Why has Shakespeare used religious metaphors when Romeo and Juliet first speak in Romeo and Juliet?
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Romeo and Juliet is a story of young love. Shakespeare uses religious imagery to reinforce the purity of their love, and how they are drawn together like pilgrims to a holy site. He also wrote their conversation as a shared sonnet.
Romeo refers to Juliet’s hand as a “holy shrine” and comments that he is to “profane” it, his lips are “two blushing pilgrims” drawn to her kiss. Juliet picks up on his religious imagery and makes witty jokes. As long as he has “mannerly devotion” she is a saint that he, her pilgrim, can touch.
This conversation can also be thought of as a shared sonnet, and sonnets are often love poems. In Shakespeare’s day, a boy would write a poem for the girl he loved.
Then move not while my prayer's effect I take.
Thus from my lips, by thine my sin is purg'd. (Act 1, Scene 5)
This is also a witty play on words, if one believes Romeo and Juliet are sinning. Shakespeare wants to remind the audience that they are young, innocent children who are experiencing a pure love.
The formality of the sonnet form and the religious metaphors both connote the sanctity and sense of purpose in Romeo's approach toward Juliet after he first sees her. The extended metaphor in the fourteen lines of which each character speaks seven is that of Romeo being a pilgrim and Juliet a saint. With the setting of the play in the fourteenth century, the time period in which the Canterbury Tales was written, pilgrimages were current events, so the metaphors are, indeed, timely.
Romeo is in such awe of Juliet's beauty and the fact that she is unapproachable as a Capulet that he perceives her as a one to whom he must not "profane my unworthiest hand" (1.5.94) as one would a saint. Moreover, he is so touched by her beauty and his charged emotions that he feels moved spiritually as well as physically:
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do.They pray; grant thou, lest faith turn to despair. (1.5.102-103)
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