What are some oxymorons used in Act III of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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tamarakh's profile pic

Posted on

Some of the best oxymorons in Act 3 our found in Scene 2, when Juliet learns that Romeo has killed Tybalt and has been banished. Juliet shows just how much she feels she has been deceived by Romeo through calling him all sorts of contrary opposites.

One oxymoron she refers to Romeo as is "beautiful tyrant." A tyrant is an oppressive dictator who pays no heed to justice. Since tyrants oppress their people, tyrants cannot be considered beautiful.

Another is "fiend angelical." A fiend is the devil or an extremely "cruel" and "wicked person" ("Fiend," Dictionary.com). The word angelical refers to an angel, or a very good and virtuous person. Therefore, a "fiend" cannot also be "angelical."

A third oxymoron is "Dove-feather'd raven." Dove's are typically white, while ravens are black. Therefore a raven cannot be white, or "dove-feather'd." Also, since doves are characteristically considered beautiful, while ravens are plain, ugly, or even scary, they are contradictory images. The images contrast what Juliet first perceived as Romeo's beauty to what she now believes is his ugly soul.

mwestwood's profile pic

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Oxymorons are apparently contradictions, but there is often some deeper relationship that makes them true.

After the Nurse returns from obtaining the rope ladder for Romeo to come and visit Juliet under the cover of night, she is extremely distraught, crying "he's dead, he's dead." Of course, in another dramatic instance of miscommunication, Juliet believes that the Nurse alludes to Romeo and she, too, becomes extremely upset. Finally, the Nurse reveals that Romeo has slain Tybalt and he is now banished from Verona. In reaction, Juliet speaks, using several oxymorons:

  1. "wolfish-ravening lamb"
  2. "Despised substance of divinest show"
  3. "A damned saint"
  4. "an honourable villain"

While these four oxymorons are apparently contradictions, there is much truth in them that Juliet feels in her conflicted state of mind. For, Romeo was a "lamb" to her before he killed Tybalt in a "wolfish" manner; he was "divinest show to him" before this murder, but now he is despised by her family; he was like a saint to her, but now he is damned to banishment; he is honorable in defending his friend, but a villain to the Capulet family.


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