Romeo, Rosaline, and Juliet
Henry David Gray. Modern Language Notes, Vol. 29, No. 7.
Though I believe the First Quarto of Romeo and Juliet does not help us materially toward
determining what portions of the play may
have belonged to an earlier writing of it, I am
wholly in accord with the general feeling that
some of the lines are eminently characteristic
of the 1591 period.
In making a fresh attempt
to discover how Shakespeare may have altered
the play in 1597 or thereabouts, I have found what seems to me a clue in the first passage
which is distinctly in the earlier manner. This
is, of course, the latter part of the opening
scene, — the dialogue between Romeo and Benvolio. This of itself is a separable scene, and
it has all the artificiality and youthfulness of
Love's Labour's Lost. Now when Romeo says, in line 169,
Here's much to do with hate, but more with love,
and then proceeds with his series of Euphuistic
contrasts, he is, of course, as Clarke points out,
referring to the fact that Rosaline is Capulet's
niece; and, as the same writer says, "This is
one of the subtle indications given by Shakespeare that Romeo is not really in love with
Rosaline." So Hudson: "Such an affected
way of speaking not unaptly shows the state of
Romeo's mind; his love is rather self-generated
than inspired by any object. As compared with
his style of speech after meeting with Juliet, it
serves to mark the difference between being
lovesick and being in love."
But, as I have said, this entire passage belongs to the 1591 period, unless, indeed (of
which there is no real probability), Shakespeare wrote the whole of this and certain
other passages in direct imitation of his earlier
style. Now it is more than passing strange
if, when this speech was first written, the
sharp contrasts that Romeo makes were not
occasioned by the conflict between his family's
hatred of the Capulets and his own love for
Juliet. That the family feud was not a sufficient obstacle in the case of Capulet's niece is
evidenced by Romeo's instant realization of a
wholly new type of obstacle when he finds himself in love with Capulet's daughter. Rosaline's own disfavor was all that stood in the way of his earlier passion. Judged by the
standards of any expression of love which
Shakespeare gives us up to and including
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Romeo's love
for Rosaline is neither artificial nor insincere.
It is because we must perforce contrast it with
his love for Juliet that we condemn it as frivolous or unworthy.
When in 1597 Shakespeare took in hand his
early drama, or fragment, of Romeo and Juliet,
and began to build it up into the beautiful
tragedy that we have, I think he was able to
preserve very little of the earlier work. The
scene in question was one that he chose to keep.
But before long he discovered that none of his
boyhood's love poetry was adequate to the passion which he was now portraying. Rather
than throw it all away, he hit upon the excellent device of inventing a former love, a Rosaline(1); and the contrast of Romeo's love for
Rosaline and his love for Juliet is simply the
contrast of Shakespeare's ability to represent
love in 1591 and 1597.(2)
By the rather slim
and otherwise needless expedient of making
Rosaline a niece of Capulet he saved the situation and gave Romeo a better excuse than a
mere boyish prank in going to the banquet.(3)
It is odd that this Montague should have loved
two members of the Capulet family!
Shakespeare may have taken the name Rosaline from the association it had in his mind
with the sort of love poetry he first wrote, without knowing that he was just about to give a
hasty revision, or expansion rather, to Love's Labour's Lost itself.(4) Or, as seems to me more
probable, Capulet's letter mentioning "my
fair niece Rosaline" among the invited guests
might have been in the earlier writing and
suggested both the name and the relationship
for the revision. This list of people to be
rounded up by a servant, including "beauteous sisters" and "lovely nieces," certainly
seems youthful, even if in verse. Delius' suggestion that Romeo fills in the epithets ill
accords with his not knowing whose the letter
is when he reads it. If he had been in love
with Rosaline at this time he would have
known whose fair niece she was, — or else no
"brawling love" in the previous passage.
In I, ii, 83 f., which must, according to
this analysis, belong to the revision, in answer
Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow,
When the devout religion of mine eye
Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires!
And those who, often drowned, could never die,
Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars!
One fairer than my love! the all-seeing sun
Ne'er saw her match since first the world begun.
I do not see any intention on Shakespeare's
part to make this an expression of "puppy
love," though he continues the riming vein of
his earlier work.(5) This speech seems to me to
show in rather strong contrast to his attitude
in I, i, 207 :
Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold.
But are we to believe that Shakespeare had
no wiser intention in introducing the Rosaline
episode than to make use of old material?
I do not feel that this follows from my argument. If Shakespeare at thirty-three were himself deeply in love — and I believe that nobody but a lover could have written Romeo and
Juliet(6) — he had no wish to portray a man's
final love as a first love, nor had he any reason for trying to make the completeness of
one depend upon the unreality of the other.
Shakespeare was never a sentimentalist of this
sort. The passage I have just quoted shows
that in revising the play he still did not discredit Romeo's love for Rosaline.(7) I believe
that this should be taken into account in our
study of this play, and that much of the critical comment on the Rosaline episode in Romeo and Juliet has been due to a pious attempt to realize a significance that isn't there.
Another point of interest upon which some
light may be thrown by this double date of
composition is that of Juliet's age. However
much we may emphasize the Italian maturity of this very English-like girl, or the Elizabethan way of applying positive decrepitude
to what seems to us the prime of life, there is
still a disparity between the psychology and the
mathematics of this drama.
The references to Juliet's age come in the
second and third scenes of act I. Of scene ii,
only lines 1-5, 44-55, and 79-98 seem to me
to belong to the revision; and unless Shakespeare amplified the Nurse's part, adding, perhaps, the contradictory elements in her long
"earthquake" speech, scene iii must have been
in the original drama. In lines 72, 73 of this
scene Lady Capulet says,
I was your mother much upon these years
That you are now a maid:
that is to say, Lady Capulet is not yet twenty-eight. Juliet's father, however, in a 1597
passage (I, v, 30 f.), says in a little colloquy
with his cousin:
How long is it since last yourself and I
Were in a mask!
Second Cap. — By'r Lady, thirty years.
Capulet. — What, man! 'tis not so much, 'tis not
'Tis since the nuptial of Lucentio,
Come Pentecost as quickly as it will,
Some five and twenty years; and then
Second Cap. — 'Tis more, 'tis more; his son is elder,
His son is thirty.
Capulet, according to this, has some real age
to him! I admit that no Logic will recognize
a formula for ascertaining Juliet's age by
showing that her mother was young in one
version and her father was old in the other!
And yet I think that something really is indicated by this striking change in Shakespeare's
attitude. I do not believe that he would by
any means have made Juliet so excessively
young and Capulet so conspicuously old in the
same writing of the play. If we contrast the
fussy, tyrannical Capulet, whom we become so
well acquainted with and whose age is so
clearly hinted in the passage I have just quoted,
as it is also at his first entrance by Lady
A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword!
with the 1591 Capulet of I, ii, 6-37, I think
it is not over-straining the matter to recognize an essential difference in his age, as well
as in his later impetuosity and his early reluctance regarding Juliet's marriage to the
My point is this: if in rewriting this play
Shakespeare pushed forward the elder Capulets from early middle life to actual old age,
it is no longer incumbent upon us to judge
Juliet's obvious maturity throughout most of
the play by the scant allowance of years given
to her in the earlier writing of the drama. It
may seem to the critical mind of today that having preserved his "She hath not seen the
change of fourteen years," Shakespeare would
feel himself still bound to maintain a fundamental consistency with this idea, or else that
he would have changed the line. But, as I
believe I have discovered in a more elaborate
study of Love's Labour's Lost, this is just exactly what Shakespeare did not do. In revising a play he apparently did not attempt to
recall his earlier inspiration, but simply reconceived and recreated his characters. A narrow consistency was never a hobgoblin of his
liberal mind. Juliet is still girlish in 1597,
but she is no longer a child of thirteen.
1. That the Rosaline episode (though without any
mention of the lady's name) occurs both in Brooke
and Painter is an argument against my theory. I
am not disposed to make light of this objection because it goes against my thesis. If, however, Shakespeare made use of the Rosaline incident in his first
writing of the play, that does not mean that he would not have relegated to the new Rosaline Romeo's
former ecstasy over the old Juliet.
2. Just where the couplets end in this scene, a bit of
the revision seems to be inserted. Here Benvolio suggests the theme of the later drama, that Romeo
should "examine other beauties," to which he recurs
on their next entrance. Benvolio is then in possession of the fact that Rosaline is Romeo's love. It
seems odd that the fact was not more formally introduced in the first scene. Perhaps the fact that it was
Juliet was so introduced. Juliet's instant yielding to
the power of love belongs nearer to the time of As
You Like It than to that of Love's Labour's Lost.
3. If anything corresponding to this scene existed in
the original version. I can find no trace in it of early
4. Certainly he would not have chosen the name of
his previous heroine to give to a discredited love in
5. Both here and in the revision of Love's Labour's
Lost Shakespeare joins his new material to his old by
an easy indulgence in quatrains and couplets which
may perhaps be due to his sonnet-writing habit at
this time. But it is notable that in neither case does
he take over the characterizations of the earlier work.
I am discussing this matter on a paper on the Sonnets, not yet completed.
It may be hypercritical to indicate so slight an
exception as lines 14, 15 which seem to interrupt the
early couplets with a touch of deeper emotion. One
cannot fail to note how the rhyme percentage is lessened by removing the 1591 portions.
How to cite this article:
Gray, Henry David. Romeo, Rosaline, and Juliet. Modern Language Notes, Vol. 29, No. 7 (Nov., 1914), pp. 209-212. < http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/romeoandjuliet/romeoandrosaline.html >.
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