Prince of Shadows

by Rachel Caine

At A Glance
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Prince of Shadows puts a fresh twist on the story of Romeo and Juliet. Instead of focusing on the two original star-crossed lovers, Prince of Shadows focuses on Benvolio and Rosaline. Many of the scenes follow the play Romeo and Juliet. In several scenes, the words of the characters also come from the play; however, the author put the words into a new context which adds interest to the story.

Benvolio is trying to keep Romeo from an irrational and dangerous love for Rosaline. However, in doing so Benvolio finds that he is drawn to Rosaline, the beautiful niece of Lord Capulet. This complicates Benvolio’s life in several ways. Now Benvolio must not only concern himself with keeping Romeo safe from the Capulets, but he must also make sure that Rosaline does not come to any harm because of Romeo’s infatuation.

Romeo’s problems are only part of Benvolio’s difficulties. He must also deal with a demanding sister, a conniving grandmother, and hiding the fact that he is a thief. When night falls, the reader often sees Benvolio sneak into other people’s houses to exact revenge by stealing their possessions.

This book also explores Mercutio in more detail. Mercutio is full of fire, wit, and love. Yet Mercutio’s love is dangerous because he happens to be in love with another man. Although Benvolio and Romeo know of Mercutio’s “sinful” love, they are loyal to their friend.

Sword fighting, thievery and intrigue are abundant in Prince of Shadows. The fighting scenes add danger, but they also include descriptions of bloody wounds, as well as death. The fighting between the Capulets and Montagues happens often and is a major plot component of the story, and in another scene a character is hung because he is homosexual. These scenes are described in detail, so this book may not be appropriate for squeamish readers.

The story also contains a lot of sexual content. It explores the topic of marriage during the time period, as well as the prevailing beliefs of homosexuality. Because of the sexual content and the violence, Prince of Shadows should only be read by the mature reader. Although the storyline is intriguing and the book is fast-paced and entertaining, the subject matter is not suitable for the younger reader.

Sexual Content

  • The Prince of Shadows steals from Tybalt and then, “The next day, Tybalt Capulet’s sword was found driven an inch deep into the heavy oak of a tavern door. Pinned to it were ribald verses that detailed a highly entertaining story about Tybalt, a pig, and acts not generally condoned by either the Church or right-thinking sheepherders.”
  • Benvolio’s sister, Veronica is upset that she is being married to an old man. She is hiding from her grandmother because “she wishes to instruct me on the nature of wifely duties.” Benvolio replies, “Shall I go tell her you need no instruction on wifely duties?” Veronica slaps him and he continues, “I won’t pretend you are pure as the Virgin if you won’t pretend to care.” During the conversation Veronica said, “You’ll not be the one he’ll paw in the marriage bed . . . or perhaps you’d prefer that, Ben. Given the company you keep—.”
  • Benvolio found out that Mercutio was a homosexual by chance. “Walking in on Mercutio in close embrace with a pretty young man a bit older than either of us. I’d heard of such things, of course, but never seen, and I confess to a certain unsettled embarrassment that drove me from them—from Mercutio—for most of a week. . .”
  • Benvolio meets a girl for the first time. Before she leaves he, “bent over her knuckles and brushed my lips lightly over the skin. I kept my gaze on her as I did it, and saw the response in her. It frightened her, I saw; she might never have felt such a thing before.”
  • The Prince of Shadows breaks into a house and is surprised to find a girl in bed. “She mimed back a throat cutting, then looked at her bed companion. I admit, by that time I had begun to realize that the sheet did not by any means cover all of her, and though the darkness made it more of a suggestion of assets than a true sight of them, the room was suddenly a good deal too warm…I closed her fingers over them (coins) before lifting her hand to drop a kiss on the rough skin of her knuckles…then she sat up and…kissed me. It was surprising, and I should have pulled away for many reasons, not the least of which was my own self-preservation, but there was something darkly wonderful about the danger of it . . . for a moment I entertained a feral thought that perhaps he might now wake. . . ” Later he tells his friend about the encounter and said the girl was naked, “as sinful Eve . . . and quite a willing mouth on her, too.”
  • After Mercutio is forced to marry, he writes in his diary, “It is a bitter bed we make, and after, she weeps herself to sleep. I tell her that once she bears a living heir she can be shut of me…Men say that love is cruel, but it is the lack of it in the act that is cruelest.”
  • While Benvolio is with Rosaline, he thinks, “I wanted her, a Capulet, in ways that I had never wanted a woman before—not a hasty, impersonal fumbling in the dark, not the duty of a cold husband with an unfamiliar wife . . . something else, for the sake of passion, and fire, and challenge.”
  • When Romeo is looking for Rosaline, Mercutio asks, “So eager to deflower the girl? ‘Tis the job your grandmother set you, or missed you her message? Humiliate Capulet by showing that their precious convent-bound virgin is a trull.”
  • Benvolio thinks about Mercutio’s marriage and how “girls of means were sold or bartered.” Mercutio’s father would make sure Mercutio was married. Benvolio thinks, “I did not like to think on that unhappy wedding night. If it was consummated at all, it would be done coldly and ruthlessly.”
  • Benvolio was talking to Rosaline when his hand, “moved from her wrist, glided up her arm, and now it touched her cheek . . . I felt drugged with the tingles of pleasure of my skin on hers…My fingers trailed down, tracked the tight line of her jaw, and I felt the fast beat of her pulse.” Rosaline then backs away. Later during the conversation, Benvolio wonders, “would she resist me if I took hold of her, kissed her, bore her back to that curtained mattress? Would she cry for help, or would she sigh my name, rise to meet me, crave the same senseless release that I did?”


  • In one scene, Benvolio thinks about a bedtime story about a Capulet named Sophia. “The gruesome horror of being bricked up in a lavishly appointed room, with only a pitcher of water and a dagger for company. Once the water had gone, Sophia more than likely would have sought the dagger’s point for her final comfort . . .”
  • When Veronica threatens to hint that Benvolio is a homosexual, he reminds her about the boy, “they hanged last winter. Claiming someone a sodomite is no joking matter.”
  • When Benvolio sneaks into Rosaline’s room he thinks she is asleep, but then he, “felt the ice-cold prickle of a blade on the back of my neck.” Rosaline tells Benvolio must leave, but before he can Tybalt hears them talking and advances on her. Tybalt grabs her arm and twists it until she cries out. When she refuses to answer Tybalt’s questions that, “earned her an openhanded slap hard enough to leave a blood red imprint on her fair skin.” Later than evening Benvolio (in disguise) and Friar Lawrence go to check on Rosaline and find her, “wedged into a cold corner, knees drawn up, nightgown bloodied from her split lip and the open cut on her forehead. It would take time for the bruises to form, but her left eye was already swollen, and the right side of her jaw distorted from the beating she’d received. She held her right arm tenderly, and I saw the bloody scrapes on her knuckles.”
  • Rosaline writes about the abuse of Tybalt. “Of late, I have begun to fight back, since I had come into a height where it was possible—though strictly forbidden—to do so. I had scored him with my nails more than once, and even bruised him, but never did I hurt him enough to matter.”
  • There is a sword fight between a “Capulet pig” and Benvolio. In the end, “the sword plunged easily just below the ridge of his collarbone, angling down as the dagger found ribs and angled up . . . The two points almost meet at his heart . . . So I waited until the life had left the man’s eyes and he fell to the cobblestones, kicked his Capulet-given sword to the side, and turned just as the second man drove Bathasar back at the point of his blade.”
  • There is a sword fight between Tybalt and Benvolio. Several others join the fray. Benvolio thinks, “I wanted his blood, badly as he wanted mine.” The fight is interrupted by the elder Capulet and Montague and no one is injured.
  • Mercutio’s lover is, “on his knees, with his hands bound roughly behind his back, and a circle of armed men surrounded him.” Mercutio’s father then proceeds to beat him. “I was not sure if he could see through the torrents of blood that obscured his face.” Mercutio’s father then makes sure Mercutio watches his lover be hung from a tree. “Though his toes kicked just a few inches above the ground, it was enough . . . It took a horribly long time to be finished.”
  • Benvolio reflects on the above incident, thinking, “I thought I’d known the depths of cruelty men hide, but this . . . this was another thing entirely. I’d known all our lives that we were fragile, easily punctured flesh, but seeing the boy choke on that noose, seeing the laughter and jeers from those who’d killed him . . . hearing the thumps as rocks pelted his dying body . . . had shattered something within me . . .”
  • When Benvolio overhears his sister gossiping about Mercutio’s lover, he grabs “her by the back of the neck and dragged her squealing around the corner.” They argue and he lets her go.
  • Mercutio has a fight in a tavern. “He was spattered with fresh red, and his dagger ran with it, and the floor was thick with writhing, groaning men.”
  • Benvolio is in a sword fight and his, “blade slipped easily in, though, and I cut sideways to open the vessels. Blood gushed like a fountain, sheeting gory down his hose, and he let out a short, sharp cry as he fell to his uninjured knee. It was a killing wound, and he knew it instantly.”
  • Another sword fight happens, and Tybalt kills Mercutio. Tybalt, “yanked his blade free of my friend’s ribs. It slid out with a terrible sound, steel grating bone, and the blood that spouted out was the exact shade of Capulet livery…my ears seemed tuned only to the sound of Mercutio’s tortured, hitching breaths, and the pulse of his blood flowing to the stones.”
  • Romeo, Tybalt, Benvolio, and others get into a sword fight. Several people are killed. Benvolio, “stabbed him in the throat and ended him.” In the same fight, Romeo stabs Tybalt. “For an instant, the cut looked small, but then it parted, and the blood, oh, the blood. He fell into the arms of his adherents, thrashing in his death agonies.”
  • In another scene the Capulets and Montagues fight, which takes place over several pages. “The cobbles were already wet with blood, and bodies fell to my left under a strong assault . . . my sword slid between his ribs and out his heart, and he was down, grimacing now.” During this fight, Veronica is killed and the boy who killed her is dragged away to be hung.
  • When a priest discovers Benvolio is the Prince of Shadows, the priest gave, “a blow with his closed fist . . . his servants, as expected, took this as a sign, and instead of ripping away my mask, they closed in, fists flying as they screamed curses upon me for my insolence. I hunched in to try to ride the blows, but soon I was on my side, and the rope had been pulled tight. Air had become a frantic struggle, and I was all but senseless when I felt fingers tugging at the silk knotted around my face. It was wet with blood . . .” By the time the mask is pulled away, Benvolio’s face is so bloody and swollen that he is unrecognizable.

Drugs and Alcohol

  • The characters in the book are often seen drinking and in a state of drunkenness. For example, on the first page of the book Tybalt is described as, “a drunken, undignified mess in sodden linen.” Later on in the story, Benvolio, “quaffed my wine in a choking gulp.”
  • There are several references to drunkenness. In one scene, Rosaline said, “I dismissed the tales of you as drunkard’s gossip.” In another scene, Benvolio, “stumbled to a halt, as unsteady as if I’d been into Tybalt’s wine cellar instead of his apartments.”
  • Benvolio asks the friar, “Have you been into the sacramental wine again, Friar Lawrence?” Benvolio thinks, “It was obvious indeed from the eloquence of his breath.”


  • In a conversation about the Prince’s new mistress, the mistress is described as, “a woman no better than a whore.” Later in that same conversation, Benvolio’s grandmother said, “It isn’t healthy for a strapping young man to be introduced to whores at your age, before you’ve even settled on a wife.”
  • Trying to start a fight, a man calls Benvolio a, “Mongrel son of an English bitch.”


  • There is a “witch” who Mercutio’s wife seeks out, hoping for a potion that will help her get pregnant. Later, Mercutio sees the same witch who helps him curse those who betrayed him.
  • When Benvolio tracks down the witch, she explains the spell she gave Mercutio was made of three parts— “one faith, one mind, one flesh.” Part of the spell was cast by writing on Mercutio’s skin. “For the mind, it wrote down in his own hand . . . The other . . . the other was cast upon rosary beads.”
  • At the end of the story, the curse affects Benvolio and Rosaline. Because of the curse, they seek “comfort in each other’s bodies, heedless of consequences.” They fight to ensure they do not fall to the curse’s allure. In the end, Benvolio has to destroy the rosary that has been cursed. In order to do this Benvolio must, “thrust my whole hand into the flames. /The agony hit in an instant…I heard flesh sizzle.”
  • Mercutio and Romeo appear as ghosts at the end of the story.

Spiritual Content

  • Benvolio’s grandmother said it is good that he will be married soon because, “all men’s blood runs too hot, and the apostle said that it is better to marry than to burn.”
  • Mercutio is secretly in love. His love is, “not simply unwise, but reckoned unnatural by Church and law alike.”
  • Friar Lawrence questions Lady Capulet about Rosaline’s injures asking if violence was necessary. Lady Capulet said, “The scriptures tell us that a disobedient child should be corrected; is it not so?” Later in the chapter, Friar Lawrence said, “You were right to fear for her, but with God’s grace we may have saved her life. Her lady aunt will not wish to have Rosaline murdered this night; they might be within their right to so dispose of a rebellious girl-child, but they have not the liver for questions the Church must bring.”
  • Benvolio prays to the beloved Virgin, “for patience, guidance, and most of all, for my cousin to stop loving Rosaline Capulet.”
  • Benvolio goes to church looking for someone, “in the confessional…but I found that it must have been a busy morning for sinning. At least ten aspired to cleanse their souls before me.”
  • When Benvolio finds out that his sister has betrayed Mercutio’s secret, he thinks, “God does answer all prayers, but sometimes, he answers with a cold and remorseless denial…”
  • After Mercutio’s father beats him, no one is allowed to tend to Mercutio’s wounds. The next day, his father said, “You live to see the dawn, then. It is a sign from God that even He does not want you…Give up your sinful perversions, and embrace a life of piety and duty to your family.”
  • In reference to Mercutio, a character said, “I believe God loves all, sinners and saints, and judgment is His business, not mine.”
  • Benvolio’s sister, Veronica, writes in her diary that, “God wills that these vile, unnatural sinners [homosexuals] be condemned and cast out, and whatever Benvolio believes (heretic that he is), I believe that I did God’s business in whispering of the assignation—still best to blame fall on the Capulet whore, for safety’s sake, for Mercutio makes a bad enemy.”
  • Friar Lawrence marries Romeo and Juliet because, “their love was so strong that if I had refused to bless it, it would have been done without God’s seal; there is no doubt of it. Would you have me step aside and allow the sin instead?”
  • When Benvolio discusses Mercutio’s homosexuality, he says Mercutio, “was as he was formed, as God made him.”
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