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In the following excerpt from Romeo and Juliet, what do the words "which" and "most" refer to? Does the relative clause have a main verb at all?

“I, measuring his affections by my own, which then most sought where most might not be found, being one too many by my weary self, pursued my humor not pursuing his, and gladly shunned who gladly fled from me.”

This is said by Benvolio.

I've asked this on ELL, but I haven't received a satisfactory answer. To be specific, no one has talked about whether and how Shakespearean English allows a relative clause to lack a main verb.

I'd appreciate your help.

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    What do you mean "allows a relative clause to lack a main verb"? The relative clause certainly contains a verb - sought - but relative clauses never contain a "main verb" (if you mean the verb in the independent clause). Which refers to "my own [affections]". Shakespeare was fond of wordplay - the second most is a pronoun but parsing the first is deliberately ambiguous: an adverb on first reading, but Benvolio might be hinting at it being taken as a pronoun, mirroring the construction of the final clause. NB this question borders on literary analysis, which belongs on Literature. May 15, 2019 at 1:41

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“I, measuring his affections by my own, which then most sought where most might not be found, being one too many by my weary self, pursued my humor not pursuing his, and gladly shunned who gladly fled from me.”

The quote is from Benvolio, who had previously told Romeo's mother that he had seen Romeo while out walking to clear his head --

A troubled mind drove me to walk abroad

So the 'which' refers to his own affections, i.e. how he was feeling, his mood/ troubled state of mind. In such a frame of mind his mood most (mostly or most of all) sought out a place where there were not too many people -- where most might not be found.

In short: 'which' refers to his affections; the first 'most' modifies 'sought' -- the (active past tense) verb in the relative clause -- and the second 'most' is a noun meaning 'most people'.


[Incidentally, the phrase might even be deliberately ambiguous as far as the meaning goes. Romeo at this point is in love with Rosalind who doesn't return his affections. Perhaps Benvolio is also secretly in love with someone who isn't returning his affections so his affections are seeking the affections of the loved-one, but in vain -- "then most sought where most might not be found". In that sense the second 'most' would also apply to affections.]

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  • By the way, I've just read the thread above and followed the link; it seems Jason Bassford gave a similar answer on in his comment on ELL, except for that I read sought as a verb, not a participle.
    – S Conroy
    May 13, 2019 at 22:55
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    Not really, because right underneath it, JB says that sought is standing in for were sought, where it would be part of a passive construction with the verb BE missing. However, the reality is, as you indicate, that the verb sought is active, not passive. If you made that absolutely explicit in your answer, then it would solve the OP's conundrum about there being a verb missing in the relative clause (which there isn't!). May 13, 2019 at 23:00
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    @Auracaria. Sorry, I edited before seeing your comment.
    – S Conroy
    May 13, 2019 at 23:01
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    I did write "modifies 'sought', the verb in the relative clause". But I'll add in 'active past tense verb'. That might make it clearer.
    – S Conroy
    May 13, 2019 at 23:06

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