* ROMEO AND JULIET, Act 2, Scene 4

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-- Philip Weller, November 13, 1941 - February 1, 2021
Dr. Weller, an Eastern Washington University professor of English and Shakespearean scholar for more than 50 years.

Romeo and Juliet: Act 2, Scene 4

           Enter BENVOLIO and MERCUTIO.

  1   Where the devil should this Romeo be?
2. tonight: last night.
  2   Came he not home tonight?

3. his man: his servant.
  3   Not to his father's; I spoke with his man.

  4   Ah, that same pale hard-hearted wench, that Rosaline,
  5   Torments him so, that he will sure run mad.

  6   Tybalt, the kinsman of old Capulet,
  7   Hath sent a letter to his father's house.

  8   A challenge, on my life.

  9   Romeo will answer it.

 10   Any man that can write may answer a letter.

11. he will answer ... being dared: i.e., because he has been dared to a fight, Romeo will fight the author of the letter (Tybalt) in whatever manner Tybalt chooses.
 11   Nay, he will answer the letter's master, how he
 12   dares, being dared.

 13   Alas poor Romeo! he is already dead;
 14   stabbed with a white wench's black eye; run through
15. very pin: exact center
16. the  . . .  butt-shaft: i.e., Cupid's arrow. Cupid was depicted as a small boy, blindfolded, carrying a bow. A "butt-shaft" is an arrow without barbs, used for practice, and therefore suitable for boys, including Cupid.
 15   the ear with a love-song; the very pin of his heart
 16   cleft with the blind bow-boy's butt-shaft; and is he a
 17   man to encounter Tybalt?

 18   Why, what is Tybalt?

19. prince of cats: In the folk tale, Reynard the Fox, the Prince of Cats is named Tybalt. 20. captain of compliments: master of ceremonies (in duelling). 21. as you sing prick-song: i.e., by the book.
22. proportion: rhythm. | minim rests: short rests in music. 23. butcher ... button: Tybalt is such an expert duellist that he can hit any of his opponent's buttons he chooses.
24-25. the very first house: the very best school of fencing.
25. the first and second cause:
26. passado: forward thrust. punto reverso: backhanded thrust. hay: home thrust. 27. The what?: Apparently Benvolio has never heard of the "hay" before. Benvolio's ignorance of the term helps to make Mercutio's point.
 19   More than prince of cats, I can tell you. O, he is
 20   the courageous captain of compliments. He fights
 21   as you sing prick-song, keeps time, distance, and
 22   proportion; rests his minim rests, one, two, and the
 23   third in your bosom: the very butcher of a silk button,
 24   a duellist, a duellist; a gentleman of the very first
 25   house, of the first and second cause: ah, the
 26   immortal passado! the punto reverso! the hay!

 27   The what?

28-29. The  . . .  phantasimes: may the plague take such fantastical, jargon-speaking, affected coxcombs.
29. new tuners of accents: those who pride themselves on using the latest slang. 30. tall: brave. 30-31. a very good whore:
31. grandsire: Mercutio continues his mockery by pretending that he and Benvolio are old men complaining about the follies of the young. 33. flies ... pardon-me's: 34. form: 1) manners or conduct; 2) bench 35. bones: Mercutio is still punning. The coxcombs he is condemning were likely to affect the French word for "good," "bon"; also, sexually transmitted diseases were said to make the bones ache.
 28   The pox of such antic, lisping, affecting
 29   phantasimes; these new tuners of accents! "By Jesu,
 30   a very good blade! a very tall man! a very good
 31   whore!" Why, is not this a lamentable thing, grandsire,
 32   that we should be thus afflicted with these strange
 33   flies, these fashion-mongers, these pardon-me's, who
 34   stand so much on the new form, that they cannot sit at
 35   ease on the old bench? O, their bones, their bones!

           Enter ROMEO.

 36   Here comes Romeo, here comes Romeo.

37. Without his roe: i.e., looking very thin
 37   Without his roe, like a dried herring: O flesh,
38-39. Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in: i.e., now he is nothing but love poetry. 39. to: in comparison with.
 38   flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers
 39   that Petrarch flowed in. Laura to his lady was a
 40   kitchen-wench; marry, she had a better love to
 41   be-rhyme her; Dido a dowdy; Cleopatra a gipsy;
42. hildings: good-for-nothings. 42-43. Thisbe a grey eye or so: 43. but not to the purpose: but not worth mentioning.
44-45. French slop: i.e., fancy pants.
45. fairly: very well.
 42   Helen and Hero hildings and harlots; Thisbe a grey
 43   eye or so, but not to the purpose. Signior Romeo,
 44   bon jour! there's a French salutation to your French
 45   slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.

 46   Good morrow to you both. What counterfeit did I
 47   give you?

48. The slip: Counterfeit coins were called "slips." can you not conceive?: i.e., don't you get the joke?
 48   The slip, sir, the slip; can you not conceive?

 49   Pardon, good Mercutio, my business was great;
50-51. strain courtesy: stretch the limits of good manners.
 50   and in such a case as mine a man may strain
 51   courtesy.

 52   That's as much as to say, such a case as yours
53. bow in the hams: bow from the waist. But Mercutio hints that Romeo's "case" makes him double over with the pain of venereal disease.
 53   constrains a man to bow in the hams.

54. cur'sy: curtsy, make a polite bow.
 54   Meaning, to cur'sy.

55. Thou hast most kindly hit it: you have most naturally interpreted my meaning. Mercutio may also be suggesting that Romeo has managed to avoid the bawdy meaning of "bow in the hams." 56. exposition: explanation, interpretation.
 55   Thou hast most kindly hit it.

 56   A most courteous exposition.

57. pink: flower, bloom. Mercutio is jokingly boasting that he is the acme of courtesy.

Pinked Shoes
Image Source: Wikipedia
 57   Nay, I am the very pink of courtesy.

 58   Pink for flower.

 59   Right.

60. pump: shoe. flower'd: Romeo is punning on another meaning of "pink," which is to perforate in a decorative pattern.
 60   Why, then is my pump well flower'd.

61-64. Follow  . . .  singular: Keep jesting with me until you have worn out your shoe, so that when the flimsy sole of it is worn out, the jest will still live, utterly unique.
 61   Sure wit! Follow me this jest now till thou hast
 62   worn out thy pump, that when the single sole of it
 63   is worn, the jest may remain, after the wearing, solely
 64   singular.

65-66. O single-soled jest, solely singular for the singleness: Oh thin, feeble jest, only singular for its foolishness.
 65   O single-soled jest, solely singular for the
 66   singleness.

 67   Come between us, good Benvolio; my
 68   wits faint.

69 Swits: switch, riding crop.
69-70. Swits and spurs, swits and spurs! or I'll cry a match: i.e., flog your wits to a gallop; keep up the race of wits, or I'll claim the victory.
 69   Swits and spurs, swits and spurs! or I'll cry
 70   a match.

71. wild-goosechase: mounted follow-the-leader. 71-72. I have done: I'm done for.
 71   Nay, if thy wits run the wild-goose chase, I have
 72   done, for thou hast more of the wild-goose in one of
 73   thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.
74. Was I with you there for the goose?: wasn't I right in calling you a goose?
 74   Was I with you there for the goose?

 75   Thou wast never with me for any thing when thou
76. for the goose: (1) behaving like a goose; (2) looking for a prostitute.
 76   wast not there for the goose.

 77   I will bite thee by the ear for that jest.

 78   Nay, good goose, bite not.

79. sweeting: a tart apple, or the sauce made from that apple.
 79   Thy wit is a very bitter sweeting; it is a most
 80   sharp sauce.

 81   And is it not well served in to a sweet
 82   goose?

83. cheveril: kid leather, easily stretched.
84. ell: 45 inches.
 83   O here's a wit of cheveril, that stretches from an
 84   inch narrow to an ell broad!

 85   I stretch it out for that word "broad"; which
 86   added to the goose, proves thee far and wide
87. broad: big (i.e., obvious).
 87   a broad goose.

 88   Why, is not this better now than groaning
 89   for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou
 90   Romeo; now art thou what thou art, by art as well
 91   as by nature, for this drivelling love is like a great
92. natural: idiot. lolling: with his tongue hanging out.
93. bauble:

 92   natural, that runs lolling up and down to hide his
 93   bauble in a hole.

 94   Stop there, stop there.

95-96. against the hair: against my wish.
 95   Thou desirest me to stop in my tale against the
 96   hair.

 97   Thou wouldst else have made thy tale large.

 98   O, thou art deceived; I would have made it short:
 99   for I was come to the whole depth of my tale; and
100   meant, indeed, to occupy the argument no longer.

101. gear: stuff. Romeo is praising the wit of his friends, and also adding a sexual innuendo of his own.
101   Here's goodly gear!

           Enter NURSE and her man [PETER].

102. A sail, a sail!: i.e., something interesting is coming this way.
102   A sail, a sail!

103. a shirt and a smock: i.e., a man and a woman.

Peter and the Nurse by Sir John Gilbert
103   Two, two; a shirt and a smock.

104   Peter!

105   Anon!

106   My fan, Peter.

107   Good Peter, to hide her face; for her fan's the
108   fairer face.

109. God ye good morrow: God give you a good morning.

110. God ye good den: Good give you a good afternoon.
109   God ye good morrow, gentlemen.

110   God ye good den, fair gentlewoman.

111   Is it good den?

112   'Tis no less, I tell you, for the bawdy hand of the
113. prick: (1) mark on a sundial or clock; (2) prick.
113   dial is now upon the prick of noon.

114. what a man: what kind of man.
114   Out upon you! what a man are you?

115-116. for himself to mar: for Mercutio himself to spoil.
115   One, gentlewoman, that God hath made, for himself
116   to mar.

117. By my troth: By my faith; i.e., truly, indeed. 118. quoth 'a?: say you?
117   By my troth, it is well said; "for himself to mar,"
118   quoth a'? Gentlemen, can any of you tell me where
119   I may find the young Romeo?

120   I can tell you; but young Romeo will be older
121   when you have found him than he was when you
122-123. for fault of a worse: for lack of a worse name. [Romeo is being wittily modest.]
122   sought him. I am the youngest of that name, for
123   fault of a worse.

124   You say well.

125. took: understood. Mercutio is mocking the Nurse's lack of understanding of Romeo's witticism.
125   Yea, is the worst well? very well took, i' faith;
126   wisely, wisely.

127. confidence: The Nurse means "conference," a serious conversation. This kind of mistake is called a "malapropism."
127   If you be he, sir, I desire some confidence
128   with you.

129. indite: write. Benvolio uses an intentional malapropism—"indite" for "invite"—in order to mock the Nurse's malapropism.
129   She will indite him to some supper.

130. A bawd, a bawd, a bawd! So ho!: "So ho!" is a hunter's cry when sighting prey. "Bawd" is a dialect word for "hare," and hare, like "stale" in line 133 and "meat" in line 136, is slang for "prostitute."
130   A bawd, a bawd, a bawd! So ho!

131   What hast thou found?

132. hare: hare, wild rabbit, with a pun on "whore." lenten pie: 133. something: somewhat. | hoar: moldy. | ere it be spent: before it is eaten up. Mercutio is punning at the expense of the Nurse; he says that she's not a whore unless she's a stale and moldy one who would only be tasted when nothing else is available.
132   No hare, sir; unless a hare, sir, in a lenten pie,
133   that is something stale and hoar ere it be spent.


134                           An old hare hoar,
135                           And an old hare hoar,
136          Is very good meat in Lent;
137                           But a hare that is hoar
138. too much for a score: not worth paying for. A "score" is a bill, for drink, food, etc.
138                           Is too much for a score,
139          When it hoars ere it be spent.

140   Romeo, will you come to your father's? we'll
141. dinner: Now (C.E. 2015) in the U.S.A, this mid-day meal is called "lunch."
141   to dinner, thither.

142   I will follow you.

143   Farewell, ancient lady; farewell,
144. lady, lady, lady: a common ballad refrain.
144   "lady, lady, lady."

           Exeunt [MERCUTIO and BENVOLIO].

145-146. saucy merchant: i.e., flippant salesman, con man. ropery: tricks, witticisms, b.s.
145   Marry, farewell! I pray you, sir, what saucy
146   merchant was this, that was so full of his ropery?

147   A gentleman, nurse, that loves to hear himself talk,
148-149. stand to: back up, make good.
148   and will speak more in a minute than he will stand
149   to in a month.

150-152. An a' speak ... Jacks:
150   An a' speak any thing against me, I'll take him
151   down, an a' were lustier than he is, and twenty
152   such Jacks; and if I cannot, I'll find those that shall.
153. flirt-gills: flirty girls, loose women.
153   Scurvy knave! I am none of his flirt-gills; I am
154-156. skains-mates ... use me at his pleasure!:
154   none of his skains-mates. [To Peter.] And thou must
155   stand by too, and suffer every knave to use me at his
156   pleasure!

157   I saw no man use you at his pleasure; if I had, my
158. weapon: (1) sword; (2) male member.
158   weapon should quickly have been out, I warrant you.
159   I dare draw as soon as another man, if I see occasion
160   in a good quarrel, and the law on my side.

161   Now, afore God, I am so vexed, that every part about
162   me quivers. Scurvy knave! [To Romeo.] Pray you, sir,
163   a word: and as I told you, my young lady bade me inquire
164   you out; what she bade me say, I will keep to myself.
165   But first let me tell ye, if ye should lead her into
166   a fool's paradise, as they say, it were a very gross
167   kind of behavior, as they say: for the gentlewoman
168   is young; and, therefore, if you should deal double
169   with her, truly it were an ill thing to be offered
170. weak: contemptible.
170   to any gentlewoman, and very weak dealing.

171   Nurse, commend me to thy lady and mistress. I
172. protest: vow, promise. Romeo is about to say something like, "I promise you that I will always love and honor Juliet," but the Nurse interrupts him because she misunderstands the word "protest" as meaning "propose marriage."
172   protest unto thee—

173   Good heart, and, i' faith, I will tell her as much.
174   Lord, Lord, she will be a joyful woman.

175. thou dost not mark me: you are not paying attention to what I am actually saying.
175   What wilt thou tell her, nurse? thou dost not mark
176   me.

177   I will tell her, sir, that you do protest; which, as
178   I take it, is a gentlemanlike offer.

179   Bid her devise
180. shrift: confession.
180   Some means to come to shrift this afternoon;
181   And there she shall at Friar Laurence' cell
182. Here is for thy pains: Romeo offers her money.
182   Be shrived and married. Here is for thy pains.

183   No truly sir; not a penny.

184   Go to; I say you shall.

185   This afternoon, sir? well, she shall be
186   there.

187   And stay, good nurse— behind the abbey wall:
188   Within this hour my man shall be with thee
189. cords made like a tackled stair: rope ladder. 190. top-gallant: highest mast and sail of a ship. The top-gallant of a ship would be reached by a "tackled stair." 191. convoy: means of passage.
192. I'll quit thy pains: I'll reward you for your trouble.
189   And bring thee cords made like a tackled stair;
190   Which to the high top-gallant of my joy
191   Must be my convoy in the secret night.
192   Farewell; be trusty, and I'll quit thy pains.
193   Farewell; commend me to thy mistress.

194   Now God in heaven bless thee! Hark you, sir.

195   What say'st thou, my dear nurse?

196. secret: trustworthy, able to keep a secret.
196   Is your man secret? Did you ne'er hear say,
197. Two may keep counsel, putting one away: This proverb means, "Two people may be able to keep a secret if one of them is far away."
197   Two may keep counsel, putting one away?

198   I warrant thee, my man's as true as steel.

199   Well, sir; my mistress is the sweetest lady—Lord,
200   Lord! when 'twas a little prating thing:—O, there
201-202. would fain lay knife aboard: is eager to stake a claim [to Juliet].
201   is a nobleman in town, one Paris, that would fain
202   lay knife aboard; but she, good soul, had as lief
203   see a toad, a very toad, as see him. I anger her
204. properer: more handsome.
204   sometimes and tell her that Paris is the properer
205   man; but, I'll warrant you, when I say so, she looks
206. clout ... versal world:
207. begin both with a letter: both begin with the same letter.
206   as pale as any clout in the versal world. Doth not
207   rosemary and Romeo begin both with a letter?

208   Ay, nurse; what of that? both with an R.

209. that's the dog's name; R is for the—:
209   Ah, mocker! that's the dog's name; R is for the
210   —No; I know it begins with some other letter:
211. the prettiest sententious of it: the most clever, memorable saying about it. The Nurse uses "sententious" for "sentence," which means "a memorable saying."
211   —and she hath the prettiest sententious of it, of you
212   and rosemary, that it would do you good to hear it.

213   Commend me to thy lady.

214   Ay, a thousand times.

           [Exit Romeo.]

215   Peter!

216   Anon!

217. Before and apace: go ahead of me and walk fast.
217   Before and apace.

           Exit [after Peter].