What does Romeo mean when he says, "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,/Who is already sick and pale with grief"?

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gpane's profile pic

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As pointed out in other answers, Romeo is referring to Juliet here. He is looking up to her window when she appears. He compares her appearance to the rising of the sun which extinguishes the darkness of night. 

As he does several times in the play, Romeo here compares Juliet to a strong light. He continues this theme later in the same speech when he remarks fancifully on her eyes being not as bright as stars but actually stars: stars that have exchanged places with her eyes in the heavens.  He goes on to muse that if these stars are indeed now in her head, then 'the brightness of her cheek would shame those stars/as daylight doth a lamp'. Again, Juliet is associated with a bright light which eclipses that of the brightest stars. By the same token, he remarks that if her eyes were in the night sky, they would shine so brightly that the birds would be fooled into thinking it was daytime and start to sing: 'her eyes in heaven/would through the airy region stream so bright/that birds would sing, and think it were not night'. 

In his use of imagery in this speech, Romeo paints a picture of Juliet as an dazzling, irresistible natural force which outshines everything else. It is interesting to note as well that he starts out by saying that Juliet is the moon's 'maid'. Traditionally, the moon has often been associated with femininity: particularly female charm, delicacy and beauty, while the sun is more associated more with the male element in many cultures. Here, though, Juliet's power is said to be such that she easily outshines the moon and her light is seen to be at least equal to that of the sun.

amethystrose's profile pic

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In order to fully understand the passage, you need the preceding lines:

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.

Here Romeo is looking up at the window to Juliet's bedroom.  Shakespeare is using a metaphor to compare Juliet's beauty to the rising sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief

That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.

When the sun rises, it "kills" the darkness of the night.  The moon is personified as being so envious of Juliet's beauty that it is "sick and pale with grief" that Juliet is "far more fair" than the moon is.  In other words, Romeo is saying that Juliet is pretty hot!  By telling the sun (Juliet) to "arise", Romeo means that he wishes that Juliet would come out onto the balcony to light up the night.

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