A hidden, implicit or implied comparison between two seemingly unrelated things is called a metaphor. In other words, a metaphor is a figure of speech in which two strikingly different concepts or things are likened to one another based on a single common characteristic. Within dramatic plays, metaphors are incorporated to facilitate readers or audience to gain a better and deeper understanding of a particular thing, idea or individual.
By affording a visual comparison, metaphors enable the audience to gain insight or clarity about an idea or thing that would otherwise be difficult to understand. In “Romeo and Juliet,” a wide variety of metaphors are employed to effectively simplify both the concrete as well the abstract ideas about certain characters to the audience. Some of these metaphors are discussed below:
Metaphors in “Romeo and Juliet”
“Peer’d forth the golden window of the east…”
(I. i. 121)
In this exquisitely graphic metaphor, Benvolio is comparing the startling sun to a spectacular golden window of the east. This colorful comparison serves to emphasize the exotic energy and brightness of the sun. Since the sun rises in the east, the metaphor of a window implies that the sun or the emergence of a new day acts as a wonderful opening to magnificent opportunities and new beginnings. It also emphasizes the life-enhancing qualities of the sun.
“This precious book of love, this unbound lover,
To beautify him only lacks a cover.”
(I. iii. 93-94)
In this vividly evocative metaphor, Lady Capulet uses the metaphor of a book to highlight the depth and beauty of Paris’ character as well as to emphasize the countless benefits that can be derived by a marital union with him. In an attempt to persuade her daughter, Juliet, to marry Paris, Lady Capulet maintains that the privileges of marrying Paris are many. He is like a flawlessly written book only in need of a cover. By comparing Paris to a book, Lady Capulet is implying that only Juliet can serve to complement Paris’ unique personality that exudes love.
“My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.”
(I. v. 106-107)
This heartfelt and sentimental metaphorical expression is delivered by Romeo and compares Romeo’s trembling lips to two devoted pilgrims eager to kiss their holy object of worship. Hence, this graphic comparison implies that Romeo perceives Juliet as a demi-goddess and regards himself as her blind follower – a follower whose lips are desperate to plant a passionately reverential kiss on their holy shrine.
“It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden,
Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be”
(II. ii. 125-126)
In this particular quote, Juliet uses lightning as a metaphor for love in order to emphasize the unpredictable aspect of love. Delivered during the famous balcony scene, this visual metaphor serves to reinforce Juliet’s premise about love’s transience, inconsistency, and abruptness. From a dramatic perspective, this comparison of Romeo’s ardent expression of love with the fast flicker of lightning highlights Juliet’s maturity and her understanding of the fact that pledges made in a moment of passion do not always have an enduring quality.
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.”
(II. ii. 2-3)
This verse is another beautiful exchange that takes place between Romeo and Juliet during the famous balcony scene. In these beautiful and vivid verses, Romeo compares Juliet to the sun. This metaphor implies that Romeo perceives Juliet as being incredibly bright, radiant and glorious. Moreover, the sun is regarded as the life-giving element of the universe. The comparison between the sun and Juliet illustrates that Romeo sees Juliet as the quintessential life-giving being.
“O, I am Fortune’s fool!”
(III. i. 142)
Delivered by Romeo after his hasty killing of Tybalt, this verse highlights Romeo’s remorse since he regards himself as a cruel victim of fate using the metaphor of “fortune’s fool”. It is noteworthy that by equating himself to a naïve individual who has been deceived and who commits a crime in a moment of unblinking passion. Romeo is reinforcing the unthinking and careless aspect of his personality – the one that seldom thinks before committing an action. Moreover, this metaphor implies Romeo’s conviction in the fact that sometimes fate deceives us in inconceivable ways.
“Thy eyes’ windows fall…”
(IV. i. 102-103)
In this particular phrase, Friar Lawrence is comparing the drooping of Juliet’s eyelids to the shutting of windows. This metaphor implies that the sleeping potion will have the same effect on Juliet’s eyes as the closing of windows. Since windows provide visual access to the outside world, the falling or closing of Juliet’s eyelids highlights that the drinking potion will prevent Juliet from observing or viewing the world around her.
“Death is my son-in-law; Death is my heir.”
(IV. v. 44)
In this tragic verse, Capulet uses the metaphors of son-in-law and heir to emphasize how the specter of death incessantly haunts him and his loved ones. After seeing Juliet deep asleep and mistaking her for the dead, Capulet maintains that Juliet has been eternally wedded to the horrifying phenomenon of death. Hence, Capulet’s only abiding legacy would be death.
“The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade
To paly ashes…”
(IV. i. 101)
Delivered by Friar Lawrence, this verse highlights the death-like state Juliet would be in after drinking the sleeping potion. By equating the color of Juliet’s cheeks and lips with roses, the Friar is implying that the potion will induce death-like symptoms thereby draining Juliet’s lips and cheeks of their rosy hue. Moreover, the metaphor of ashes signifies that as a result of drinking the potion, Juliet’s face will turn deathly-pale.
“Thou detestable maw, thou womb of death…”
(V. iii. 45)
This metaphorical phrase is delivered by Romeo as he visits Juliet’s resting place in the tomb. “Detestable maw” refers to the jaws of a hungry beast. By equating the tomb to a deathly womb and the jaws of a petrifying beast, Romeo is implying that a tomb is a place that merely harbors destruction, decay, and death.