Romeo and Juliet

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Light/Dark and Day/Night Symbol Analysis

Light/Dark and Day/Night Symbol Icon
Romeo and Juliet is filled with imagery of light and dark. But while light is traditionally connected with "good" and dark with "evil," in Romeo and Juliet the relationship is more complex. Romeo and Juliet constantly see each other as forms of light. In the balcony scene, Romeo describes Juliet as the sun, while Juliet describes Romeo as stars. But the relationship between light and dark is complicated by the lover's need for the privacy of darkness in order to be together. As Romeo says when the sun dawns on the morning when he is to be banished from Verona, "More light and light, more dark and dark our woes!" So while Romeo and Juliet see each other as light, in order for their light to shine brightly it needs the contrast of darkness, of night, to make it powerful.

Light/Dark and Day/Night Quotes in Romeo and Juliet

The Romeo and Juliet quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light/Dark and Day/Night. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Simon & Schuster edition of Romeo and Juliet published in 2004.
Act 1, scene 5 Quotes
Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear,
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessèd my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Juliet
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 1.5.51-60
Explanation and Analysis:

Before Romeo learns Juliet's name, he is amazed by her beauty and begins to use the analogy of light to describe her particular radiance. Juliet has immediately replaced Rosaline in Juliet's mind—a fact that Romeo alludes to directly and indirectly. Directly, he claims that Juliet surpasses all other women; she is a "snowy dove" in comparison to the "crows." Indirectly, he neglects to mention even Rosaline's name in referring to his past loves—indeed, he does not say Rosaline's name again until the Friar Laurence reminds him of it in a later scene (after which Romeo claims that he "forgot" that name and the emotions associated with it).

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Act 2, scene 2 Quotes
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!
Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Juliet
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 2.2.1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

After the feast ends, Romeo does not journey away from the Capulet’s house along with his friends; instead he climbs and leaps down a wall, in order to seek out and rejoin Juliet. He exclaims that his “heart” is somewhere else now, with her. When he sees her, he is again struck by her beauty, as he declares that she is “the sun.” These lines are thematically significant as well as beautiful (and extremely famous), and they illustrate yet another contradiction at work. It is undoubtedly night at the moment when Romeo claims that the “light” through the “window” is the light of daybreak, which comes from the East. Romeo is not merely engaging in eloquent, fictitious language; he is also introducing another duality for the strength of their love to overturn. Juliet is so beautiful that she can transform the night into the day.

O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker)
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 2.2.114-116
Explanation and Analysis:

Before Romeo and Juliet end their famous exchange of sweet nothings during the balcony scene, Juliet urges Romeo to not swear "by the moon," which has a varying shape that depends on the time of the month (and "monthly changes in her circles orb"). This is part of a larger series of Juliet romantically urging Romeo to "swear" or not "swear" -- not by the moon, by his name, and then not at all. It functions as a romantic saying, which has more meaning because it is said than because of its actual content, but it also suggests a thought which Juliet will explicitly say: she longs for a lasting love, not one that is so immediate and only fleeting.

Good-night, good-night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good-night till it be morrow.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 2.2.199-201
Explanation and Analysis:

Another one of the play’s famous phrases (“Parting is such sweet sorrow”) is here delivered by Juliet as she and Romeo slowly end the "balcony scene." Juliet describes parting as an oxymoron, an event which is sweet (because it allows her to speak to her lover) and sorrowful (because it heralds a separation from him). To deal with this contradiction, Juliet puts in place another: she will continue to say “goodbye” (a word that, by definition, necessitates a subsequent parting and silence) until the night turns into day. Her actions will thus contradict her words. The day and night motif appears here as well, as Juliet acknowledges the separation between day and night, although later scenes in the play will further play with this binary.

Act 3, scene 2 Quotes
Come, gentle night, — come, loving black brow'd night,
Give me my Romeo; and when he 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.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 3.2.21-27
Explanation and Analysis:

Before the Nurse enters and informs Juliet that Tybalt has died, Juliet speaks alone in the Capulets' courtyard about her desire for Romeo. She urges the night to "come" so that she can meet Romeo under the cover of darkness, as forbidden lovers do. As she passionately continues speaking, Juliet visually imagines Romeo's head existing in the night sky, illuminating the world with his fairness. Juliet's vision of Romeo serving as an image for the whole world to behold is imaginative, and it also suggests an inner longing to make their love less secretive. She dreams that night could become a force which allows the world to view her love, instead of the only time when it is safe enough to seek out her lover's company. 

Act 3, scene 5 Quotes
Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear;
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree.
Believe me love, it was the nightingale.
Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 3.5.1-5
Explanation and Analysis:

The nightingale has a rich tradition as a symbol in medieval romances, and it is fitting that Juliet references this creature when she attempts to convince Romeo that it is not yet day and their night of love-making is not over. Although Juliet was earlier willing to acknowledge the separation between day and night (when she said she would say good-bye until night became day), here she conflates the two. It is now day, but Juliet situates herself and Romeo within a fictitious night. This indicates how the lovers’ situation has grown more desperate, which Juliet also suggests herself, with her description of “the fearful hollow of thine ear”—both lovers are afraid of the coming day, and what it may bring.

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Light/Dark and Day/Night Symbol Timeline in Romeo and Juliet

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light/Dark and Day/Night appears in Romeo and Juliet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Act 1, scene 1
Love Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
...Montague says she's glad that Romeo, her son, wasn't involved. Benvolio says that just before dawn he saw Romeo looking melancholy in a grove of sycamore trees. None of them know... (full context)
Act 1, scene 5
Love Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
...who she is, but immediately forgets Rosaline. He says that Juliet teaches the "torches to burn bright !"(1.5.41). At the same time, Tybalt recognizes Romeo and prepares to attack this party-crashing Montague. (full context)
Act 2, scene 2
Love Theme Icon
...sees Juliet walk out onto a balcony. In a whisper he compares her to the sun, and hides beneath her balcony. (full context)
Act 3, scene 2
Love Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Juliet begs nightfall to hurry in its coming, and to bring Romeo with it. She imagines that when... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Juliet tells the Nurse to find Romeo and bid him come that night to her room so that they can consummate their marriage. The Nurse knows Romeo is... (full context)
Act 3, scene 3
Love Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
The Friar tells Romeo to go spend the night with Juliet and then before dawn to flee Verona for Mantua. There he should wait... (full context)
Act 3, scene 4
Love Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
It is just before dawn. Capulet, Lady Capulet, and Paris have stayed up late, discussing Juliet and the tragedy of... (full context)
Act 3, scene 5
Love Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Language and Word Play Theme Icon
The call of a bird wakes Romeo and Juliet just before dawn, but Juliet claims the bird is a nightingale rather than the lark greeting the day.... (full context)
Love Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Juliet stops pretending. She says it's day and Romeo must go. (full context)
Act 4, scene 1
Love Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
...will appear as if she has died. He tells her to agree to marry Paris Thursday, but to take the potion Wednesday night. Instead of a wedding, the Capulets will hold... (full context)