The Meaning of “Wherefore Art Thou Romeo?”

atkins-bookshelf-literaturePerhaps one of the best known lines from Shakespeare’s plays is also one of the most misunderstood. In Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, Juliet asks, “O Romeo, Romeo — wherefore art thou Romeo.” To modern audiences, the word “wherefore” is assumed to be a fancy way of saying “where”; thus, Juliet seems to be asking, “Romeo, where are you?” — and perhaps she is reaching for her smartphone to locate him via GPS. In the context of the scene it makes a certain amount of sense, and most people don’t think twice about it. However the word “wherefore” actually means “why.” Shakespeare scholars and lexicographers David and Ben Crystal explain: “The force of the modern where overrides the older meaning., which is an emphatic why. Juliet is asking in frustration: Why are you called Romeo?” So theatergoers can breathe a sigh of relief — Juliet has not lost Romeo so early in the play.

Read related posts: When Was Shakespeare Born?
What Dictionary Did Shakespeare Use?
The Most Common Myths About Shakespeare
The Legacy of Shakespeare
Who Are the Greatest Shakespeare Characters?

For further reading: The Shakespeare Miscellany by David and Ben Crystal (2005)

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