Allusion in Romeo & Juliet

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  • 0:03 What Is an Allusion?
  • 1:12 Allusions in Romeo & Juliet
  • 6:49 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Catherine Rose

Catherine taught middle and high school English and has a master's degree in Education.

What is an allusion in literature? In this lesson, we'll explore the many literary and mythological allusions found in William Shakespeare's 'The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.'

What is an Allusion?

Has anyone ever called you a Scrooge? When someone starts a landslide of misfortune, have they opened a Pandora's box? Do you know a guy who is a Romeo with the girls? All of these references are called allusions. An allusion is a reference to a person, literary work, event from history, or any person, place, or thing that should be easily recognizable by the reader. The reference is not explained or introduced. Rather, the writer just makes the reference and assumes that the reader will know the person, place, or thing and be able to make the connection to the text.

In order to understand what it means to be a Scrooge, the reader must remember the main character of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. To know what it means to open a Pandora's box, one must remember the Greek myth by the same name. To understand what it means to be a Romeo with the girls, one must remember Shakespeare's The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.

William Shakespeare frequently used allusions to quickly help his audience to see connections, character traits, and recognize his unique brand of humor. The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet has many allusions. Let's explore some of them.

Allusions in Romeo and Juliet

Cupid and Diana

First, we'll look at Cupid and Diana. In Act I, scene i, Romeo speaks to his cousin Benvolio about his most recent love interest, Rosaline. He says:

'Well, in that hit you miss: she'll not be hit
With Cupid's arrow; she hath Dian's wit.'

In these lines, the allusion is to the Roman god, Cupid, and the goddess, Diana.

Cupid was the god of love and attraction, often seen with a bow and arrow used to smite the intended person. In this reference, Romeo is stating that Rosaline will not be 'hit' with Cupid's arrow, meaning she will not fall in love with him.

Diana was the virgin goddess of childbirth and women, and one of three goddesses who vowed never to marry. In this reference, Romeo is stating that Rosaline is like Diana in that she will remain a virgin and not be convinced to marry.


Second, we'll look at Aurora. In Act I, scene i, Montague, Romeo's father, speaks of his son when he says:

'But all so soon as the all-cheering sun
Should in the furthest east begin to draw
The shady curtains from Aurora's bed,
Away from the light steals home my heavy son.'

In these lines, Montague is referring to the Roman goddess of the dawn, Aurora.

The Roman goddess, Aurora, had the unique job of going throughout the skies each day announcing the arrival of the dawn. When Montague refers to her, he is acknowledging that Romeo prefers the darkness because of his sadness and avoids the light of the dawn.

Venus and Cupid

Third, we'll explore the allusions of Venus and Cupid. In Act II, scene i, Mercutio says:

'Speak to my gossip Venus one fair word,
One nick-name for her purblind son and heir,
Young Abraham Cupid, he that shot so trim,
When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid!'

In these lines, Mercutio is upset because Romeo cannot be found and is referring to both Venus and her son, Cupid.

Venus was the Roman goddess of love and sex, and Cupid was said to be the son of Venus and Mars, the god of war. In the story referred to by Mercutio, Cupid shot an arrow into a maid for King Cophetua, who otherwise could not get anyone to marry him. In this allusion, Mercutio is claiming that Romeo can only be summoned by appeals to his obsession with love and romance.


Fourth, we'll explore the allusion to Jove. In Act II, Scene ii, Juliet says:

'At lovers' perjuries
They say, Jove laughs.'

In these lines, Juliet is referring to the Roman god, Jove.

The Roman god, Jove (or Jupiter), was the head of the gods. He was partial to justice and oaths that were pure, and he became angry at promises made with no intention to be honored. In this allusion, Juliet is implying that if Romeo's profession of love for her is not true, Jove will be offended. In fact, she is claiming that Jove has so often encountered professions of love that are not true, he actually laughs when they happen.


Fifth, we'll look at the allusion to Echo. In Act II, scene ii, Juliet says:

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