This sonnet is the second of three sonnets that appear within Shakespeare’s most famous play, Romeo and Juliet. The ‘Act I Scene 5 Sonnet’ is unusual as it contains dialogue from two characters, Romeo and Juliet, and is split up according to their lines. It is in this sonnet, which is integrally tied to the ‘Act I Prologue’ sonnet, that the two seal their fate and set themselves on the path to suicide at the end of the play.
Explore Romeo and Juliet Act I Scene 5 Sonnet
Summary of Act I Scene 5 Sonnet
Within these lines Shakespeare uses an extended metaphor, comparing Romeo to a pilgrim and Juliet to a religious/holy site, to describe their relationship. Romeo acts reverentially, cleverly convincing Juliet to let him kiss her while also treating her as a saint.
Structure of Act I Scene 5 Sonnet
In the ‘Act I Scene 5 Sonnet’ Romeo and Juliet meet. It is in these lines that they first encounter one another and share their first kiss. Although it appears within the text of Romeo and Juliet these fourteen lines are structured in the form which has come to be synonymous with the poet’s name.
It made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.
The majority of Shakespeare’s sonnets also contain a turn at the end, between line twelve and line thirteen. In this case, the last two lines are used to emphasize the path that the two are embarking on and allude to the fact that it’s going to lead to their eventual deaths.
Literary Devices in Act I Scene 5 Sonnet
Shakespeare makes use of several literary devices in the ‘Act I Scene 5 Sonnet’. These include but are not limited to allusion, metaphor, and alliteration. The first of these, allusion, is quite important. It is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In this case, the relationship that blossoms between the two in this scene sets them on a path for death that was outlined in the introduction to the play. This play is very much about fate and the fact that these lovers were never going to be able to escape it.
Alliteration occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same sound. For example, “ready” and “rough” in lines three and four as well as “have hands” and “hands” in line seven.
A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There is an extended metaphor that lasts throughout the entirety of this sonnet. It compares Romeo to a sinful pilgrim and Juliet to a holy site that he is visiting.
Analysis of Act I Scene 5 Sonnet
If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.
The first four lines of this sonnet are spoken by Romeo. He has taken Juliet’s hand, as the stage notes dictate, and declares that it is holy. His own hand is “unworth[y]” of touching her’s, he states. Shakespeare uses the metaphor to compare Juliet’s hand to a holy shrine and Romeo’s to an unholy visitor or pilgrim. It is continued into the next lines as Romeo suggests that if she’s offended by the “sin” of his hand touching hers that his lips are ready to make it better “with a tender kiss”. These suave and forward words strike the young Juliet. But, she has a response at the ready.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.
The second quatrain of the ‘Act I Scene 5 Sonnet’ is Juliet’s response to Romeo’s proffered kiss. She tells him, as a “pilgrim” traveling to the holy shrine that is her hand, that he doesn’t give himself enough credit. His hand is not sinning, it is showing “mannerly devotion” to her own hand by touching it. She proves this by suggesting that his hand touching hers is similar to pilgrims touching the hands of statues at holy sites. The statues of these saints are not sinned against. The last line of this quatrain adds that the holding of hands is like a kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.
Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
The next six lines of the ‘Act I Scene 5 Sonnet’ go back and forth between Romeo and Juliet. Romeo takes line nine, asking Juliet if saints and pilgrims have lips too. She replies that yes, “pilgrim,” they do have lips, ones they are supposed to pray with. This shows that she is prepared to banter with Romeo but is not quite as immediately passionate as he is. He asks her in the next two lines to “let lips do what hands do” and kiss. He prays that she allows him to kiss her. If she doesn’t, then he suggests that his faith is going to be turned into despair.
Juliet is willing to be kissed, but not kiss Romeo back. Still working off the extended metaphor of religious sites and holy statues, she says that saints don’t move when they “grant” prayers. This is all the encouragement Romeo needs. He tells her not to move and he kisses her. After the sonnet is over, the two continue to engage with one another and Juliet kisses him back, asking that he take the “sin” from her lips.