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From Romeo and Juliet Act I Scene V

April 10, 2017

Romeo: If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentler sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

Juliet: Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this.
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

Romeo: Have not saints lips, and holy palmers, too?

Juliet: Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

Romeo: O then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do:
They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Romeo: The move not while my prayers effect I take.

–WIlliam Shakespeare, 1595

COMMENTARY: Romeo and Juliet rhymes more than any other Shakespearian tragedy. From the sonnet prologue (“two households, both alike in dignity”) to the opening lines (“upon my word, we’ll not carry coals” / “nay for then we’d be colliers” / “An be in choler, then we’ll draw”) the language of the play, against the darkness of the story, shimmers with playfulness. Nowhere is this more evident than in the “kissing scene” at the end of the first act. At the level of words, there is the lyrical punning of palmers (pilgrims who returned from the holy land with a frond) and palm of the hand–a pun that lies flush in the finger-clasped line of “palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” At the level of structure is the way Shakespeare embeds a Petrarchan sonnet in the dialogue, dividing the 14 lines and six rhymes evenly between the two lovers.

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