Quotemonger on… Shakespeare’s Roses

Everyone knows “A rose by any other name…” from Romeo and Juliet.

But that was by no means all Shakespeare had to say about the world’s most romantic flower. Let’s have a look at five quotes on the subject of roses…

  • “From fairest creatures we desire increase
    That thereby beauty’s rose might never die.”
    (Sonnet 1)

    Thus begins Shakespeare’s first sonnet, and his first addressed to the 'young man' whose beauty is celebrated with this comparison to the rose.
  • “Earthlier happy is the rose distilled
    Than that which, withering on the virgin thorn,
    Grows, lives, and dies, in single blessedness.”
    (A Midsummer Night’s Dream - Act 1, Scene 1)

    Hermia is the “rose” in this line. Duke Theseus is advising her to marry rather than become a nun to avoid a union with Demetrius.
  • “I had rather be a canker in a hedge than a rose in his grace.”
    (Much Ado About Nothing – Act 1, Scene 3)

    Don John aka “John the Bastard” is a “plain-dealing villain” all right. And in this scene the princely, pretty adornment of a rose is counterpointed with his own preference: plant rot.
  • “Tell him he wears the rose / Of youth upon him; from which the world should note / Something particular.
    (Antony and Cleopatra Act 3, Scene 13)
    “The rose of youth” means “the blush of youth” in this passage where Antony is talking about the young Octavius Caesar.
  • “The rose looks fair, but fairer it we deem / For that sweet odour which doth in it live.”
    (Sonnet 54)
    There's a lengthy comparison between “canker-blooms” and roses in Sonnet 54. Both may look pretty, but the sweet smell of the one shows its true colours. Thus is the character of the poet’s beloved revealed: when the bloom of youth fades, what “odours” of true character remain?

Comments

  1. Wow! Just been looking at the new Shakespeare Magazine website! Looks really gorgeous. Issue one was brilliant and made me want to go and see a play.

  2. This one from Midsummer Night’s Dream is a good one about roses and other flowers. I love the imagery; “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows, Where oxlips and the nodding violet grows, Quite over-canopied with luscious woodbine, With sweet musk-roses and with eglantine: There sleeps Titania sometime of the night, Lull’d in these flowers with dances and delight.” (Scene 2, Act 1)

    And Sonnet 130 (featured on the Comic Relief skit with Catherine Tate and David Tennant); “I have seen roses damask’d, red and white, But no such roses see I in her cheeks; And in some perfumes is there more delight Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks…”

    “No more be grieved at that which thou hast done: Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud; Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun, And loathsome canker lives in sweetest bud.” Sonnet 35; again with roses and cankers.

    “The rose looks fair, but fairer we it deem For that sweet odour which doth in it live.” Sonnet 54; seems to say roses look pretty but are liked even more for the smell.

    Shakespeare had a bit to say about other flowers too, though I think violets and roses are the most often used flowers in his plays and poems. He refers to both the physical appearance of a flower as well as its smell – within all his plays and poems I wonder which description (looks or smell) was used more?

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