The line is used by Juliet as she’s standing on her balcony, considering her situation with Romeo and the feud their families have been engaged in for years.
Interestingly, there are several other versions of this quote in different printings of Shakespeare’s plays. For example:
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.
Today, the quote can be found in any essay about the young lovers’ plight as well as in numerous film and television adaptions of the story. It’s not uncommon to hear the quote in everyday life as well. It’s so well-known that it has become somewhat of a cliché.
Explore What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet
“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” Meaning
The quote is spoken as a way of alluding to the feud between the two families.
Their names are what is separating them, and, as Juliet proves in the quote, names don’t really mean anything. They can change, and the person will still be who they were before. The idea of intermarriage between Romeo and Juliet is incredibly taboo, and Juliet mourns that fact through this logical argument on her balcony.
Where Did Shakespeare Use This Quote?
This quote appears in Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet. This famed tragedy contains some of Shakespeare’s best-known quotes. This one is spoken by Juliet while standing on the balcony. As part of the famous balcony scene, these lines are commonly quoted, seriously or humorously, in similar circumstances. The lines are spoken to herself, but they are overheard by Romeo, who is standing nearby. Here is the quote in context:
’Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face. O, be some other name
Belonging to a man.
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And, for thy name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Juliet is at her father’s party and thinks that Romeo has gone home. He’s lingering in the garden and watching the young girl on her balcony. She leaves her room, stands on the balcony, and speaks these words, she thinks, to herself. But, he hears her and comes out, and they begin an interaction.
Within these lines, Juliet says that names do not make something that it is. Even if a rose had a different name other than “rose,” it would still be the same flower. Juliet makes a profound observation about the nature of names in these lines, and Romeo hears her wisdom.
The rose is used as a metaphor for the names that Juliet and her love interest have themselves. Even if Romeo had a different name, he’d still be Romeo. The name does not change him. This is meant to provide evidence in support of ending or breaking the feud between their families.
Romeo responds to Juliet’s ideas about names and meaning with the following lines:
I take thee at thy word.
Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized.
Henceforth I never will be Romeo.
He makes a romantic, metaphorical gesture, suggesting that he’s going to throw away his name and be nothing to her but her “love.” He’ll be baptized in this new role. Later, after being reprimanded by Juliet for spying on her, he reveals that he does not know how to “tell thee who I am.” He says that his name is “hateful to myself” because it is an enemy to Juliet.
Why Did Shakespeare Use This Quote?
Shakespeare used this quote within Romeo and Juliet as a way of asking readers and audience members to consider the meaning, or lack thereof, of names. What role do names play in everyday life, and what power do they have? For Romeo and Juliet, names are, unfortunately, significant. It is because of the names the two have that they can’t marry and end up losing their lives. All for a name, the two young lovers lose their lives, something that the families mourn at the end of the play.
This quote appears in Romeo and Juliet and is spoken by the latter. She speaks it, she thinks, to herself during the balcony scene. But, Romeo is in her garden, listening to her monologue.
Juliet shows her maturity several times throughout the play including in the balcony scene as she analyzes the meaning of names and the importance they actually hold.
The speaker, Juliet, is considering what is truly in a name. What control, she wonders, does it have over the object or person it’s attached to? She deduces that it has no real control, only that which people are willing to give to it.
- Read and understand: Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
- Watch: Romeo and Juliet
- Read: William Shakespeare Best Plays