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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 to Benvolio's

Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow,

Romeo answers:

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 so much;
'Tis since the nuptial of Lucentio,
Come Pentecost as quickly as it will,
Some five and twenty years; and then
we mask'd.
Second Cap. — 'Tis more, 'tis more; his son is elder, sir;
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 Capulet's

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 County Paris.

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 work.

4. Certainly he would not have chosen the name of his previous heroine to give to a discredited love in 1591.

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.

6. I am discussing this matter on a paper on the Sonnets, not yet completed.

7. 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. < >.

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