Romeo and Juliet

by

William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Metaphors 4 key examples

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Definition of Metaphor
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor can be stated explicitly, as... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other. The comparison in a metaphor... read full definition
A metaphor is a figure of speech that compares two different things by saying that one thing is the other... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio's Language:

 Mercutio's language is arguably the most intricate and advanced in the entire play. His linguistic cunning lends him power and status among the other noblemen—all of whom use language as a weapon—and highlights both his sense of humor and his deep-seated cynicism about conventional notions of life and love. 

For instance, in Act 1, Scene 4, Mercutio uses personification to explain his views on dreams to Romeo: 

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his side to the dew-dropping south.

Here, Mercutio personifies both dreams and the wind, simultaneously comparing the two: dreams are "the children of an idle brain," reflecting fantasies even more "inconstant" and changeable than the wind, "who woos / Even now the frozen bosom of the north," then turns around to "the dew-dropping south." This elaborate series of images and comparisons reflects Mercutio's skepticism about the idea of reading too much into dreams, which he views as both mercurial and disconnected from real life. Mercutio's language may seem overdone, but his long-windedness implies that he takes his own ideas seriously.

Later, in Act 2, Scene 1, Mercutio again uses personification to mock foolish lovers:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.

Here, as in other moments in the play, Mercutio pokes holes in the notion of romantic love as something pure, valiant, and desirable. Instead, he likens romantic love to a misguided "blind" man who lusts after women but has no success with them sexually—comparing women to "fruit" (specifically the "medlar," fruit said to resemble genitalia) to make a risqué, objectifying joke through metaphor. 

Similarly, in Act 2, Scene 4, Mercutio employs a simile to joke about Romeo's belief in romantic love before launching into a series of pointed allusions: 

Without his roe, like a dried herring. O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in. Laura to his lady was a kitchen wench (marry, she had a better love to berhyme her), Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy, Helen and Hero hildings and harlots, Thisbe a gray eye or so, but not to the purpose.—Signior Romeo, bonjour. There’s a French salutation to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.

By comparing Romeo to a "dried herring" "without his roe," Mercutio both criticizes Romeo's lovesick appearance—he looks as thin as a herring without its eggs—and implies that he seems weak and effeminate. Romantic love, Mercutio suggests, is just passion expressed for its own sake, without any subsequent action. Instead, Romeo should be sexually adventurous and not just emotional. 

Mercutio then doubles down on this critique of Romeo and romantic love by alluding to the poet Petrarch and his frequent object of desire, Laura, as well as other famously beautiful and desirable women throughout history, including Cleopatra and Dido. These women, Mercutio argues, were only remembered as beautiful because the men who wrote about them were unquestioningly obsessed with them and had idealized them—just as Romeo has idealized Rosaline. 

Mercutio's volubility and ease with various literary devices make him an impressive speaker and a challenging verbal opponent. Though Mercutio's brashness and pride leads to his own death halfway through the play, his wordplay is never bested. 

Explanation and Analysis—Romeo, Mercutio, and Love:

In Act 1, Scene 4, Romeo and Mercutio use simile and implied metaphor, respectively, to examine the idea of love from different perspectives:

Romeo: Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, 
Too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn. 

Mercutio: If love be rough with you, be rough with love.

To Romeo, fretting about his unrequited love for Rosaline, love is like a "thorn" that "pricks." His experiences with Rosaline have made him understand that love, though potentially a "tender thing," can also cause severe harm if it goes unrequited, unaddressed, or mutates into resentment. 

But Mercutio, who is far more cynical than Romeo, responds with a bit of inventive wordplay to console his friend. Instead of an object like a thorn, he likens love to a "rough," cruel individual—an implied metaphor whose terms are not precisely spelled out—and urges Romeo to "be rough with love" himself. In other words, Mercutio wants Romeo to refrain from taking his obsession with Rosaline too seriously, and he also encourages him to be more sexually adventurous (another meaning of "rough"). 

That Romeo employs simile to examine love while Mercutio employs an implied metaphor indicates key differences in their temperaments and personalities, as well as the way they tend to use language in the play. Romeo is more guileless and literal than Mercutio; as a result, he often resorts to similes, which are a simpler form of comparison than metaphors. On the other hand, Mercutio is sly and cunning, adept at creating puns and innuendo—making his wordplay far more advanced than Romeo's, and lending him linguistic power. 

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Act 2, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio's Language:

 Mercutio's language is arguably the most intricate and advanced in the entire play. His linguistic cunning lends him power and status among the other noblemen—all of whom use language as a weapon—and highlights both his sense of humor and his deep-seated cynicism about conventional notions of life and love. 

For instance, in Act 1, Scene 4, Mercutio uses personification to explain his views on dreams to Romeo: 

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his side to the dew-dropping south.

Here, Mercutio personifies both dreams and the wind, simultaneously comparing the two: dreams are "the children of an idle brain," reflecting fantasies even more "inconstant" and changeable than the wind, "who woos / Even now the frozen bosom of the north," then turns around to "the dew-dropping south." This elaborate series of images and comparisons reflects Mercutio's skepticism about the idea of reading too much into dreams, which he views as both mercurial and disconnected from real life. Mercutio's language may seem overdone, but his long-windedness implies that he takes his own ideas seriously.

Later, in Act 2, Scene 1, Mercutio again uses personification to mock foolish lovers:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.

Here, as in other moments in the play, Mercutio pokes holes in the notion of romantic love as something pure, valiant, and desirable. Instead, he likens romantic love to a misguided "blind" man who lusts after women but has no success with them sexually—comparing women to "fruit" (specifically the "medlar," fruit said to resemble genitalia) to make a risqué, objectifying joke through metaphor. 

Similarly, in Act 2, Scene 4, Mercutio employs a simile to joke about Romeo's belief in romantic love before launching into a series of pointed allusions: 

Without his roe, like a dried herring. O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in. Laura to his lady was a kitchen wench (marry, she had a better love to berhyme her), Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy, Helen and Hero hildings and harlots, Thisbe a gray eye or so, but not to the purpose.—Signior Romeo, bonjour. There’s a French salutation to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.

By comparing Romeo to a "dried herring" "without his roe," Mercutio both criticizes Romeo's lovesick appearance—he looks as thin as a herring without its eggs—and implies that he seems weak and effeminate. Romantic love, Mercutio suggests, is just passion expressed for its own sake, without any subsequent action. Instead, Romeo should be sexually adventurous and not just emotional. 

Mercutio then doubles down on this critique of Romeo and romantic love by alluding to the poet Petrarch and his frequent object of desire, Laura, as well as other famously beautiful and desirable women throughout history, including Cleopatra and Dido. These women, Mercutio argues, were only remembered as beautiful because the men who wrote about them were unquestioningly obsessed with them and had idealized them—just as Romeo has idealized Rosaline. 

Mercutio's volubility and ease with various literary devices make him an impressive speaker and a challenging verbal opponent. Though Mercutio's brashness and pride leads to his own death halfway through the play, his wordplay is never bested. 

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Act 2, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Juliet as the Sun :

In Act 2, Scene 2, Romeo spies Juliet at her balcony after encountering her at the Capulets' ball. In one of the play's most well-known soliloquies, he uses both metaphor and personification to praise her beauty: 

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? 
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.

Romeo metaphorically presents Juliet as the "fair," rising sun to emphasize the power she has begun to hold over him. Previously, his mood has been dark as night, but Juliet's newfound presence in his life has enlivened his spirits, just as daybreak lifts the darkness of nighttime. Next, Romeo compares Juliet to the "envious moon," whom he personifies as a jealous, matronly woman who is "pale with grief." Nighttime in Romeo and Juliet is often figured as a time of intrigue, danger, and potential hostility. Therefore, Juliet, as the "fair sun," represents the relative safety and splendor of the daytime, which ultimately consoles Romeo.

Moreover, Juliet looms as large as the sun in Romeo's poetic imagination—in contrast to Rosaline, whom Romeo also venerates but does not directly liken to the sun. This comparison therefore helps the audience understand Romeo's profound passion for Juliet, which makes his previous infatuation with Rosaline seem childish and surface-level.

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Explanation and Analysis—Love Like Lightning:

In Act 2, Scene 2, Juliet uses both simile and metaphor to characterize her fledgling relationship with Romeo—a characterization that actually functions as an instance of foreshadowing, given the play's tragic conclusion:

I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be
Ere one can say “It lightens.”
Sweet, good night.
This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet.

Juliet demurs when Romeo asks her to demonstrate her love for him, since she is playing the stereotypically coy role that young women of the era were expected to uphold while being courted. Instead, she uses a simile in which she likens their "contract," or their professions of love for each other, to "the lightning"—a transient apparition that will quickly "cease to be." Interestingly enough, Romeo and Juliet's love actually will remain transient and temporary: a series of disastrous events and unhappy coincidences over the next few days will ultimately lead to their deaths. Juliet doesn't know this yet, though. Instead, she doubles down on her coy performance by using a metaphor that describes her ideal version of love. Their love should be a "bud," she says, which will develop slowly to become "beauteous flower"—a metaphor that runs contrary to the "rash," "unadvised," or "sudden" idea of jumping headlong into the relationship. 

Juliet's use of metaphor and simile to describe love underscores the difficulty she faces in precisely articulating her feelings for Romeo. As a woman in oppressive Verona, she is expected to serve as an object of male affections, but not to explicitly voice her own desires. Thus, when describing love, she must resort to cagier, indirect language. Later in the play, though, Juliet will clearly and explicitly express sexual desire for Romeo—demonstrating that she has learned to defy patriarchal tradition. 

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Act 2, Scene 4
Explanation and Analysis—Mercutio's Language:

 Mercutio's language is arguably the most intricate and advanced in the entire play. His linguistic cunning lends him power and status among the other noblemen—all of whom use language as a weapon—and highlights both his sense of humor and his deep-seated cynicism about conventional notions of life and love. 

For instance, in Act 1, Scene 4, Mercutio uses personification to explain his views on dreams to Romeo: 

True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy,
Which is as thin of substance as the air
And more inconstant than the wind, who woos
Even now the frozen bosom of the north
And, being angered, puffs away from thence,
Turning his side to the dew-dropping south.

Here, Mercutio personifies both dreams and the wind, simultaneously comparing the two: dreams are "the children of an idle brain," reflecting fantasies even more "inconstant" and changeable than the wind, "who woos / Even now the frozen bosom of the north," then turns around to "the dew-dropping south." This elaborate series of images and comparisons reflects Mercutio's skepticism about the idea of reading too much into dreams, which he views as both mercurial and disconnected from real life. Mercutio's language may seem overdone, but his long-windedness implies that he takes his own ideas seriously.

Later, in Act 2, Scene 1, Mercutio again uses personification to mock foolish lovers:

If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.
Now will he sit under a medlar tree
And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit
As maids call medlars when they laugh alone.

Here, as in other moments in the play, Mercutio pokes holes in the notion of romantic love as something pure, valiant, and desirable. Instead, he likens romantic love to a misguided "blind" man who lusts after women but has no success with them sexually—comparing women to "fruit" (specifically the "medlar," fruit said to resemble genitalia) to make a risqué, objectifying joke through metaphor. 

Similarly, in Act 2, Scene 4, Mercutio employs a simile to joke about Romeo's belief in romantic love before launching into a series of pointed allusions: 

Without his roe, like a dried herring. O flesh, flesh, how art thou fishified! Now is he for the numbers that Petrarch flowed in. Laura to his lady was a kitchen wench (marry, she had a better love to berhyme her), Dido a dowdy, Cleopatra a gypsy, Helen and Hero hildings and harlots, Thisbe a gray eye or so, but not to the purpose.—Signior Romeo, bonjour. There’s a French salutation to your French slop. You gave us the counterfeit fairly last night.

By comparing Romeo to a "dried herring" "without his roe," Mercutio both criticizes Romeo's lovesick appearance—he looks as thin as a herring without its eggs—and implies that he seems weak and effeminate. Romantic love, Mercutio suggests, is just passion expressed for its own sake, without any subsequent action. Instead, Romeo should be sexually adventurous and not just emotional. 

Mercutio then doubles down on this critique of Romeo and romantic love by alluding to the poet Petrarch and his frequent object of desire, Laura, as well as other famously beautiful and desirable women throughout history, including Cleopatra and Dido. These women, Mercutio argues, were only remembered as beautiful because the men who wrote about them were unquestioningly obsessed with them and had idealized them—just as Romeo has idealized Rosaline. 

Mercutio's volubility and ease with various literary devices make him an impressive speaker and a challenging verbal opponent. Though Mercutio's brashness and pride leads to his own death halfway through the play, his wordplay is never bested. 

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