Romeo and Juliet--the Parallel Passages

  • Romeo and Juliet: Act 2, Scene 3--Friar LaurenceLucretius, Book 5: Cyril Bailey translation--various passages
    The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
    Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light;
    And fleckled darkness, like a drunkard, reels
    From forth day's path and Titan's fiery wheel.
    Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye,
    The day to cheer and night's dank dew to dry,
    I must upfill this osier cage of ours
    With baleful weeds and precious-juicèd flowers.
    1. The golden morning light of the radiant sun reddens over the grass bejewelled with dew,
    and the pools and ever-running streams give off a mist, yea, even as the earth from time to
    time is seen to steam.
    2. [...] sun’s blazing wheel [...]
    The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb;
    What is her burying grave, that is her womb.
    And from her womb children of diverse kind
    We, sucking on her natural bosom, find;
    Many for many virtues excellent,
    None but for some, and yet all different.
    3. Without doubt the mother of all is seen herself to be the universal tomb of things.
    4. But each thing comes forth after its own manner, and all preserve their separate
    marks by a fixed law of nature.
    O, mickle is the powerful grace that lies
    In plants, herbs, stones, and their true qualities.
    For nought so vile that on the earth doth live,
    But to the earth some special good doth give;
    Nor aught so good but, strained from that fair use,
    Revolts from true birth, stumbling on abuse.
    Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied;
    And vice sometime, by action, dignified.
    5. Of such great matter is it, what is the power of each thing.
    6. And many there are, which by their usefulness are
    commended to us, and so abide, trusted to our tutelage.
    [Friar Laurence holds up a small flower]
    Within the infant rind of this weak flower
    Poison hath residence — and medicine power,
    For this being smelt —
    [He smells the flower]
    with that part cheers each part;
    Being tasted, stays all senses with the heart.
    7. Indeed, we may see the bearded goats often grow fat on hemlock,
    which to man is rank poison.
    8. What was of value, becomes in turn of no worth; and then another thing
    rises up and leaves its place of scorn, and is sought more and more each day,
    and when found blossoms into fame, and is of wondrous honor among men.
    Two such opposèd kings encamp them still
    In man as well as herbs — grace and rude will;
    And where the worser is predominant,
    Full soon the canker death eats up that plant.

    9. Nor in any other way do we see one another to be mortal; except that we fall
    sick of the same diseases as those whom nature has sundered from life.
    10. They unwitting would often pour out poison for themselves,
    now with more skill they give it to others.



    What interests me most about these comparisons is the way in which Lucretius restrains from making moral judgments, the way Shakespeare invites his readers to do. You'll notice how much I had to "stretch" the meaning in the last row in Lucretius, in order to vaguely echo that in Shakespeare.


    If you struggle to read Shakespeare, as many of us do, I can very heartily recommend the Folger Shakespeare Library's dramatic full-cast reading of Romeo and Juliet. Available on Audible!

  • There are two 'proverbs' that relate to some of these same or similar ideas as well. "One man's meat is another man's poison", and "as sure as pig likes marjoram". Both 'proverbs' are actually quotations or references to Lucretius.