What are some symbols found in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and what do they symbolize?

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Cupid is one recurring symbol in Romeo and Juliet. Since Cupid is the Roman God of desire, Cupid symbolizes the love and passion found in the play, but beyond that, it also symbolizes the painful feelings that are associated with love, especially uncontrolled passion. For example, Romeo refers to Cupid in the first scene when speaking of his love for Rosaline and all of the agony he associates with his feelings of love. He says that Rosaline has refused to "be hit / With Cupid's arrow," showing us that he is in agony because Rosaline has rejected him (I.i.211).

Chastity is another recurring symbol. It is referred to both indirectly and directly. In the first scene, Romeo says that Rosaline "hath Dian's wit" (I.i.211). Since Diane was the Roman goddess of hunting and known for her chastity, in this passage, Romeo is indirectly stating that Rosaline has rejected his sexual ploys. Romeo directly refers to Rosaline's chastity further in the passage,  

[W]ith strong proof of chastity well arm'd,
From Love's weak childish bow she lives unharm'd. (I.i.211-213)

Chastity is again referred to when Romeo begs Juliet to "cast off" the "vestal livery," meaning "virginal clothing" that the moon wears (II.ii.8-9). Since chastity is the exact antithesis of sexuality, chastity symbolizes the profound feelings that are expressed throughout the play, especially the uncontrolled feelings that lead to dismal ends.

Another symbol that can be seen is the dagger that Juliet threatens to kill herself with before the friar and then finally does kill herself with in the tomb (IV.i.55, V.iii.174). Since daggers are small, they symbolize deceit. One of the main reasons for both Romeo's and Juliet's deaths is Juliet's deceit in faking her own death. Hence, Juliet's dagger symbolizes the play's theme of deceit.

nk1997 | Student

A key symbol in Romeo and Juliet is poison. Poison is first introduced in act 2 scene 2. He talks about poison being a natural substance, made evil in the hands of humans. Friar Lawence speaks about the good and bad uses of each plant.

This can be used in reference to the love between Romeo and Juliet. For example; the sleeping potion appears to be death, but in the circumstances, results in the death of Romeo. Romeo suggest society is to blame for the apothecary having to sell poison and drugs to live.

Romeo and Juliets love is very hasty and passionate. "These violent delights have violent ends and in their triumph die, like fire and powder which as they kiss consume". It symbolises human societies tendancy to poison good things and make them fatal.

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Romeo and Juliet

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