Romeo and Juliet

by

William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet: Personification 4 key examples

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Definition of Personification
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down on the wedding guests, indifferent... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the sentence, "The rain poured down... read full definition
Personification is a type of figurative language in which non-human things are described as having human attributes, as in the... 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. 

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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Act 2, Scene 3
Explanation and Analysis—Friar Laurence and Care:

In Act 2, Scene 3, Friar Laurence uses personification to liken the notion of "care" to a persistent lodger who troubles "old men" but leaves young men alone: 

Care keeps his watch in every old man’s eye,
And, where care lodges, sleep will never lie;
But where unbruisèd youth with unstuffed brain 
Doth couch his limbs, there golden sleep doth reign.

Friar Laurence is trying to make a point to Romeo about letting worries plague him while he is young. Whereas old men have good reason to be anxious and concerned because the've had many negative experiences in their lives already, "unbruisèd" young people should rest easily, without worrying too much about the future—relishing carefree youth while they can. Thus, Friar Laurence personifies "care" as a kind of parasitic guest or obtrusive prison guard who afflicts older men and prevents them from sleeping. Friar Laurence also celebrates the "golden sleep" that young people experience in the absence of "care." 

Friar Laurence seems to understand that merely ordering Romeo to feel carefree will be ineffective. After all, headstrong Romeo defies his parents' orders by falling in love with Juliet. Instead, Friar Laurence uses personification as a form of persuasion: these vivid images are meant to show Romeo the pointlessness of worrying too much as a young man. 

Here, and in other moments in the play, Friar Laurence inhabits a kindly parental role that Romeo and Juliet's actual parents fail to inhabit themselves. He encourages Romeo and Juliet, placates them, and offers lessons to them—whereas the Montagues and Capulets are either too laissez-faire or too restrictive with their children. 

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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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Act 3, Scene 2
Explanation and Analysis—Juliet and the Night:

In Act 3, Scene 2, Juliet invokes the night, which she is looking forward to as the time when she can consummate her marriage to Romeo. This soliloquy serves as another instance of foreshadowing, while also personifying the night as a "sober-suited matron all in black": 

Come, civil night,
Thou sober-suited matron all in black,
And learn me how to lose a winning match
Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods.
Hood my unmanned blood, bating in my cheeks,
With thy black mantle till strange love grow bold,
Think true love acted simple modesty.

To Juliet, the night is a cunning "matron" who will teach her how to lose her virginity ("how to lose a winning match / Played for a pair of stainless maidenhoods"), thus helping her gain control over her own wild lust for Romeo (by "hooding" her "unmanned blood" and "bating in [her] cheeks"). In the play, nighttime enables adventure and rebellion—nearly all of Romeo and Juliet's encounters take place under cover of darkness—while also indicating danger. Therefore, the helpful "matron" who will facilitate Juliet's first sexual experience is also "sober-suited" in black, as if dressed for a funeral, and she appears both powerful and forbidding: she instructs Juliet and controls her moods. 

Moreover, Juliet is unwittingly foreshadowing her own death, further underscoring the danger found in nighttime. Though Juliet has no actual foreknowledge of the future, the night will indeed end up "hooding" her "unmanned blood": she will learn that Romeo has been exiled for killing Tybalt, which will lead her to take Friar Laurence's sleeping potion and make her appear dead (literally "bating in [her] cheeks"). 

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