In this lesson we will review what hyperbole is and look at examples of hyperbole in the play 'Romeo and Juliet.' We will also discuss why hyperbole is used in this play.
Romeo and Juliet and Hyperbole
The epic love story. Love at first sight. Star-crossed lovers. What is the first story that comes to mind hearing these descriptions? It's likely you think of William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the tragic story of an ill-fated romance between members of warring families. Romeo and Juliet changed literature with its approach to language, including its use of hyperbole.
Hyperbole is a literary tactic in which a writer exaggerates to the point that it is not meant to be taken literally. It is often used to emphasize a point and sometimes used for humorous effect. We use hyperbole frequently in our daily communication. For example, we might say, 'That video took forever to load' or 'I'm dying of embarrassment.' The video really did not really take forever to load, and the speaker isn't actually dying. When we say things like this, people understand our true meaning and that we are emphasizing a point. We could say, 'The video took longer than usual to load' or 'I'm embarrassed from that incident,' but these phrases don't emphasize our point as strongly. Think about the praises we heaped on Romeo and Juliet a few seconds ago. The epic love story. Love at first sight. We even described Romeo and Juliet using hyperbole.
Let's look at the famous phrase 'star-crossed lovers,' which comes from a phrase in Romeo and Juliet. If we take it at face value, what does it mean to be a star-crossed lover? Centuries ago, people believed the stars ruled our fates. When stars are crossed in a relationship, it is doomed to fail. The stars are working against the lovers and, in the end, Romeo and Juliet's relationship fails, and they both die. The stars are not literally crossed; the phrase is a hyperbole. Phrases like 'star-crossed lovers' are used frequently throughout the play to emphasize the love that these two share.
Hyperbole in Romeo and Juliet
Shakespeare also uses hyperbole to illustrate the hate between their families. The play begins by setting the stage for the great feud between the Montagues and Capulets. In its first scene, servants from Capulet refer to the house of Montague as dogs. Later Tybalt, a Capulet, refers to them as 'heartless hinds.' Hind refers to a female deer. Now of course the house of Capulet are not dogs and the servants Tybalt is talking to are neither female nor deer, and they obviously possess hearts. But by making such ridiculous exaggerations as to how bad the house of Capulet is, we better understand the hatred between them.
Romeo and Juliet first meet in Scene 5. Shakespeare makes the audience feel and understand how deep their love is from the very beginning of the scene. How? Their first conversation is full of hyperbole. Romeo says, 'If I profane with my unworthiest hand / This holy shrine…' Romeo is comparing his hands to that of an unworthy sinner, while comparing Juliet's to that of the most holy of shrines. Saying that his hands are unworthy while hers are the most holy of shrines is so much more powerful and evokes more emotion in the viewer than simply saying, 'I like your hands.'
After Romeo leaves, Juliet asks her nurse who he was and whether or not he is married. She says 'If he be married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed.' In other words, 'I'll die if he is married.' Not only is this hyperbole, meant to show Juliet's immediate devotion to Romeo, but Shakespeare could also be using this to foreshadow the lovers' untimely end.
Shakespeare uses many literary devices to make his work effective. One of these is hyperbole, exaggeration meant not to be taken literally. Hyperbole can be used to emphasize a point or for comedic effect. In Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare uses hyperbole to convey the depth of Romeo and Juliet's love, the hatred between the two families, and the ill-fatedness of the romance between Juliet and Romeo. Some of the play's hyperbole could also be seen as foreshadowing the tragic fate which the two lovers meet.