Wordy Wednesday – “Parting is such sweet sorrow”

Okay, so we’re a bit belated, but let’s pretend it’s still Wednesday… and get wordy! In honour of our mainstage production of Romeo and Juliet, which is rolling along pretty smoothly so far (knock on wood), we present this week’s phrase:

Good night, good night! parting is such
sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.

Have you ever had to leave behind someone you love?

Yes, this is still a popular phrase today. In fact, we’ve already used it twice on this blog! And though we are Shakespeare fans, I’m sure if you pay attention you will hear people all over using this phrase.

The phrase seems straightforward at first: it’s hard to part with someone you love. In the play, Juliet says this to Romeo after the infamous balcony scene where they first confess their love. But how can something that is a “sorrow” still be “sweet,” you ask?

There are a couple of things that make this phrase memorable. For one, the contrast between “sweet” and “sorrow” is arresting – it makes us sit up and take notice. It’s similar to a word like “bittersweet,” or a phrase like “jumbo shrimp.” These are known as oxymorons, which are words or phrases that contain two contradictory meanings.

When Juliet says, “parting is such sweet sorrow,” she reminds Romeo and herself all over again of her love for him. Parting from him wouldn’t be so sorrowful unless she truly loved him, so even in feeling the pain of separation, she remembers the “sweet” love that they share.

What do you think? Can you feel two such contradictory emotions at once?

Their parting is also more sweet than sorrowful because now they can look forward to seeing each other again. This phrase foreshadows important events in the rest of the play. Before long Romeo and Juliet will have to face a lot of real sorrow – Tybalt and Mercutio’s deaths, and Romeo’s banishment. And in the end they will refuse to be parted even in death.

Another way to think about this is from your own experience. Have you ever had to leave someone behind – friends, family – while jetting off to a new adventure? Here in the Shakespeare in Action office, many of us have come to Toronto from other areas of Canada (or even places like Australia and Asia). Your blogger is getting ready to move all the way to British Columbia in the fall. While leaving your home and family can be daunting, the knowledge that a new adventure awaits can make parting a “sweet sorrow” indeed.

 

 

By: Kathleen

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