An Analysis of Shakespeare's Use of Light and Dark Imagery In Romeo and Juliet
Night is a time when the rigidity of family feuds can be suspended, when lovers can be freed of societal dicta; but it is also a time when hierarchy, taboo, and humane principles can be violated. -Triple-Threat Shakespeare, Jeanne Roberts
Romeo is longing for love when he says he has a soul of lead, and is pierced by cupid's shaft. The oxymoron she speaks, yet says nothing' describes Romeo's circumstances brilliantly. Such imagery could only be used to illustrate precisely how Romeo feels. In the play Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare's light and dark imagery functions to express deep emotion. Themes are made more relevant to an audience by using common images and using symbolic representation. Shakespeare uses light imagery in Romeo and Juliet when Romeo compares "Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,"(II.ii.15) to the brightness and shining of Juliet's eyes. He goes on to say, "As daylight doth a lamp; her eye in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright."(II.ii.21)
This light imagery explains how Romeo sees Juliet's elegance. He is mesmerized by Juliet's beauty, and complements her without end. He is a young lad that has followed a heart, and his rash heart has led Romeo to Juliet. Romeo wishes for nothing but to be
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with her. Shakespeare's conceits express how deeply passionate Romeo is to be with Juliet through use of light imagery. Themes are made identifiable by using common images. Montague said,
With tears augmenting the fresh morning's dew,
Adding clouds to more clouds with his deep sighs,"(I.i.135/136)
because he is distressed over Romeo's emotional state. Montague has seen Romeo come home in the morning, and he often looked sorrowful. He is concerned for his son and is describing the depth of Romeo's sadness by using the dark image parallel of clouds. Clouds are often thought of as large, mysterious and arcane, which eloquently describes Romeo's grief. Juliet said, "This bud of love, by summer's ripening breath,
May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet."(II.ii.128/129)
She said this in effort to tell Romeo that she may come to love him more when they meet again. She does not know if their meeting is the motif of fate and if they are meant to be a pair of star-crossed lovers'. The comparison of a flower in bloom to the blooming of love is vividly symbolic of the couple's romance. Various symbolic representations are used to describe nighttime. For Romeo and Juliet, the cover of darkness at night meant safety for their love. Romeo describes night as a cloak to hide himself from those who might kill him; when the light of morning comes, Romeo is no longer safe. The passage,
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"Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day
Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain-tops.
I must be gone and live or stay and die,"(III.iiiii.9-11)
says that as the stars in the sky leave, and the sun rises over the mountaintops, day is drawing near, and the screen of darkness is lifted. Dr. Roberts said "In Romeo and Juliet night is the benign and romantic time that shields the lovers and provides cover for the consummation of their love." Night, which is associated with unfavorable and dangerous times, becomes a joyous time for Romeo and Juliet. It allows them to hide and share their love with each other. The line, "More light and light, more dark and dark our woes,"(III.iiiii.36) reinforces the fact of daytime marks when their love must end, and be hidden once again.
Throughout Shakespeare's writing, he uses his peculiar lyrical writing style to give a deeper insight into a character's emotions. He adds a new level of believability to his characters by expressing emotions that can be difficult to express. In a preface to Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson said, "Shakespeare has no heroes; his scenes are occupied only by men who act and speak as the reader thinks that he should himself have spoken or acted on the same occasion." The tragic love story blends deep concepts with emotional distress using light and dark imagery. The result is a play that uses light and dark imagery to reach a deeper level of understanding between audience and character.
1. Triple Threat Shakespeare, Jeanne Roberts (The American University) 2. Preface to Shakespeare, Dr. Johnson