O Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Wherefore is a [amazon_link id=”0195219503″ target=”_blank” ]Middle English [/amazon_link]word that has two distinctive meanings: the original now [amazon_link id=”0982369735″ target=”_blank” ]archaic[/amazon_link] meaning is “For what?” especially for what purpose or end. The second meaning is “the cause or reason” why something is the way that it is.

A famous passage from [amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]Shakespeare[/amazon_link]’s play [amazon_link id=”0743482808″ target=”_blank” ]The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet[/amazon_link] uses the word “wherefore” and its meaning is often misunderstand: in Act II, Scene I, Juliet says, “O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?” (75).* First, the stage directions state that Juliet speaks “not knowing Romeo hears her.” The theatre-goer sees Romeo standing at the edge of the Capulet family orchard just outside Juliet’s second-story room listening to her every word.

Juliet is not looking for Romeo; she is standing on the balcony located off her bedroom and lamenting to the night of her sorrows. Juliet is exclaiming that it is just not good that the guy she is attracted to is from the Montague family – a family that her Capulet family despises. In other words, when alluding to the feud between their families, Juliet is saying “Oh, why does Romeo have to be a Montague? What am I going to do!” Of course, in real life Juliet most likely would have not spoken her innermost thoughts aloud – especially with her nurse in the next room. She would have escaped to the balcony for some privacy to think and ponder her situation with Romeo.

In the next two lines, Juliet offers a solution to this dilemma and reveals that she and Romeo must align themselves to one family or the other, if there is to be a union between them. She states:

Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
and I’ll no longer be a Capulet. (76 – 78)*

Essentially, Juliet tells Romeo that if he will not deny his father, as long as he swears that he loves her, Juliet will deny her father (“I’ll no longer be a Capulet.”) Juliet goes on to say that a name is just a name (“What’s in a name?”) and the personality and convictions of Romeo are more important.

In addition, by using the word “wherefore” Shakespeare is indicating that the outcome may not be favorable (think “for what end”); this is a [amazon_link id=”0199208271″ target=”_blank” ]literary technique [/amazon_link]called “foreshadowing” when the author gives the reader a clue as to what may happen in the future. Specifically, Shakespeare is warning the reader that the ending of the play may not be so satisfactory.

*[amazon_link id=”0199267170″ target=”_blank” ]The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works, 2nd Edition[/amazon_link] edited by John Jowett, William Montgomery, Gary Taylor, and Stanley Wells © Oxford University Press 1986, 2005.


Attention Students: to cite this web article in the current MLA-style, please use the example below.

Dixon, Catherine Jo. “O Romeo, Wherefore art thou Romeo?.” Feast Of Languages. Catherine Jo Dixon, 31 July 2011. Web. [today’s date].

Note: The citation entry on the “Works Cited” or “Bibliography” page must have a “hanging indent.” The second line should be indented 5 spaces.

1. Name of Author. (Last Name, First Name.)
2. “Title of Work.”
3. Title of the Web Site (italicized)
4. Publisher of the web site,
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6. Medium of Publication (in this case, the Web).
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English literature students most commonly use the Modern Language Association’s (MLA) style to write their papers. This citation reflects the [amazon_link id=”1603290249″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, 7th edition[/amazon_link] and/or the [amazon_link id=”0873522974″ target=”_blank” ]MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing, 3rd edition[/amazon_link]. For additional information, I recommend a free online writing lab from Purdue University: “The Purdue OWL” https://owl.english.purdue.edu/ which has current, credible information and reliable examples.

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