Alliteration in Romeo and Juliet

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  • 0:00 Overview of the Play
  • 0:39 Act I
  • 1:28 Act II
  • 3:08 Act III
  • 3:39 Act IV/Act V
  • 5:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Stone

Margaret has taught both college and high school English and has a master's degree in English.

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.

Act I

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.

Act II

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.

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