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Romeo and Juliet Act 2 Scene 6:

...The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in its own deliciousness.
And in the taste confounds the appetite

Most interpretations online seem to suggest that honey is bad for you because if you eat too much it’ll upset your stomach. But that doesn’t seem like a satisfactory answer because the author is not saying ‘too much quantity’ of honey is bad but he is saying ‘the deliciousness’ of honey is bad.

The answers here are still saying it is the 'quantity' and not the 'deliciousness' of the honey that is the ultimate culprit. So maybe I am going on a wild goose chase trying to find fault (not indirect fault) with the deliciousness itself.

What does this line mean?

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It is the deliciousness of the honey that leads you to gorge on it until you can't face it anymore. Deliciousness leads to eating too much of it, therefore the deliciousness is the problem. You wouldn't eat too much if it wasn't delicious, after all.

Now, I hesitate to use Reddit as an authoritative source, but for an anecdotal demonstration of the principle, you could do worse than this from user/UnIuckyCharms on the subject of 'What's something you'll never eat again and why?':

Buttered popcorn. When I was younger my mom took me to the movies. I complained about not being able to butter the popcorn as I thought she didn't put enough on. Eventually she got annoyed and let me get a new bag and butter it up as much as I wanted on the condition that I ate every single piece. Being 7 and naive I thought I had just won a battle over my mother and proceeded to absolutely drench the bag. Finished it over the course of the movie and made it about 15 minutes into the car ride home before I first started vomiting. The taste stayed in my mouth for days. Liquid shits and a painful stomach for days.

Now the smell of buttered popcorn alone makes me feel sick lol. To this day I avoid the stuff

Now let's look at the text around the lines you quote

These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.

Friar Lawrence is saying that that intense desires, like u/UnIuckyCharms's desire for buttered popcorn, end with equal intensity, like u/UnIuckyCharms's digestive issues and current aversion to buttered popcorn. The butteriest of popcorn was loathsome in its own deliciousness and in the taste confounded u/UnIuckyCharms's appetite. If they had partaken of the buttered popcorn moderately, they could be enjoying it to this day. The level of deliciousness is such that it can over-ride a person's good sense in understanding how much of a thing is good for them, that is where the loathsomeness lies. Like the saying

credited to Paracelsus who expressed the classic toxicology maxim "All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; the dosage alone makes it so a thing is not a poison." This is often condensed to: "The dose makes the poison" or in Latin, "Sola dosis facit venenum". It means that a substance can produce the harmful effect associated with its toxic properties only if it reaches a susceptible biological system within the body in a high enough concentration
Wikipedia

Therefore a thing which is extremely delicious can lead you to consume so much that it reaches a level of toxicity. Honey has this level of deliciousness.

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  • @bobble what did you do to get the lines formatted right in the Shakespeare quote? I can't for the life of me get the line breaks with single line spacing, which is why I used the method I did.
    – Spagirl
    Jul 9 at 10:42
  • 3
    Two spaces at the end of each line will force a linebreak, or the <br> HTML tag
    – bobble
    Jul 9 at 13:45
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    @bobble thank you so much, I have this problem every time I try to quote poetry, but I've been focussing on things to put at the front rather than the end. I did try looking at your edit, but obviously a couple of spaces doesn't really show up at a glance, so i was flummoxed. I blame my age.
    – Spagirl
    Jul 9 at 15:11
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It seems to me that a large part of the above question can be answered by the context provided by Shakespeare, which implies “eating too quickly,” as well as eating too much.

These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey.
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.
Therefore love moderately. Long love doth so.
Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow.

If one has access to the “sweetest honey” one is likely to eat it too quickly and have too much of it and so, like fire and powder, make one’s stomach “blow up.” Love, like the “sweetest honey” needs to be “consumed” over a long period of time and at a proper rate.

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In his edition of Romeo and Juliet for the New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge University Press, 1984), G. Blakemore Evans points out that the idea express in Friar Lawrence's words ("The sweetest honey / Is loathsome in his own deliciousness" [1]) was proverbial in Shakespeare's time. This is something the two existing answers have overlooked.

The traditional reference for this sort of proverbial wisdom is M. P. Tilley's A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (1950). The entries in Tilley's dictionary are numbered; the relevant entry is H560: "It is not good to eat too much honey". The ultimate source given there is Proverbs 25.27 (King James Version):

It is not good to eat much honey: (…)

The idea behind Friar Lawrence's words can also be found in A Midsummer Night's Dream Act 2, scene 2, where Lysander says,

For, as a surfeit of the sweetest things
The deepest loathing to the stomach brings,
(…)

The idea that too much of a sweet thing (in the sense of "pleasant") can cause loathing can even be transferred to music, as in Duke Orsino's words at the beginning of the play Twelfth Night:

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.

Duke Orsino is love sick, and "appetite" here refers to his longing for music. A few lines down, after listening to more of the music, Orsino says,

Enough, no more!
'Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

[1] The second quarto of 1599, which G. Blakemore Evans used as the basis for the New Cambridge Shakespeare edition, has "his own deliciousness". Of course, the meaning is "its own deliciousness". Some other editors therefore replace "his" with "its".

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  • I like this answer so far. Your answer has 2 answers within. 1) same as other answers you are talking about the effect on the stomach. 2) the surfiet effect, where it is just loathsome to your taste, apetitle itself independent of the ill effects on the stomach. The second one is closer to the answer I am looking for. 'Surfiety' I think is the culprit. The paradox of one thing being sweet and loathsome just in its own inherent nature.
    – Gadam
    Aug 14 at 19:13

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