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Imagery in Romeo & Juliet

Instructor: Monica Sedore

Monica holds a master's degree and teaches 11th grade English. Previously, she has taught first-year writing at the collegiate level and worked extensively in writing centers.

This lesson discusses imagery in 'Romeo and Juliet' and how it imagery helps enliven the dialogue. Read on to find out more about images and their meaning in Shakespeare's classic play.

What Is Imagery?

One may be surprised to learn that some of the most famous lines in Romeo and Juliet feature imagery, that is, figurative or descriptive language. Some types of imagery are common, such as using the four seasons to describe aging or light and dark representing good and evil. In Romeo and Juliet, the imagery comes from the language the characters use. Since this is a play, there is little by way of description or narration.

The Sun and the Moon

Curiously, Romeo chooses to compare Juliet to the sun, while Juliet compares Romeo to the moon. No doubt a deliberate move on Shakespeare's part, the author is likely implying that the couple belongs together. The relationship between the sun and the moon cannot be separated. Likewise, Romeo and Juliet choose to die with one another, rather than be apart. In Romeo's famous soliloquy (a speech which a character delivers alone onstage), he describes the light he can see through a window in the Capulet mansion. He says, 'It is the east, and Juliet is the sun./Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,/Who is already sick and pale with grief,/That thou her maid art far more fair than she' (II.ii.3-6).

The image here is of Juliet's beauty shining so brightly that she can only be compared to the sun. However, Romeo takes that image a step further and turns it into a metaphor by saying that Juliet 'is' the sun, for no other light can shine as brightly. This, he is saying, is a testament to her beauty. The moon, conversely, Romeo describes as lesser and weaker, especially when compared with Juliet, the sun. The moon does not shine nearly as bright as the sun, since it is merely reflecting light from the sun.

Juliet, however, sees no problems with the moon. She wishes for the night to bring Romeo back to her: '...and when I 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' (III.ii.23-7). It is during the cover of night that Romeo comes to Juliet's bedroom both times in the play. Because they must keep their love hidden, it is not possible for them to meet in daylight, especially where other Montagues or Capulets could see them. Naturally, Juliet enjoys the protection that the night gives her and her lover.

Worms

With the number of deaths in this play, it comes as no surprise that worms are used more than once to conjure up images of death and decay. The first occurs after Tybalt stabs Mercutio. Because he is not a Montague, Mercutio should never have been involved in a fight with a Capulet, much less killed, despite his friendship with Romeo. After the stabbing, he declares: 'A plague o' both your houses!/They have made worms' meat of me/I have it, and soundly, too. Your houses!' (III.i.111-13). Mercutio rightfully announces that he has been killed because of the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. The plague that he speaks of is not literal, but rather a wish for ill-will upon both families. This is incidentally fulfilled in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. The phrase 'worms' meat' means that he is dying and will soon be food for the worms that will eat his corpse. It is a gruesome image, but no less effective.

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