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Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

4. Swordsmanship

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the importance of swordsmanship in the play, focusing in particular on: (i) the sheer number of duels in the play; (ii) the growing popularity and professionalisation of fencing in early modern England, and the likelihood that Shakespeare’s audience would have interested in fencing exhibitions on stage; (iii) the level of swordsmanship among Shakespeare’s actors, (iv) the prevalence of technical fencing terms in the play, e.g. SAMSON: Gregory, remember thy washing blow (1.1.60-61), MERCUTIO: The immortal passado, the punto reverso, the hay! (2.4.25-6); (iv) Mercutio’s mockery of Tybalt’s poor swordsmanship (“[He] fights by the book of arithmetic!”, 3.1.104) and its echo of Juliet’s (mocking?) comments of her and Romeo’s first kiss (“You kiss by th’ book”, 1.5.109); and (v) the purpose of the final duel between Paris and Romeo.


In this course, Professor John Roe (University of York) explores Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. We begin in the first module by thinking about the history of the story of Romeo and Juliet and the sources that Shakespeare may have used when writing the play. After that, we consider the influence of Petrarch on the presentation of love and death in the play, before turning in the third module to the famous balcony scene (Act 2, Scene 2) and the character of Juliet more generally. In the fourth module, we think about the importance of sword fighting in the play, before turning in the fifth to the character of Mercutio. In the sixth module, we think about the characters of the Nurse and Friar Laurence, and in the seventh the character of Juliet’s father, Lord Capulet. Finally, in the eighth module, we turn our attention to the final scene in the play and the deaths of Romeo and Juliet.

Note: We used the Arden edition of the play (Third Series, ed. René Weis) unless otherwise specified. Students using a different version of the play may encounter slight differences in both the text and line numbers.


John Roe is a professor in Renaissance literature and a member of the Centre for Renaissance and Early Modern Studies (CREMS) at the University of York. He took a BA (subsequently MA) in English Literature at the University of Cambridge and an MA and PhD in Comparative Literature at Harvard University. Comparative Literature, mainly English and Italian, has remained a keen interest, which shows principally in his monograph Shakespeare and Machiavelli. He has taught at York since 1973. Before that he taught at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and at Harvard. During his time at York he has enjoyed long sojourns at universities in other countries, for example, at the University of the Saarland in Germany, at Kyoto University, Doshisha University, and Kobe Jogakuin, in Japan; and most recently a year as the visiting Gillespie Professor at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Roe, J. (2020, January 23). Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet - Swordsmanship [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Roe, John. "Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet – Swordsmanship." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Jan 2020,