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Romeo and Juliet - Language

This GCSE English Literature quiz takes a look at language in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet contains some of the best-known of Shakespeare’s verse. You might well have heard many of the most famous lines quoted, or even seen them reused on Valentine’s cards. Yet the language in this play is not entirely light and fanciful, but is instead full of violence and dark passion. Much of the play centres on the contrast between the visible and public and the hidden and private, and so the language, too, contains multiple meanings which repay careful reading.

Characters in Romeo and Juliet are sharply delineated by their linguistic choices, with recognisable words and phrases being picked up and echoed by other characters in different circumstances throughout the play.

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The themes of the play are evident through the plot and actions of characters, and often more subtly through the repetition of related language. One useful revision technique would be to collect examples of vocabulary related to each of the themes of the play. Consider which character uses each of these collected examples and what the implications might be for their specific choices.

Analysing language in a text

An audience’s understanding and interpretation of a play is, of course, affected by its performance, including each individual actor’s pace, tone and gesture. Although in reading you do not have access to these aspects of the play, the written language is the foundation and substance through which its meaning is conveyed.

Authors choose language with precision. Beyond the literal meaning of each word lies a weight of symbolic meaning and other associations. Imagery such as metaphor, simile and personification, adds shades and layers of meaning. Sometimes these effects are subtle and at other times they will practically leap out at you.

It is always worthwhile to pay close attention to the language choices in a text. Such efforts will be rewarded by a deeper understanding. Make a special effort to look beyond the surface meaning, taking the time to consider what else is going on besides the obvious. Analyse carefully the language that the author has put even more care into choosing. This practice will help you to decipher the text’s more elusive meanings.

Answer the questions below to develop your understanding of the way language choices affect our interpretation of a text.

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  1. "Why, is not this better now than groaning for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo, now art thou what thou art by art as well as by nature." Mercutio's words relate most closely to which of the following lines?
    Romeo's identity is problematic. Juliet asks what virtue is in a name and Mercutio insists that Romeo is only truly himself when he is engaged in bawdy joking with the lads
  2. "O brother Montague, give me thy hand. / This is my daughter's jointure, for no more / Can I demand." Which words indicate Capulet's change of heart?
    Capulet symbolically refers to Montague as "brother", using the familiar pronoun "thy" (the pronoun used with family) and asking for his hand in a gesture of reconciliation
  3. "If I profane with my unworthiest hand / This holy shrine..." - Romeo. Which of the following is true?
    Romeo honours Juliet with the reverence of a pilgrim for a saint. He also wishes to touch and to kiss her as pilgrims would in reverence at a saint's shrine. Juliet's body is the shrine and herself the saint
  4. "I would have thee gone — / And yet no farther than a wanton's bird, / That lets it hop a little from his hand." Juliet compares Romeo to which of the following?
    Juliet deals with conflicting desires. She wants Romeo to be safely away and wishes to keep him near. She perceives that love can be a restraint
  5. "Within the infant rind of this weak flower / Poison hath residence, and medicine power." Why are these lines spoken by Friar Laurence significant?
    Poison and power are key themes in Romeo and Juliet.
  6. CAPULET'S WIFE: So shall you share all that he doth possess
    By having him, making yourself no less.
    NURSE: No less, nay, bigger. Women grow by men.
    To what does Nurse refer?
    Nurse continuously twists the meaning of Juliet's mother's words, turning them into crude jokes
  7. Hearing that Tybalt has been killed by Romeo, Juliet laments, "Was ever book containing such vile matter / So fairly bound?" Which of the following lines does NOT express the same sentiment?
    Juliet is torn by grief and at first passionately denounces Romeo for not being what he appears to be (using the metaphor of the book and the cover, as her mother does in the first act)
  8. "Call me but love and I'll be new baptized. / Henceforth I never will be Romeo." What does Romeo mean by being "new baptized" here?
    Juliet has asked rhetorically that Romeo, who is perfection to her, could do without the name which makes him an enemy of her family. Overhearing her, he responds that he would happily take on a new name (given at baptism), if only she will call him "love". Being newly baptised also implies beginning anew
  9. "A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life, / Whose misadventured piteous overthrows / Doth with their death bury their parents' strife." How is the word "bury" used here?
    Death buries the feud, which is abstract and, unlike Romeo and Juliet's bodies, cannot literally be buried
  10. "O sweet Juliet, / Thy beauty hath made me effeminate, / And in my temper softened valour's steel." What does Romeo imply here?
    Romeo contrasts the hardened steel of valour with the softness caused, he believes, by spending time with a woman. He feels responsible for Mercutio's death because he had been swayed by love of Juliet into not responding to Tybalt's taunts

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