One of the play’s most consistent visual motifs is the contrast between light and dark, often in terms of night/day imagery. This contrast is not given a particular metaphoric meaning—light is not always good, and dark is not always evil. On the contrary, light and dark are generally used to provide a sensory contrast and to hint at opposed alternatives
Personification occurs when an inanimate object or concept is given the qualities of a person or animal.
Juliet— “For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night / Whiter than new snow on a raven’s back. / Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow’d night” (Act III Sc. 2)
An oxymoron describes when two juxtaposed words have opposing or very diverse meanings.
Juliet – “Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!” (Act III Sc.2)
Foreshadowing is a reference to something that will happen later in the story.
Juliet – “Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.” (Act III Sc. 2)
A pun is a humorous play on words.
Mercutio – “Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance.”
Romeo – “Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes / With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead…” (Act I Sc. 4)
Dramatic Irony – she is talking about Romeo but does not know that he is there
And, as he fell, did Romeo turn and fly. / This is the truth, or let Benvolio die. (III.i.171-172) couplet
2. Oh, find him! Give this ring to my true knight, / And bid him come to take his last farewell. (III.ii.143-144) foreshadowing
3. Poor living corpse, closed in a dead man’s tomb! (V.ii.29) oxymoron
4. For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night / Whiter than new snow upon a raven’s back. (III.ii.18-19) personification
5. But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. (II.ii.2-3) metaphor
6. Indeed, I never shall be satisfied / With Romeo, till I behold him—dead— (III.v.92-93) dramatic irony
7. Therefore do nimble-pinioned doves draw love, / And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings. allusion
8. These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, / Which, as they kiss, consume… (II.vi.9-11) simile
9. O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo? (II.ii33) apostrophe
10. With purple fountains issuing from your veins, / On pain of torture, from those bloody hands / Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground. / (I.i.79-81) imagery
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night / As a jewl in rich ethiope's ear simile
Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes / With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead / So stakes me to the ground I cannot move pun
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate, / O anything of nothing first created! / O heavy lightness, serious vanity, / misshapen chaos of wee-seeming forms. oxymoron
Oxymoron - Example: "O brawling love! O loving hate! . . .
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
Literary terms in Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
setting: a story’s time, place, and background
Example: Although no specific date is given, most scholars say the action of the play probably takes place around 1200 or 1300 A.D., when Italian families were feuding.
Where does the play take place?
foreshadowing: events which hint of things to come
Example: In the Prologue to Act 1, the Chorus foreshadows what will happen in the play.
One thing that will happen is that a feud will be renewed violently, as “civil blood makes civil hands unclean” (4).
What is another event that is foreshadowed in this speech by the Chorus?
oxymoron: bringing together two contradictory terms as in “wise fool” or “feather of lead”
Example: In Act 1, Scene 1, line 181, Romeo uses several oxymora (the plural of “oxymoron”) to describe the relationship of love and hate. He says, “O brawling love, O loving hate.”
What is another oxymoron that Romeo uses in this speech?
allusion: reference to historical or literary figure, event, or object
Example: In Act 1, Scene 1, line 217, Romeo says that Rosaline “hath Dian’s wit.” He is alluding to Diana, goddess of chastity, who opposed love and marriage. In other words,
Rosaline thinks like Diana and will not fall in love with Romeo.
What other allusion is made to a myth or legend in lines 216 and 217?
pun: a play on words based on the similarity of sound between two words with different meanings
Example: In Act 1, Scene 4, lines 14-16, Romeo is feeling sad, so he does not want to dance. He says to the others, “You have dancing shoes / With nimble soles. I have a soul of lead / so stakes me to the ground I cannot move.”
Which two words are used to make a pun in these lines?
imagery: representation in words of a vivid sensory experience
Example: In Act 1, Scene 5, lines 55 and 56, Romeo uses imagery to describe Juliet’s beauty when he says, “So shows a dove trooping with crows / As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.”
What comparison is Romeo making here?
point-of-view: perspective of the person who is telling the story
Example: In Act 1, Scene 5, Tybalt is upset that Romeo, a Montague, has come to his Uncle’s party. He says, “I’ll not endure him” (85). His point-of-view is that an enemy should not be allowed to attend the party.
Write a line from Capulet that shows he has a different point-of-view from that of his nephew Tybalt.
paradox: a statement that might seem to contradict itself but is nevertheless true; for example,
“less is more.”
Example: In Act 1, Scene 5, line 152, Juliet expresses a paradox when she speaks of
Romeo, saying, “My only love sprung from my only hate.” This seems to be a contradictory statement, because love and hate are opposites.
How is Romeo both Juliet’s love and her hated enemy?
rhyme: similar sounds between the ends of two words
Example: In the Prologue to Act 2, the Chorus speaks in a sonnet, a form of a poem. The first four lines contain alternating rhymes:
Now old desire doth in his deathbed lie,
And young affection gapes to be his heir.
That fair for which love groaned for and would die,
With tender Juliet matched, is now not fair.
Find four more rhyming lines in the second prologue.
metaphor: an implied comparison between two unlike things
Example: In Act 2, Scene 2, line 3, Romeo uses a metaphor, saying, “Juliet is the sun,”
meaning that Juliet is bright and beautiful.
What is another metaphor that Romeo uses for Juliet in this scene (see line 29)?
soliloquy: a speech an actor gives as though talking to himself or herself
Example: Romeo starts his famous soliloquy about Juliet with the words, “But soft, what light through yonder window breaks” (II.ii.2). He is speaking to himself about Juliet.
What words does Juliet use to start her famous soliloquy about Romeo?
aside: words spoken by an actor supposedly heard only by the audience
Example: Romeo uses asides as he is listening to Juliet’s soliloquy in Act 2, Scene 2. In line 27, he says, “She speaks.” He is not talking to Juliet, the only other person on stage.
Only the audience is intended to hear this line.
What is the other aside in this scene? Look for the word aside in brackets, as a stage direction.
hyperbole: a figure of speech in which the truth is exaggerated for emphasis or humorous effect
Example: In Act 2, Scene 2, line 140, Juliet says that her “bounty is as boundless as the sea.” In other words, she says what she has to offer Romeo is wider than the ocean.
How does Juliet extend this hyperbole in the next line (141)?
simile: a direct comparison of unlike things using “like” or “as”
Example: In Act 2, Scene 6, lines 8-10, Friar Lawrence uses a simile to warn Romeo about being too passionate too soon. He says:
These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume.
What similarity does Friar Lawrence find between hasty, passionate love and fire and gunpowder?
protagonist: the main character in a piece of literature
Example: In this play, Romeo is one protagonist.
Who is the other protagonist in the play?
antagonist: the person or force opposing the main character
Example: Tybalt is one antagonist in the play, because he opposes Romeo, who is a protagonist.
Who or what is another antagonist? Explain why you think this person or force is an antagonist.
theme: the main idea of a piece of literature
Example: One theme of Romeo and Juliet might be that “haste makes waste.” In other words, hurrying too much often leads to problems.
What is another theme of Romeo and Juliet?
tragedy: a story with an unhappy ending
Example: Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, because the main characters, along with four other people, die.
What is another example of a tragedy you have seen or read? It could be a book, a play, or a movie.
conflict: the struggle between opposing forces or characters
Example: An obvious example of conflict is Tybalt’s hatred of Montagues, and especially Romeo, which ends with a fight.
What is another conflict in the play?
characters: the people – sometimes animals or other beings – who take part in the action of a piece of literature
Example: Romeo, Juliet, Friar Lawrence, Tybalt, Mercutio, and all of the other people in this play would be the characters.
Who was your favorite character in the play, and why?