“For never was a story more of woe, / Than this of Juliet, and her Romeo,” concludes the final, woeful rhyme of Shakespeare’s most famous tragedy. Throughout “Romeo and Juliet,” Shakespeare’s characters burst into rhyme when the muse descends and they are struck with love, tragedy or divination. Shakespeare only uses end rhymes in this play, making them easy to locate if you read the lines out loud.
“A Pair of Star-Crossed Lovers”
“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Do with their death bury their parents' strife.” (Act I: Prologue: 5-8)
The famous “star-crossed lovers” phrase originates from the Prologue to “Romeo and Juliet,” which takes the form of a sonnet. A sonnet comprises fourteen lines; the first twelve alternate every other line rhyming (ababcdcdefef), and the last two lines rhyme with each other (gg), also called a rhyming couplet.
“Sleep Dwell Upon Thine Eyes”
“Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast! Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest! Hence will I to my ghostly sire's close cell, His help to crave, and my dear hap to tell.” (2.2.186-189)
Shakespeare also scatters rhyming couplets elsewhere in “Romeo and Juliet.” In this case, rhyme is used to indicate that the topic is romantic love. Being in love inspires people to speak in rhymes, which sound magical and otherworldly.
“Did My Heart Love Till Now”
“Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.” (1.5.52-53)
Upon seeing Juliet for the first time and falling head-over-heels in love with her, Romeo speaks as though cast under a spell and compelled to rhyme. Having been shot with Cupid’s dart, rhyming couplets fall out of Romeo’s mouth one after the other as he praises the beauty of Juliet.
“I Must Love a Loathed Enemy”
“My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me, That I must love a loathed enemy.” (1.5.138-141)
When Juliet discovers she has fallen in love with the very person she is supposed to hate, her rhyming speech implicates the magical dimension to their relationship which has been destined beyond her control.
“It Argues a Distempered Head”
“Young son, it argues a distemper'd head So soon to bid good morrow to thy bed.” (2.3.33-34)
Because rhyming sounds otherworldly, it can also function as the language of wisdom and truth. In this quote, Friar Lawrence extends words of wisdom to young, rash Romeo. Rhyming couplets that also follow iambic pentameter (a pattern of 10 syllables with every second syllable stressed), such as in this example, are also referred to as heroic couplets.