Romeo and Juliet


William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Paradox 3 key examples

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Definition of Paradox
A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel of truth or reason. Oscar Wilde's famous declaration that "Life is... read full definition
A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel of truth or reason. Oscar... read full definition
A paradox is a figure of speech that seems to contradict itself, but which, upon further examination, contains some kernel... read full definition
Act 2, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Friar Laurence's Entrance:

Friar Laurence—a friendly friar who is close to Romeo and ends up marrying him to Juliet—first appears in Act 2, Scene 3. As he walks onto the stage, carrying the weeds and flowers he uses to make potions, he muses on the subject of nature in a soliloquy that features a paradox: 

I must upfill this osier cage of ours
With baleful weeds and precious-juicèd flowers.
The Earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb;
What is her burying grave, that is her womb;

Friar Laurence describes the Earth as both nature's "mother" or "womb," and her "tomb" or "burying grave," underscoring the proximity of life to death. Land serves as a terrain in which to grow crops and plants (such as those he uses for his own potion-making), but it is also where bodies are buried, and where those crops and plants will eventually die and decompose. 

This paradox is a commentary on both the inevitability of death—which is present in the land all around us—and its inextricability from life. As a healer and potion-maker, Friar Laurence is intimately familiar with nature and connected to the life-and-death cycle in a profound way. In contrast to the violent, tempestuous Montagues and Capulets, who treat life and death casually (at least until one of their own is killed), Friar Laurence is a pacifist. He understands that death is a natural part of life, something that cannot be avoided; yet he also relishes life, and believes in its preservation. This pacifism will lead him to help Romeo and Juliet marry in secret, since he believes that their union will restore peace to Verona. 

Act 3, Scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—Juliet's Thankfulness:

In Act 3, Scene 5, Juliet responds sharply when her parents confront her about the prospect of marrying Paris, using paradox to convey her emotions. Capulet has just asked his daughter if she is "not proud" that her parents have arranged for her to be married to "so worthy a gentleman" as Paris, and she responds by saying:

Not proud you have, but thankful that you have.
Proud can I never be of what I hate,
But thankful even for hate that is meant love.

Juliet, grief-stricken about Romeo's banishment, explains that she's not proud to have been promised to Paris—after all, she can't be proud of something she "hate[s]." This idea hints at the fact that she now identifies with Romeo and, thus, with the rival Montague house. Nonetheless, Juliet also expresses "thankfulness" for her parents, creating a paradox in which "hate" is opposed to "thankfulness" and "pride." She is "thankful" that they "have wrought / So worthy a gentleman" to be her groom, since she recognizes that her father's wish for her to marry Paris comes from a place of love: he wants to see his daughter happy and comfortable as a married woman and stable adult. She is therefore "thankful even for hate that is meant love," a paradox that expresses the fact that, though she hates the outcome of her father's efforts to help her, she is still "thankful" because she understands that those efforts were made out of love.

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Act 4, Scene 5
Explanation and Analysis—Friar Laurence's Scolding:

Friar Laurence uses paradox to scold Juliet's parents after her apparent "death" in Act 4, Scene 5:

Your part in her you could not keep from death,
But heaven keeps his part in eternal life.
The most you sought was her promotion,
For ’twas your heaven she should be advanced;
And weep you now, seeing she is advanced
Above the clouds, as high as heaven itself?

Friar Laurence seems disgusted by the Capulets' over-the-top displays of grief after their daughter's "death." He believes that the Capulets were more interested in using Juliet as a pawn to advance their own social status when she was alive: "The most you sought was her promotion," he says accusingly. As a result, they have failed to recognize that she has fallen in love with Romeo, and by forcing her to marry Paris, they have also forced her to take the sleeping potion and fake her own death. But why, Friar Laurence asks wryly, are the Capulets so saddened by their daughter's death, if she has now been "advanced / Above the clouds" by dying and gaining access to heaven? Isn't "promotion" what they wanted for her all along? 

Describing Juliet's death as an "advancement" is a clear paradox. In reality, Juliet's life has been cut tragically short (or so the Capulets believe), and the progress of her life has literally been halted. Friar Laurence obviously understands that the Capulets' grief is genuine, since they believe that they have lost their only daughter; her "promotion" to heaven cannot actually console them. But by using paradox, he is able to chide them for their behavior toward and treatment of Juliet, which he views as oppressive and self-centered. 

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