The opposing worlds of "Romeo and Juliet"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2008

21 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Light and Dark

3. Time

4. Connections to the outside world

5. Conclusion

6. Works Cited

1. Introduction

“Shakespeare's tragischem Liebespaar Romeo und Juliet gelingt es [...] in einer durch Instabilität und Gewalt geprägten Gesellschaft, sich eine von hingebungsvoller Leidenschaft erfüllte private Welt zu schaffen.”[1] Uwe Baumann here distinguishes between two worlds in Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet: on the one hand the lovers' world, characterised by passion and intimacy; on the other hand the real world, full of violence, chaos and hatred. However, these two opposing worlds cannot be regarded separately. The preposition “in” already implies that Romeo and Juliet are dependent from their surrounding society and during the short period of their love affair it is inevitable for them to act within its rules and regulations.

This academic assignment deals with the question how the lovers create their own world and how this private world relates to the real world of Verona. Scholars have often pointed out that Romeo and Juliet differ from their environment concerning their special use of language. It can be described as “magical, passionate, transformative language”[2] enriched with similes, symbols and metaphors. One dominating image, frequently used by the lovers to describe each other and the phenomenon of their passionate love, is light. The first chapter therefore mainly deals with the linguistic presentation of light images in Romeo and Juliet. In addition, the special function of night and darkness for the lovers shall be examined.

The light theme is heavily connected to the aspect of time. Thus, chapter two will examine how the lovers deal with the problem of (limited) time during their secret meetings. An interesting key scene for the examination of both, light/darkness and time, provides the final farewell of the lovers (3.5), which therefore will be discussed in detail. Finally, the lovers' world shall be examined in terms of its connections to the real world of Verona. The problem of Romeo's and Juliet's increasing isolation and loss of their counsellors will be of special interest here.

2. Light and Dark

In Romeo and Juliet the beauty and ardour of young love are seen by Shakespeare as the irradiating glory of sunlight and starlight in a dark world.

The dominating image is light [...]: the sun, moon, stars, fire, lightning, the flash of gunpowder, and the reflected light of beauty and of love; while by contrast we have night, darkness, clouds, rain, mist and smoke.[3]

Caroline Spurgeon describes light in its various shapes as a recurring image in Shakespeare's tragedy. Not only is love itself frequently described through the use of metaphors of light but also both Romeo and Juliet compare each other in their soliloquies and colloquies with the sun, stars and other manifestations of light.

The two main characters are overwhelmed by their sudden intense love and reflect on it, using images of fire or lightning; e.g. Juliet explains her love to Romeo in the balcony scene: “ It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,/ Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be/ Ere one can say 'It lightens.' ”[4]. The comparison with lightning implies the intensity and glory of love but it also emphasises its terrible brevity.[5] Another similar metaphor is used by Friar Lawrence, who warns the couple at their wedding ceremony that their love will end like “fire and powder” that explode when being mixed (2.6. 9­11). The delight of their short love goes hand in hand with danger and destruction, which is inevitable when there is a sudden surge of energy or emotion.

A combination of love and light is already mentioned by Romeo even before he meets Juliet: “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs,/ Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes;” (1.1.181-82). Of course, at this early stage in the play, Romeo is still pining for Rosaline and indulging in some intense self-pity, not knowing that true love will hit him soon like a bolt of lightning. In this scene, Old Montague tells Benvolio that his son steals “Away from light”, “Shuts up his windows, locks fair day out/ And makes himself an artificial night.” (1.1.132-135). Romeo's parents are worrying about their son, since his behaviour is unnatural to them. In their opinion, he should enjoy the “all-cheering sun” (1.2.125) instead of avoiding it. Benvolio too, in a conventional positive way, praises the day by characterizing the sun as “worshipped” (1.1.109)[6], the sky being its “golden window” (1.1.109-110). Romeo's behaviour and attitude are a foreshadowing of later scenes, in which night/darkness are described as sympathetic to love, and day/light as inimical to it.

In fact, all the meetings of the lovers take place at night: the famous balcony scene (2.2) is surrounded by the night and there is the threat of the ever-lurking danger of being discovered. The wedding night is spent secretly and, of course, in complete darkness in the Capulets’ house and finally, both lovers die in the family tomb, far away from day and sunlight. Also, Romeo's and Juliet's first meeting is at night. But not only is the absence of daylight striking in 1.5. They meet at a masked ball, where most guests are disguised. Therefore they are not recognized together. The various colours, costumes and masks allow them to converse in this public place and even kiss. Only Tybalt recognizes his arch-enemy, but nobody witnesses Romeo and Juliet together when they fall in love.[7]

Night, though always accompanied with danger, is filled with happy events and memories, except in the last scene when both commit suicide. Night is the necessary condition of their love, it is their helper and makes it possible for them to meet with a relatively small risk of being discovered. This fact explains why Shakespeare reverses our normal expectations: It is usually night and darkness that we associate with evil and death. In Romeo and Juliet it is quite the contrary because light and life take on these negative qualities. For the young lovers it would be too dangerous to show themselves during daytime, so they seek protection under the cover of darkness.[8]

Night is more than welcome to Romeo and Juliet. This becomes especially clear in Juliet's epithalamium (or wedding hymn) in 3.2.1-25, when she is impatiently awaiting her husband for the wedding night. A sense of haste and speed is created in this soliloquy. Juliet personifies the night (written with a capital “N”) by ascribing it human attributes: it is “love-performing” (5), “civil” (10), “gentle” and “black-browed” (20). She addresses it as a “sober-suited matron all in black” (11) that teaches her and Romeo how they can lose their virginity with modesty (12-16). Juliet uses the imperative form “come” six times when addressing the night, which emphasises her impatience. She summons the night to comfort her untamed blood and conceal their secret meeting; at the same time she wants to banish the sun, which is called “Phoebus" lodging” (2)[9] and represents a threat to the lovers.

The night is set in contrast to Romeo, who is described as “day in night” (17). This seems to be a paradox first, but in the course of the play both Romeo and Juliet compare each other to different images of light. In this passage, Romeo is, apart from the “day in night”, described as “whiter than new snow upon a raven "s back” (21). The two metaphors are used in connection with their opposite colours (night / raven = black; day / snow = white), which intensifies their effect both for the lovers and the audience of the play.

A third image occurring here is the comparison of Romeo to stars: Juliet asks the night to “Take him and cut him out in little stars,” (22). In this function he can decorate the sky at night, so “That all the world will be in love with night” (24) and everyone can feel the same affection for it as she does. By comparing Romeo"s metamorphosis to a star constellation, Juliet implies her own sexual climax, during which her lover changes into little stars in her perception.[10] But Romeo "s metaphorical death could also be a foreshadowing of the end of the tragedy. In this sense it is an anticipation of their real (and not sexual) death, that is a triumph of the lovers over the earthly, hostile world.[11] They could shine as bright stars down to the earth and be admired by its people, just like Montague and Capulet decide to set up golden statues of Romeo and Juliet after their deaths to immortalise their memory.

As for Romeo, the sun has a negative connotation for Juliet; she describes it as “garish” (25), which is quite the opposite to the modesty and gentleness of night. When Juliet commands the night to spread its “close curtain” (5) she expresses her need for protection and exclusion from the outside world. The lovers" union, the performance of their “amorous rites” (8) must stay secret and therefore takes place in darkness. Since Romeo and Juliet describe each other with light images, they need no other light to see the beauty of each others" bodies. “See” (8), in Juliet"s sense, can then only be a metaphor; it is not a visual perception of the lovers but its mode is tactile and sensational.[12]


[1] Uwe Baumann, Shakespeare und seine Zeit (Stuttgart: Klett , 1998) 94.

[2] Stephen Greenblatt, Walter Cohen, Jean E. Howard and Katharine E. Maus, ed., The Norton Shakespeare. Based on the Oxford English Edition, (New York; London: W.W. Norton & Company, 1997) 868.

[3] Caroline F.E. Spurgeon, “Light Images in Romeo and Juliet,” Twentieth Century Interpretations of Romeo and Juliet, ed. Douglas Cole (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1970) 61.

[4] William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003) 2.2.119-120. All further quotations from Romeo and Juliet refer to this text and will be documented parenthetically.

[5] Introduction, William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, ed. G. Blakemore Evans, New Cambridge Shakespeare (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003) 18.

[6] Introduction 19.

[7] Introduction 19.

[8] Introduction 19.

[9] Introduction 19.

[10] Thomas Kullmann, William Shakespeare: Eine Einführung (Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 2005) 162.

[11] Kullmann 162.

[12] Catherine Belsey, “The Name of the Rose in Romeo and Juliet,” Romeo and Juliet, ed. R.S. White (Hampshire; New York: Palgrave 2001) 52.

Excerpt out of 21 pages


The opposing worlds of "Romeo and Juliet"
University of Münster  (Englisches Seminar)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
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437 KB
Englisch, Literaturwissenschaft, Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare
Quote paper
Ines Hermeling (Author), 2008, The opposing worlds of "Romeo and Juliet", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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