Romeo and Juliet


William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Oxymorons 2 key examples

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Definition of Oxymoron
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal a deeper or hidden truth... read full definition
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to make a point—particularly to reveal... read full definition
An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms or ideas are intentionally paired in order to... read full definition
Act 1, Scene 1
Explanation and Analysis—Romeo, Love, and Hate:

During Romeo's first appearance in the play, in Act 1, Scene 1, he laments his unrequited love for Rosaline and comments on the Montague-Capulet feud—which he finds distasteful—through the use of numerous oxymorons: 

Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity,
Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this. Dost thou not laugh?

Romeo realizes that the fight that has just taken place between the Montague and Capulet servingmen has "more" to do "with love" than "hate," and decries the "brawling love" and "loving hate" between the two families. These oxymorons indicate that he sees the families' violent attitudes toward each other as a product of their own similarities, rather than irreconcilable differences, and believes that earlier feelings of kinship between them have soured into aggression over time. At the same time, Romeo is thinking about the frustration and dejection he feels about his one-sided relationship with Rosaline, which leads him to compares his own feelings to a "[m]isshapen chaos of well-seeming forms." This oxymoronic description reflects Romeo's understanding of love—both in his own romantic life and in Verona more generally—as an experience that can be deeply unsettling and potentially destructive, particularly when it is unreciprocated. 

Then, Romeo continues describing his feelings with a series of consecutive oxymorons ("feather of lead," "bright smoke," "cold fire," "sick health," "still-waking sleep," and, earlier, "heavy lightness" and "serious vanity"). Taken together, these contradictory phrases double down on Romeo's thesis: love is not always tender and rapturous. Instead, feelings of affection—if unanswered or unspoken—can become perverted and lead to harmful consequences. When Romeo concludes, "This love feel I, that feel no love in this," he is not merely expressing confusion about his own emotions, but also gesturing toward a fundamental truth about the proximity of love to hate (and other negative feelings). 

Act 2, Scene 6
Explanation and Analysis—Friar Laurence's Warning:

In Act 2, Scene 6, as Friar Laurence prepares to marry Romeo and Juliet, he unknowingly foreshadows their future deaths and uses oxymorons to characterize their passion for each other:

These violent delights have violent ends.
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder,
Which, as they kiss, consume. The sweetest honey
Is loathsome in his own deliciousness
And in the taste confounds the appetite.

"Violent delights" is an oxymoronic phrase that emphasizes the danger inherent in Romeo and Juliet's relationship and serves as a warning to the soon-to-be-married couple. Though Friar Laurence cannot know that Romeo and Juliet's relationship will lead to their deaths, he instinctively understands how dangerous (or "violent") their union, though outwardly tender and loving (provoking "delights"), may be, given the constraints they face as members of rival houses. Their love, Friar Laurence says, is like "the sweetest honey" that is also "loathsome" in its "deliciousness" and whose "taste" ends up contradicting one's original "appetite": it is extremely alluring, but potentially poisonous. (Indeed, Romeo will later kill himself by ingesting poison.) 

As a voice of adult reason, Friar Laurence urges Romeo to "love moderately," expressing his concern about the intensity of the young lovers' passion for each other. Such passion, he suggests, cannot realistically be sustained. Yet at the same time, Friar Laurence consents to marrying Romeo and Juliet, believing that their union is worth the risk if it can bring about peace between their warring families—demonstrating both his divided mindset and his desperate commitment to ending the feud. 

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