Shakespeare’s language in Romeo and Juliet is known for its beauty and complexity. His use of language manages to:
Let’s look at some of the literary devices he uses to achieve this.
In “Romeo and Juliet,” the use of puns introduces humour and lightens the mood. They act as breathers in clearly tense or tragic events. A character who uses puns effectively is Mercutio, who is known for his sharp wit and flamboyant personality. For example, as he lies dying after his duel with Tybalt, he says:
“Ask for me tomorrow, and you shall find me a grave man.“
This tragic moment is balanced with humour, which makes it less tense for the audience. The pun also emphasises the moment and makes it more memorable.
Let’s look at a table illustrating some more examples of puns in Romeo and Juliet:
|“Give me a torch: I am not for this ambling;|
Being but heavy, I will bear the light.“
|This is a pun on the word “light.” Mercutio says he will carry a torch (light) because he is feeling “heavy” (sad/depressed), making a play on words that contrasts his emotional heaviness with the physical lightness of the torch.|
|“You have dancing shoes|
With nimble soles: I have a soul of lead…“
|This pun is on “soles”/”soul”. Romeo is saying that although others are equipped to dance (nimble soles), his soul feels as heavy as lead, reflecting his unhappy state due to his unrequited love for Rosaline.|
Rhymes often signal the end of a scene or an important statement. For example, in Act 2, Scene 2 (the balcony scene), Juliet says:
“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.“
This rhyming couplet ends the scene and also emphasises the paradox of their situation – their parting is sorrowful, yet sweet because it’s a result of their newfound love. The rhyme creates a rhythm. This makes the dialogue memorable and amplifies its emotional impact.
Also, the dialogues between Romeo and Juliet often rhyme, which shows the character’s love as they become more intertwined:
“My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready standRomeo
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss“
“Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,Juliet
Which mannerly devotion shows in this.“
Let’s look at a table illustrating some more examples of rhyming in Romeo and Juliet:
|“If I profane with my unworthiest hand This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this: My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.“||Romeo||Act 1,|
|The rhyming couplets here create a rhythmic and poetic tone that amplifies the romantic atmosphere as Romeo tries to woo Juliet with flattery and tender words.|
|“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.”||Juliet||Act 1,|
|Juliet plays along with Romeo’s religious metaphor. The rhyme here contributes to the flirtatious and poetic exchange between them, fostering a developing romantic connection.|
Metaphors (comparisons that do not use “like” or “as,”) are used extensively throughout the play to convey deeper meanings. When Romeo and Juliet first meet, they use religious metaphors to express their love. Romeo refers to himself as a pilgrim and Juliet as a saint:
“If I profane with my unworthiest hand,Romeo
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.“
They also frequently use celestial metaphors to refer to each other, with Romeo likening Juliet to the sun, “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” This conveys that their love is not ordinary or of this earth.
|“These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder“||Friar Laurence||Act 2,|
|To foreshadow the tragic outcome of Romeo and Juliet’s intense, passionate love affair; a warning of the dangers of excessive and rushed love.|
• “violent delights” is a metaphor describing the intense and passionate love between Romeo and Juliet.
• “violent ends” hints at the tragic outcome, likening their love to a destructive force.
|“Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir; / My daughter he hath wedded.“||Lord Capulet||Act 4,|
|To illustrate the depth of Lord Capulet’s grief at finding Juliet “dead,” he uses the metaphor of death as a son-in-law to emphasise the finality and tragedy of Juliet’s “death.”|
Oxymorons are the pairing of two words with opposite or contradictory meanings to create a phrase with a new, complex meaning.
Shakespeare uses oxymorons by putting two opposite elements together, like light and dark, and heaven and hell. They are used frequently in Romeo and Juliet, particularly when Romeo describes his feelings about love through phrases such as:
This literary technique shows how complicated Romeo’s thoughts can be and reflects the play’s overarching theme of tragic love amidst familial feuds.
Let’s look at a table illustrating some more examples of oxymorons in Romeo and Juliet:
|“O brawling love! O loving hate!|
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!“
|Romeo uses a series of oxymorons to express the confusion and conflict he feels due to his unrequited love for Rosaline. The contradictory terms echo his internal turmoil and the contradictory nature of love.|
|“Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!|
Dove-feather’d raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!“
|Juliet uses these oxymorons to express her mixed feelings about Romeo after she learns that he has killed Tybalt. The phrases depict the clashing feelings of love and anger she feels towards Romeo, illustrating the complex nature of human emotions.|
In “Romeo and Juliet“, Shakespeare astutely utilizes several dramatic conventions prevalent during his time. A notable convention used by Shakespeare is the use of a chorus in the prologue (introductory section).
This method, which has its roots in Greek drama, provides background information to the audience and foreshadows the tragic demise of Romeo and Juliet. By doing so, it sets a sombre tone that looms over the entire narrative. It also gives the audience a sense of inevitability as they observe the unfolding drama.
Shakespeare also uses dramatic irony, where the audience knows more than the characters, to heighten the sense of tragedy. For example, the audience is aware that Juliet’s death is fake, while Romeo believes it to be real. This leads to his tragic decision, which is expressed in his lines:
“Here’s to my love! O true apothecary!Romeo
Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.“
This climactic moment is a testament to the cruel twist of fate. To the audience, it appears as though the truth is just out of reach, leading to a deeply tragic outcome that could have been avoided.
The prologue prepares the audience for the impending tragedy, stating that the two lovers are destined to die. Although the characters are unaware of their fated deaths, they make many references to fate and death, as seen in Romeo’s line:
“Some consequence yet hanging in the stars“
The dramatic irony builds tension and drama in the play. It reminds the audience of the tragedy and dark events that are about to happen.