Mercutio’s Bad Language

  • William N. West


It does not take Juliet’s explicit demand ‘What’s in a name?’ (2. 2. 43) to alert us to the importance Romeo and Juliet attaches to names and their relations to things. In plot as well the play is organized into dyads; the Verona it represents is composed of binaries internally defined by their mutual exclusivity, such as the strife between of ‘Two households both alike in dignity’ with which it opens (1. Prol. 1) — fundamentally, to be a Montague is to be the opposite of being a Capulet, and vice versa; to participate in civil and familial duties is not to be in Petrarchan love, and vice versa. Criticism often follows the play’s lead. Combining a sense of its violent actions and its gorgeous language, Mark van Doren called Romeo and Juliet ‘furiously literary,’ and critics have continued to follow him in exploring the play’s divisions.2 The rift in rhetoric identified by van Doren can be translated into a generic one, for Romeo and Juliet is traditionally identified as one of Shakespeare’s most lyrical plays, rhetorically for its use of highly marked and often static, monologic poetic language; literary-historically as part of a mid-1590s group of similar tone; and structurally and thematically in its adaptation of the conventions of sonnet sequences to the stage.3


Manifold Posit Stake Metaphor Plague 


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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2005

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  • William N. West

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