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William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is commonly regarded as one of his most “poetic” plays, and Romeo’s speech on first seeing Juliet on her balcony is often seen as particularly “poetic.” Among the poetic or literary techniques Shakespeare uses in the opening portion of this speech are the following:
- Metaphor, as in the comparison of Juliet in the first two lines to the sun.
- A conceit, or extended comparison, as in the first three lines, in which the comparison of Juliet to the sun is developed rather than just mentioned and then dropped.
- Personification, as in the reference to the sun killing the envious moon.
- Balanced phrasing, or paired phrases, as in the use of “fair sun” and “envious moon” in the same line.
- Iambic pentameter meter, where odd syllables are unstressed and even syllables are stressed, as in the line “Who is already sick and pale with grief” and also in the line that immediately follows this one.
- Alliteration, or repetition of the same consonant sounds, as in the following line: “That thou her maid art far more fair than she.
- Caesura, or a pronounced pause near the middle of a line, as in the following line: “Be not her maid,[pause] since she is envious.”
- Enjambment, or lack of punctuation at the end of a line so that the sense flows smoothly from one line to the next, as in the first of the following two lines:
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.
- Exclamations used to intensify emotion, as in the line in which Romeo exclaims about his lady and his love, as well as in the line that follows.
- Assonance, or repetition of the same vowel sounds, as in the phrase “not to me she speaks.”
- Use of questions to provoke thought, as in the line referring to the eyes in Juliet’s head.
- Rhyme following many unrhymed lines, as in the “bright/night” rhyme.
- Trochaic substitution, as in the line beginning “See, how.” Here we might have expected an unaccented syllable followed by an accented one, but instead we get the opposite, so that the crucial word “See” is emphasized and also so that the iambic pentameter rhythm does not become monotonously predictable.
These are just a few examples of the kinds of literary techniques and figures of speech Shakespeare uses in the “balcony scene.” Romeo’s lines are full of imagery and are brimming with metaphors. Interestingly enough, no similes (comparisons using “like” or “as”) are used. The main pattern of imagery used in Romeo’s first speech likens Juliet to light surrounded by darkness.
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