Shakespeare, William. Romeo and Juliet. Ed. K. Deighton. London: Macmillan, 1916. Shakespeare Online. 20 Feb. 2010. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/romeo_1_3.html >.
Richard Burbage is considered to be the first great actor of the English theatre. He was the son of James Burbage, the theatrical entrepreneur who built the Theatre in Shoreditch on the outskirts of London, and the brother of another famous actor of the day, Cuthbert Burbage. He was wildly popular, and played most of the major Shakespearean characters, including Othello, Hamlet, Lear, Richard III and Romeo. When Burbage died, writers praised his worth as an actor and expressed great sorrow that
Poor Romeo never more shall tears beget
For Juliet's love and cruel Capulet. (Funeral Elegy for Richard Burbage)
Thoughts on the Nurse "The old woman is no doubt proud of her charge, and in the garrulity of old age, largely spiced with individual coarseness, she dilates upon her services with a complacent feeling of satisfaction that whatever is good in the girl had its origin in her nurture. She rejoices that Juliet should be sought by Paris, not because she knows anything of that suitor's fitness, but because it is a fine thing for a maiden to have a lover. She is equally rejoiced that Juliet should have fallen in love with Romeo. She will help in the secret marriage, because it is easier to do so than to refuse." K. Deighton. Read on...