Romeo and Juliet

Light/Dark and Day/Night Symbol Analysis

Read our modern English translation.
Light/Dark and Day/Night Symbol Icon

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

The Romeo and Juliet quotes below all refer to the symbol of Light/Dark and Day/Night. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Love and Violence Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon & Schuster edition of Romeo and Juliet published in 2004.
Act 1, Scene 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Juliet, Rosaline
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 1.5.51-60
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!

Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Juliet
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 2.2.2-3
Explanation and Analysis:
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O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.

Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 2.2.114-116
Explanation and Analysis:
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Good-night, good-night! Parting is such sweet sorrow
That I shall say good-night till it be morrow.

Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 2.2.199-201
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 3.2.21-27
Explanation and Analysis:
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Act 3, Scene 5 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Juliet (speaker), Romeo
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 3.5.1-5
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Act 5, Scene 1 Quotes

Then I defy you, stars!

Related Characters: Romeo (speaker), Juliet
Related Symbols: Light/Dark and Day/Night
Page Number: 5.1.25
Explanation and Analysis:
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Light/Dark and Day/Night Symbol Timeline in Romeo and Juliet

The timeline below shows where the symbol Light/Dark and Day/Night appears in Romeo and Juliet. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Family and Duty Theme Icon
...now, too, being roped into the families’ “new mutiny.” The chorus describes “a pair of star-crossed lovers,” one from each family, who will, in taking their own lives, mend their parents’... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 1
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Family and Duty Theme Icon
...if he’s seen him. Benvolio says that he saw Romeo earlier that morning, just past dawn in a sycamore grove on the edge of town, but could tell that Romeo wanted... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 2
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
...speaking blasphemy by suggesting that any woman could be more beautiful than Rosaline. “The all-seeing sun,” he declares, has never shone on anyone more perfect. Benvolio insists Romeo will be able... (full context)
Act 1, Scene 4
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
...about going to the party, but actually frightened because he had a portentous dream last night. (full context)
Act 2, Scene 2
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Language and Wordplay Theme Icon
...onto her balcony. “It is the east,” Romeo says, regarding Juliet, “and Juliet is the sun.” He urges the sun to rise and “kill the envious moon.” He urges Juliet to... (full context)
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Language and Wordplay Theme Icon
...tells Romeo that normally she’d be embarrassed about all the things he’s overheard her saying tonight—but now that he’s heard them, she refuses to “dwell on form” or manners. Juliet asks... (full context)
Act 2, Scene 3
Fate Theme Icon
Language and Wordplay Theme Icon
...as he combs the earth for herbs, weeds, and flowers in the faint light of dawn. Friar Laurence, who makes tinctures and potions from the plants he collects, knows that the... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 2
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Language and Wordplay Theme Icon
Juliet, in her chambers, begs night to fall so that Romeo can at last “leap” into her arms and perform the... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 3
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Friar Laurence orders Romeo to stop being so dramatic and start acting like a man. The friar demands Romeo pull himself together—nothing is as bad as... (full context)
Fate Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Romeo thanks Friar Laurence for lifting his mood. The friar tells Romeo to enjoy his night with Juliet, but not to forget that, come morning’s light, he must be out of... (full context)
Act 3, Scene 5
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Language and Wordplay Theme Icon
Romeo and Juliet walk out onto Juliet’s balcony after having spent the night together. It is nearly morning, and Romeo is preparing to leave. Juliet insists that day... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 1
Love and Violence Theme Icon
Fate Theme Icon
Language and Wordplay Theme Icon
...Juliet is dead and buried in the Capulet crypt. Romeo calls out, “I defy you, stars,” and then urges Balthasar to prepare some horses so that he can leave Mantua and... (full context)
Act 5, Scene 3
Individuals vs. Society Theme Icon
Family and Duty Theme Icon
As dawn begins to spread across the sky, Prince Escalus announces the arrival of “a glooming peace.”... (full context)