Foreshadowing of a Love Cut Short: Sonnet Interruptus

Yesterday, we discussed the lovers’ first conversation in Romeo and Juliet, a dialogue that took the form of a sonnet, and that led to their first kiss. That’s pretty much where the story ends, or at least where most teaching ends. What most people don’t know is that IMMEDIATELY following that sonnet, the lovers begin a second sonnet.

As I noted yesterday, the first sonnet ends with Romeo’s statement, “Then move not while my prayer’s effect I take” (I.v.107). I believe that this is the point at which the first kiss takes place: it makes sense as a culmination, crescendo, er climax. But let’s take a look at what happens next:

Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by thine my sin is purged.

Then have my lips the sin that they have took.

Sin from thy lips? O trespass sweetly urged!
Give me my sin again.

You kiss by the book.

Madam, your mother craves a word with you.

— I.v.107-112

Starting with line 108, we have the beginnings of another sonnet, with an ABAB quatrain. The lovers are conversing in a rhyme scheme more complex than mere couplets. Their scansions match; each of the lines kicks off with a trochee that pushes the pace, the rhythm of the dialog forward. By the fourth line of the quatrain, we even get an antilabe: they are now sharing lines, with no break in the metrical rhythm, no caesura.

Despite what many texts (including the Pelican Shakespeare) say, I don’t think there is a kiss between Romeo’s “Give me my sin again,” and Juliet’s “You kiss by the book.” First, a kiss would break the rhythm of the line, destroying their growing verbal compatibility. Second, without the kiss, it makes Juliet’s response more assertive (as the lack of a pause would force her to nearly interrupt his pentameter line), and one heckuvalot more flirty and coy.

I would love to hear Romeo’s response and listen to where this blissfully ignorant conversation goes (remember, they don’t know who the other is at this point). I think this going to very fun, verbally dynamic places.


In a case of frustrating Sonnet Interruptus, Shakespeare instead has the Nurse cut off the lovers in mid-conversation, and fully remove Juliet from the dialog. Their sonnet is cut short, just as their love will be.  It’s a really nice piece of FORMal (rather than content-driven) foreshadowing.

Yes, I know there is another sonnet, by the Chorus at the beginning of Act Two. In comparison with the Chorus’ opening sonnet, though, this one pales. It plays more like a TV serial’s “Previously on…” than an important piece without which the play would be damaged; as proof, many productions leave it out.

What is more interesting is the number of other partial sonnets, spoken by single speakers and comprising — surprisingly — of the sestet (the final SIX lines) rather than an opening quatrain (FOUR) or octet (the first two quatrains, or EIGHT lines):

  • Paris has one as he mourns at the Capulet tomb in Act Five, Scene Three:

    Sweet flower, with flowers thy bridal bed I strew,
    (O woe! thy canopy is dust and stones)
    Which with sweet water nightly I will dew;
    Or, wanting that, with tears distilled by moans.
    The obsequies that I for thee will keep
    Nightly shall be to strew thy grave and weep.

    — V.iii.12-17

    This sestet would be a wonderful EFEF GG -rhymed conclusion to a sonnet whose opening octet sets the situation of their young love, with her death taking place somewhere in the second quatrain.

  • Romeo has one during Benvolio’s attempt to soothe his depression over Rosaline in Act One, Scene Two:

    When the devout religion of mine eye
    Maintains such falsehood, then turn tears to fires;
    And these, who often drowned could never die,
    Transparent heretics, be burnt for liars!
    One fairer than my love! the all-seeing sun
    Ne'er saw her match since first the world begun.

    — I.ii.90-95

    This sestet would be a great EFEF GG -rhymed resolution to a sonnet whose opening octet makes clear the poet’s desire to find a woman to make him forget his love.

  • And Benvolio has one earlier in the same scene, as he tries to make his case to Romeo:

    Tut, man, one fire burns out another's burning;
    One pain is lessened by another's anguish;
    Turn giddy, and be holp by backward turning;
    One desperate grief cures with another's languish.
    Take thou some new infection to thy eye,
    And the rank poison of the old will die

    — I.ii.45-50

    This sestet would be a solid EFEF GG -rhymed conclusion to a sonnet whose opening octet sets forth the sonnet’s audience’s ridiculous amorous self-pity.

All of these are sonnet ENDINGS. All spoken by MEN. Is this an insinuation by Shakespeare that men can only bring actions to their end, in a sense destroying or killing the act. The play’s only complete sonnets are either spoken by the playwright’s surrogate (in the case of the Chorus) or by a pair of lovers, male and female, a pair with procreative possibilities. Is this a subtle statement that women are necessary for completion–of words, of relationships, of gestation, of society?

now wouldn’t THAT be a little slap in the face of those who hate the Bard because of their perception of his seeming misogyny!

oh, yes, one last thing:

There IS one other ABAB quatrain out there. It comes in the first scene, as Tybalt arrives to throw gasoline on the fire that is the opening brawl:

I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword,
Or manage it to part these men with me.

What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word
As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.

— I.i.64-67

Benvolio and Tybalt share a quatrain. What?

Alas, I am at a loss with this one, friends….

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