Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds within a passage of text. Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' contains several examples of this literary device, which is often used to make a line from the play memorable to the audience.
?!!!Overview of the Play
William Shakespeare breaks with tradition by choosing Romeo and Juliet as the subjects of his play. Most tragic heroes in plays of the period would have been royalty, but Shakespeare's young lovers are not. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet emphasizes fate, which neither the lovers nor Friar Lawrence can change. Romeo and Juliet, with Friar Lawrence's help, plan to marry secretly. The plan goes tragically awry, and the young lovers die before they are able to wed. The same passions that cause Romeo and Juliet to fall in love fuel the feud between their two families, the Montagues and the Capulets.
The Prologue that opens Romeo and Juliet is a sonnet, a formal type of poetry that has fourteen lines, with ten syllables in each line. Shakespeare was very familiar with the form, having written more than 150 sonnets in his lifetime. The idea of fate is so important in the play that it is mentioned in the Prologue in the first scene of Romeo and Juliet. In the Prologue, lines 5 and 6 contain the first example of alliteration in Romeo and Juliet. Alliteration is a type of figurative language involving the repetition of initial consonant sounds in a passage of text. For example:
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life.
These lines, which also contain an overview of the play's plot, have repeated 'f' and 'l' sounds.
The first line of Act II contains alliteration. The 'd' sound occurs three times, when the Chorus says, 'Now old desire doth in his death bed lie.' The 'd' sound is also repeated in line 6 when Friar Lawrence says, 'The day to cheer and night's dank due to dry.' Another example of alliteration occurs in Scene 3, lines 77 and 78. Again, Friar Lawrence uses repetitive consonant sounds saying, 'If e'er thou wast thyself and these woes thine/Thou and these woes were all for Rosaline.' In these lines, Shakespeare repeats both the 'w' and 'th' sounds. Romeo is in love with Rosaline at the beginning of the play, while Juliet is expected to marry Paris in two years, an arrangement set up by her parents. These plans for love will fail once Romeo and Juliet meet and discover real love.
There are numerous other examples of alliteration in Scene 3, including line 3 ('And fleckled darkness like a drunkard reels'), line 26 ('Being tasted, stays all sense with the heart'), and line 32 ('What early tongue so sweet saluteth me?'). In Scene 4, lines 15 and 16, Mercutio describes what has happened to Romeo since he's fallen in love with Juliet. Mercutio believes Romeo has been shot with Cupid's arrow. He says, 'The very pin of his heart cleft with the bow-boy's butt shaft.' The 'b' sound repeated in these lines is an example of alliteration. These Act II alliterative examples help illustrate how strong the love between Romeo and Juliet is.
Act III, Scene 2 opens with alliteration. Juliet, in lines 1 through 3, says, 'Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,/Toward Phoebus' lodging; such a waggoner/As Phaeton would whip you to the west.' In this example, the 'w' sound occurs three times. In addition to the two words that begin with the letter 'f,' the 'f' sound is also repeated in 'Phoebus' and 'Phaeton.' In this scene, Juliet anxiously awaits the onset of evening, when Romeo will come to share her bed.
Act IV, Scene 3 contains more alliteration with the letter 'f' as Juliet says, 'I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins,/That almost freezes up the heat of life' (lines 15 and 16). In this scene, Juliet contemplates the potion, expressing fear that the plan for her to appear dead might not work. When the nurse goes to wake Juliet, she believes that Juliet is dead. The musicians enter the scene and argue about whether or not music is appropriate at such a time. In Scene 5, lines 126 and 127, Peter says that music is needed: 'When griping griefs the heart doth wound,/And doleful dumps the mind oppress.' This line, with the repeating 'g' and 'd' consonant sounds, is memorable because of its alliteration.
In Act V, Scene 3, Paris goes to Juliet's tomb. As Paris and his page enter the cemetery, Shakespeare alliterates both the 'y' and 'h' sounds as Paris instructs the page: 'Under yon yew trees lay thee all along;/Holding thine ear close to the hollow ground' (lines 3 and 4). Paris and Romeo fight, and Paris is killed. Romeo sees Juliet, apparently dead, and kills himself. When Juliet wakes and realizes that Romeo is dead, she kills herself with his dagger. A love that begins so quickly ends much the same way.
Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet abounds with alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds within a passage of text. Alliteration occurs in many of the memorable lines in Shakespeare's tale of 'star-cross'd lovers,' from the prologue to the final act. Shakespeare uses figurative language techniques like alliteration to draw readers into his story of love, fate, and tragedy.