Literary Devices in Romeo and Juliet

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  • 0:02 Literary Devices
  • 0:38 Puns
  • 1:56 Foreshadowing
  • 3:16 Metaphor
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Susan Nagelsen

Susan has directed the writing program in undergraduate colleges, taught in the writing and English departments, and criminal justice departments.

'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare uses literary devices such as puns, foreshadowing, and metaphors to keep the reader engaged and move the plot forward. This lesson goes over some examples.

Literary Devices

Have you ever heard the phrase, 'An elephant's opinion carries a lot of weight'? This is a pun, a play on words that makes us shake our heads and smile. Like the puns we hear and use today, William Shakespeare's use of the pun is legendary and meant to amuse. Often sexual, these quips help keep the audience laughing, and lighten the mood, even in a tragedy. Shakespeare also uses foreshadowing and metaphor to give hints and bring life to his plays. Let's take a look at some examples of all these literary devices in his play Romeo and Juliet.


The character Mercutio uses puns frequently. He is often sexual, but probably his most telling pun is when he is dying. As he draws his last breaths he says: 'Ask for me to-morrow, / and you shall find me a grave man.' Here the use of 'grave' is where the pun takes meaning. He says he is a grave man, meaning serious, but actually he will soon be dead and in a grave.

The use of the pun is seen again when Romeo and Mercutio have a conversation about attending the Capulet's ball. Romeo says. 'The game was ne'er so fair, and I am done.' Mercutio comes back with: 'Tut, dun's the mouse, the constable's own word!' While Romeo meant 'finished' in his use of the word 'done', Mercutio retorts using the word 'dun' in the phrase 'dun's the mouse', meaning to be quiet as a mouse. He is also making fun of the constable for sitting around doing nothing. We understand that he's chastising Romeo for sitting around and pining for Rosaline when he should be out looking for other beautiful ladies.

Puns amuse us, they pull us into the plot, and they help us relate to the action because the pun draws something to our attention. Mercutio was the best punster in Romeo and Juliet.


Foreshadowing is a literary device that gives the audience hints about things that will happen in the play. Romeo and Juliet is rich with foreshadowing.

When they're at the Montague dinner, Benvolio is desperately trying to cajole Romeo out of his overwhelming sadness around Rosaline, who hasn't returned his affection. Romeo is reeling from the rejection. Benvolio, tells him, 'Take thou some new infection to thy eye, / And the rank poison of the old will die,' meaning find a new girl and your obsession with the old one will vanish. Benvolio is right, and before long, Romeo falls head over heals in love with Juliet. It's worth noting that Benvolio uses metaphor here as well, comparing poison to the feeling of love. More on metaphor later!

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