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Prologue of Romeo and Juliet- Double-Entendre’s

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‘An EXCELLENT conceited Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet,’ is a play written by the well-known poet and playwright, William Shakespeare (1564-1616). In most of his plays, Shakespeare utilizes what is known as a ‘Double-Entendre,’ which is a spoken phrase devised to be understood in multiple ways, especially when one meaning is risqué. The prologue of Romeo and Juliet is an ideal example of Shakespeare’s technique of utilizing a Double-Entendre.

“Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean” (Prologue 1-4).

“Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean;” In this phrase lies the Double-Entendre. Shakespeare describes the blood as “civil”, meaning: innocent, polite/courteous or simply relating to citizens (i.e. citizens of a town). The word “civil” is the Double-Entendre, for it has more than one way to be understood. For the first meaning, we will take “civil” to mean citizens. When Shakespeare uses “civil” to describe blood, he is referring to the fighting (“blood”) between fellow civilians, Montague and Capulet, and the next part of the sentence, “…makes civil hands unclean,” means that the fighting between these civilians, are drawing other, law-abiding (“civil”) people and brings them to guilt (“unclean”) too, in basic terms a “civil” war.

For the second meaning, we will consider “civil” to mean polite, courteous, thus giving us a paradoxical situation. When Shakespeare uses this meaning of “civil” to describe blood, it leaves us to think, how bloodshed between the two civilians, Montague and Capulet, can be regarded as “civil”. This wouldnÂ’t make any sense, but it was ShakespeareÂ’s intention, to make a paradoxical situation, to show that the supposedly “fair” town of Verona is in fact lacking fairness and courtesy. For if Verona was in fact “civil”, its residents would not engage in “civil” wars. How could “civil” people have “unclean” (guilty/blood stained) hands? The paradox continues in the next part, “…makes civil hands unclean”. This is basically telling us that the bloodshed between the civilized Montague and Capulet, is attracting other civilized people brings them to guilt. (Note: I was being cynical on the word civilized by putting the word in italics, in the previous sentence).

Therefore, when the sentence is read for a second time, the new meaning is: ‘The uncivil bloodshed between Montague and Capulet, attracts other uncivil people to join in on the fighting, and continues to stain their hands with the guilt of violence.Â’Now for the third meaning, we will take “civil” to mean innocent. Once again we find ourselves in the midst of another contradiction. When Shakespeare uses “civil” to describe blood he is referring to the killing of innocent people, and the next part “…makes civil hands unclean”, proves that the killing of these innocent people, was in fact carried out by innocent people. This leaves us to contemplate, how the death of one innocent man can be caused by another. Yet again, Shakespeare proves how brilliant he is. This new meaning illustrates the supposedly civil (innocent) people of Verona; to in truth be anything but “civil” for if they truly were, they would not shed the blood of innocent people. These killings will stain the hands of the victimizer with the shame (“…make civil hands unclean”) of his actions.

When we read the sentence again, we end up with, “The killings of the blameworthy people of Verona were caused by other blameworthy individuals of Verona.”The use Double-EntendreÂ’s gave Shakespeare the opportunity to show off his ability to write memorable phrases. In other words, Double-EntendreÂ’s enabled him to demonstrate the power of his genius in the same way that an art exhibition gave a painter a way to show off his special techniques. These sorts of stylistic techniques gave the general all-purpose term “wit”. Displays of wit in literature became an important quality if one was interested in showing off one’s writing skills. Shakespeare also used Double-EntendreÂ’s to usually cover up his intended understanding of the phrase, which was often associated with voyeurism. However, Shakespeare did not write these clever little verses for the sole purpose to show off his wit, or to cover up his smut; he wrote them out of a true call to duty, that his talent requires of him.

The use of a Double-Entendre gave Shakespeare a chance to brag about his writing skills. It was also used to cover-up the second meaning of a phrase, which was often voyeuristic. Shakespeare truly was a talented poet and playwright, and that is demonstrated by his outstanding writing skills. Alas, in 1616, the life of the great, William Shakespeare came to an end. Though death has defeated him, no power on Earth will be able to defeat his legacy.



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