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Romeo and Juliet - Dialogue

This GCSE English Literature quiz focusses on dialogue in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Any work of drama, almost without exception, consists primarily of dialogue. This aspect to drama can make it more difficult to read and understand a play because you are missing the other elements which would normally be conveyed through performance. Unless you have the good fortune to watch a play on stage or through a film adaptation, you must rely on your imagination to flesh out the stage directions. At least reading a play gives you the chance to go slowly, to re-read and to think carefully about the dialogue.

Dialogue conveys meaning not only through its content, but also through specific details such as language choice, use of dialect and even interruptions and pauses.

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As you read Romeo and Juliet or any other work of fiction, ask yourself the following questions: How do different characters speak? Do different characters have different vocabularies with which to express themselves? Does the way in which a character speaks change in different situations, or over time? Do any characters speak differently to different people? When reading Shakespeare, you might even like to compare dialogue that is written in poetry with dialogue that is written in prose. What are the differences between the characters who speak in one but not the other? Do any characters switch between poetry and prose depending on whom they are addressing?

Dialogue conveys the individual beliefs, intentions and preferences of any character, to be sure, but it also communicates much more. Dialogue gives practical information, perhaps informing the audience about the events which led to the point at which the play began or about the way in which characters are related and have engaged with one another in the past. In Romeo and Juliet it is valuable to pay close attention to the word play and other verbal games with which characters engage one another. How much do their words reveal or conceal their meaning?

Memorising Shakespearean dialogue is not only a good way to impress your teacher, but also a useful method of preparing to write about the play. Create a list of the most significant examples of dialogue for each character, especially noting those that illustrate their characteristics or occur at a turning point in the text.

The quiz below asks you to recognise who is speaking each of these lines. As you answer the questions, think carefully about the significance of the quoted dialogue. What can the lines tell you about the character to whom they are assigned? Could any other character have spoken the same lines? If not, why not? Also consider the information being conveyed about the person being addressed, and consider whether the dialogue foreshadows or explains any later events.

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  1. "See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, / That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love"
    As the Chorus announces in the Prologue, Romeo and Juliet bring the discord, rivalry, and bloodshed between their two families to an end through their love and their deaths. The Prince recognises that the families have been punished, but also promises some punishments of his own, ending the play with the words: "Some shall be pardoned, and some punishèd; / For never was a story of more woe / Than this of Juliet and her Romeo"
  2. "Read o'er the volume of Paris' face, / And find delight writ there with beauty's pen"
    Juliet's mother compares the face to a book which might be read in order to understand the person
  3. "Yet if thou swear'st / Thou mayst prove false. At lovers' perjuries, / They say, Jove laughs"
    Surprised at Romeo's sudden appearance at the Capulet estate and embarrassed at being overheard in her declarations of love, Juliet expresses doubt: "Dost thou love me? / I know thou wilt say 'Ay', / And I will take thy word"
  4. "I will be deaf to pleading and excuses. / Nor tears nor prayers shall purchase out abuses. / Therefore use none"
    The Prince exiles Romeo at the urging of Lady Capulet for killing Tybalt, his own relative. His short, sharp sentences express grief, anger and power
  5. "O churl! — drunk all, and left no friendly drop / To help me after?"
    By "help" Juliet means an aid to her own suicide
  6. "No warmth, no breath shall testify thou livest. / The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fall / Like death when he shuts up the day of life"
    Friar Laurence describes the appearance of death which the potion in his vial will produce when Juliet consumes it
  7. "Well, Susan is with God; / She was too good for me. But, as I said, / On Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen, / That shall she, marry, I remember it well"
    Juliet's Nurse has a more intimate relationship with the young woman than her mother does, having breastfed and cared for her since the death of her own infant daughter. Her speech is characterised by its frequent tangents
  8. "Can vengeance be pursued further than death? / Condemned villain, I do apprehend thee. / Obey and go with me, for thou must die"
    Blinded by the old feud, Paris believes that Romeo intends to dishonour Juliet's tomb in vengeance against the Capulets
  9. "Tybalt, Mercutio, the Prince expressly hath / Forbid this bandying in Verona streets. / Hold, Tybalt, good Mercutio"
    Romeo seeks to reconcile the men and protect them both from injury and the punishment promised by the Prince
  10. "The sweetest honey / Is loathsome in his own deliciousness, / And in the taste confounds the appetite"
    The Friar warns Romeo and Juliet to "love moderately"

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