Allusions In Romeo And Juliet

Definition of Allusion

An author will sometimes reference a well-known person, place, thing or event without directly naming or explaining it. This is called making an “allusion.” When writers allude to other works, they rely on the reader being familiar enough with the reference to understand the new meaning or context it brings. For example, an author may mention “a Scrooge-like miser” without explaining who Ebenezer Scrooge is. This allusion works if the reader knows Scrooge is a famously stingy character from the Charles Dickens story A Christmas Carol.

Allusions create deeper layers of meaning by connecting the author’s work to famous stories and characters that the reader knows. By drawing on readers’ existing knowledge, allusions convey a lot with just a word or two. They make texts richer and more insightful by linking them to history, culture and the wider world. An author who alludes to other writings expects the reader will recognize the references and understand the connections.

Use of Allusion in “Romeo and Juliet”

William Shakespeare often mentions well-known stories, legends or historical events without much explanation in his famous play Romeo and Juliet. These kinds of references are called “allusions.”

Shakespeare connects his tale of tragic romance to timeless themes of love and fate by alluding to ancient Greek and Roman myths and figures. When he mentions things like Queen Mab from English folklore, Shakespeare grounds the play in cultural touchstones familiar to his audience.

Without describing who Queen Mab or Verona are, Shakespeare relies on the reader already knowing them. This lets him deepen the play’s meanings and significance through quick poetic allusions. His aim is trusting that people recognize the mythical and geographical references he briefly cites.

Examples of Allusions in “Romeo and Juliet”

Example#1

Allusion to Venus

“O brawling love, O loving hate, O any thing 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, that is not what it is! This love feel I, that feel no love in this.”

The speaker uses a series of contradictions and paradoxes to describe the confusing, contradictory nature of love. This includes several allusions that would be familiar to Shakespeare’s audience. The references like “misshapen chaos” and “feather of lead” allude to ancient Greek legends and cosmology to link the turmoil of love to primal forces of nature and existence. By drawing on these known stories of chaos and contradiction, the passage conveys how love seems to warp reality, defying reason and expectations. The quick allusions make clear that love upends normalcy and reason through forces as old as myths themselves. Rather than explain each reference, Shakespeare relies on the audience grasping how baffling love borrows turmoil from even the oldest tales.

Example#2

Allusion to Aurora

Romeo mentions Aurora, the Roman goddess of dawn, when he says,

“Give me a torch: I am not for this ambling; Being but heavy, I will bear the light.”

When the character asks for a torch and says “I am not for this ambling,” they are alluding to a belief during Shakespeare’s time. “Ambling” refers to walking slowly or wandering aimlessly. The character does not want to slowly stroll with a light source. The torch alludes to when people at night had to carry torches if they walked outdoors. By saying they want a torch but won’t be “ambling,” or wandering slowly, the character’s words allude to an era before streetlights when torches lit the way. Shakespeare draws on the audience’s familiarity with torch-lit nights to convey the character’s intention to carry the light but walk with purpose and haste. Through this brief allusion, the text reflects period details around artificial light at night.

Example#3

Allusion to Phaeton

Mercutio alludes to Phaeton, the son of Helios, when warning Romeo about the dangers of dreams:

“I dreamt a dream tonight. And so did I. Well, what was yours? That dreamers often lie. In bed asleep, while they do dream things true. O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you. She is the fairies’ midwife…”

When one character describes dreaming of Queen Mab, this alludes to English and Celtic folklore about the mythical Queen of the fairies. By referencing the legend that she visits people’s dreams, the speaker draws on familiar stories of magical creatures involved in visions and revelations that come during sleep. The quick mention of “Queen Mab” relies on the audience understanding she is associated with the world of elves and fairies without needing further detail. Through this compact allusion, the text can quickly convey a dreamlike, mystical experience rooted in the realm of fantasy and fairy tales. It allows the author to suggest the dream’s otherworldly origins rather than describe them outright. The seamless integration of the Queen Mab allusion into mentioning dreams demonstrates how effectively chosen allusions can enrich descriptions.

Example#4

Allusion to Dido

“Hist! Romeo, hist! O, for a falconer’s voice, To lure this tassel-gentle back again! Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud; Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies, And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine, With repetition of my Romeo’s name.”

When Juliet wishes for a “falconer’s voice” to call Romeo back, she is alluding to the practice of falconry and its specialized vocabulary. Falconers trained hawks and falcons to hunt by rewarding them with food upon returning. By referencing the loud, commanding calls used to direct the birds, Juliet conveys her desire to strongly summon Romeo to her side. Her subsequent mention of Echo’s “airy tongue” alludes to the Greek myth of the nymph Echo, who could only repeat the last words spoken to her. Linking herself to Echo’s repetitive voice, Juliet laments her inability to loudly call for Romeo with the authority of a falconer. Through compact allusions to falconry and mythology, vivid images of Juliet’s longing are created via metaphors grounded in the audience’s shared cultural knowledge.

Example#5

Allusion to Cupid

Mercutio invokes Cupid, the Roman god of love, while mocking Romeo’s infatuation:

“He jests at scars that never felt a wound. [Juliet appears above at a window.] But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.”

In this case, the para references Romeo and Juliet by using lines from the play to describe the light coming through the window. The author uses the allusion to evoke a sense of familiarity and connection with the reader. He enables them to be familiar with the play. The allusion to Romeo and Juliet adds a layer of emotional depth to the description of the light breaking through the window. It evokes the tragic love story of the two titular characters. Mercutio’s sarcastic invocation of Cupid highlights the folly and impulsiveness of young love, contrasting with the depth of Romeo’s feelings for Juliet.

Example#6

Allusion to Jove

Romeo compares Juliet’s eyes to the stars and alludes to Jove, the king of the Roman gods:

“Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, Having some business, do entreat her eyes To twinkle in their spheres till they return.”

The comparison elevates Juliet’s beauty to a divine level, suggesting that her eyes could replace the stars, with Jove himself entranced by her.

Example#7

Allusion to Echo

Juliet alludes to Echo, the nymph cursed to repeat others’ words:

“My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words Of that tongue’s utterance, yet I know the sound: Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?”

Juliet’s mention of Echo reflects the theme of communication and misunderstanding, as Echo’s plight mirrors the lovers’ struggle to reconcile their feelings with their families’ feud.

Example#8

Allusion to Cleopatra

Mercutio alludes to Cleopatra when teasing the Nurse about her age:

“When she dies, with beauty dies her store.”

Mercutio’s jest connects the Nurse to Cleopatra, suggesting a faded beauty and a once-glorious past, adding a layer of historical romance and decay.

Example#9

Allusion to Hercules

Mercutio compares Romeo to Hercules when he is in love:

“Alas poor Romeo! he is already dead; stabbed with a white wench’s black eye; shot through the ear with a love-song; the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy’s butt-shaft: and is he a man to encounter Tybalt?”

The comparison to Hercules, known for his strength and heroic deeds, serves to mock Romeo’s vulnerability in love, portraying him as weakened by his emotions.

Example#10

Allusion to Thisbe

Romeo alludes to Thisbe from the myth of Pyramus and Thisbe when he finds Juliet in the tomb:

“Thy lips are warm.”

This reference evokes the tragic story of Pyramus and Thisbe, two lovers who die because of a misunderstanding, paralleling Romeo and Juliet’s own tragic fate and highlighting the theme of miscommunication leading to disaster.

Read also: Euphemism in Pride and Prejudice

Allusions In Romeo And Juliet
Allusions In Romeo And Juliet

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