Imagery in "Romeo and Juliet"

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The tragic play "Romeo and Juliet" by William Shakespeare, is a love story between Romeo, the young heir of the Montagues, and Juliet, the only surviving child of the house of Capulet. This story of the young "star-crossed" lovers is an extraordinary work in which Shakespeare uses a variety of verbal imagery including; contrasts between sex and love with hate, conflict, and death, comparisons between romantic and unromantic views of love, the correlative use of light and dark polarity, and the correlation of fate and fortune. Using this type of imagery, T. J. Spencer suggests, "at the greatest moment of the play Shakespeare subjects even the ambiguities of words to the sublimity and pathos of the situation" (43). As the play begins, Shakespeare immediately introduces one of the main themes of the play, the paradoxical blending of sex and love with hate, conflict, and death. This is first shown in the bawdy quarrel between the servants' of the two houses as they use references such as "tool" and "naked weapon," together with repeated images of striking and thrusting. Though Romeo and Juliet try to separate themselves from the "ancient grudge" and foolish fighting between their families, the couple cannot escape the repercussions of the feud, which ultimately deals their love a fatal wound. Shakespeare repeatedly illustrates how closely the images of love and sex are intertwined with violence and death such as when Romeo first explains his ideas of love to Mercutio. He describes love as a battlefield using military terms to illustrate the ways in which he has used his eyes and words of love in a combined attack to win Rosaline's affection: "She will not stay the siege of loving terms, / Nor bide th' encounter of assailing eyes" (1.1.212-13). Juliet concisely expresses the connection between love and hate and marriage and death: "My only love, sprung from my only hate!" (1.5.138). She also declares immediately that if she cannot marry Romeo, she would rather die: "If he be marrièd, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed" (1.5.134-35). The image of death as a bridegroom for Juliet is repeated throughout the play to maintain an atmosphere of impending tragedy. The conflicting images of love and violence ominously anticipate the play's conclusion where the deaths of Romeo and Juliet ultimately bring an end to the feud between the two families.

In addition to the contrast between love and violence, Shakespeare uses "constant and deliberate collisions between romantic and unromantic views of love" (Spenser 11). As the play begins, Romeo's concept of love is very naïve and artificial "creating poetical and pitiful phrases in honour of the chaste and unattainable Rosaline" (Spenser 11). Romeo is only able to describe his feelings for Rosaline with figurative language that he has learned from poetry books. However, upon first sight of Juliet, all thoughts of Rosaline disappear from his mind. Romeo discovers that his feelings for Rosaline were artificial and that his love had been blind; "Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night" (1.5.52-3). Romeo moves away from the inflated, overacted descriptions of his love for Rosaline and begins to indicate a move towards a more spiritual consideration of love. He begins to use religious imagery to describe his feelings of love, which emphasizes the wonder and spiritual purity of his newfound love. This is opposite from the way that Mercutio or the Nurse describe love. Mercutio is an anti-romantic, for him, love is a physical pursuit, which he emphasizes through his bawdy wordplay: "If love be rough with you, be rough with love. / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down" (1.4.27-8). The Nurse shares Mercutio's bawdy sense of humor about love and sees love purely as a physical relationship, almost a burden women simply must bear. As the Nurse returns with news from Romeo pertaining to his and Juliet's...
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