Romeo and Juliet complicates traditional notions of light versus dark and day versus night. Light is typically a symbol of openness, purity, hope, and good fortune, while dark often represents confusion, obscurity, and doom. Shakespeare, however, turns these commonplace associations on their heads and inverts both symbols. In the world of this play, dawn, day, and bright lights are, overwhelmingly, negative—night, the only time Romeo and Juliet can be together in secret, is the time of day they both long for, and together they grow to lament the arrival of the days that pull them apart. Though Romeo does proclaim, early on in the play, that “Juliet is the sun,” his personification of her as a bright, solar force quickly turns dark and violent as he urges her to “kill the envious moon”—a quote that has two meanings. Romeo wants Juliet’s light to blot out the “moon” of his old love, Rosaline. But given the moon’s mythic association with Diana, Roman goddess of the moon and protectress of virgins, Romeo is also begging Juliet to cast off her virginity to be with him. Thus, Romeo portrays the light of Juliet, the “sun,” as an annihilating force which harshly reveals hidden things and leaves no room for old loves or old behaviors to hide. Juliet, on the other hand, sees Romeo as “stars.” She looks forward to the moment he brings her to climax—when she shall “die,” she says, invoking the Elizabethan meaning of the phrase “to die” as “to orgasm”—and she sees his face “cut […] out in little stars” and spangled through the heavens. When that happens, she says, “all the world will be in love with night / And pay no worship to the garish sun.” Juliet knows that she and Romeo can only be together in the dead of night and wishes that it could be dark out forevermore so that their time together could be uninterrupted. Throughout the play, light is intrusive and unwelcome, powerful and frightening; darkness, however, is soothing and revealing, and allows the play’s titular lovers to get to know one another, to act out their fantasies of love, and to discover their true selves away from the prying eyes of their families.
Light/Dark and Day/Night Quotes in Romeo and Juliet
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.
But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!
O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
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.
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.