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?