Hyperbole In Romeo And Juliet

Find an example of hyperbole in Romeo's declaration of love for Rosaline in Act 1, Scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet.

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durbanville eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Figures of speech allow writers to create characters and situations in an imaginative way, forming visual images in the mind of the audience or reader. An audience is able to make assumptions about what may follow based on vivid portrayals of situations or individuals. Shakespeare uses various figures of speech in Romeo and Juliet and among the most well-known are the "star-crossed lovers" (Prologue to Act I, line 6). There is allusion, alliteration, metaphor, oxymoron and hyperbole in Act I, scene i. Hyperbole is never intended to be taken literally because it is always an exaggerated, embellished manner of over-emphasizing. 

In Act I, scene i, it is important that Romeo is characterized as passionate, impulsive, spontaneous and even reckless right from the beginning as the time frame does not allow for a slow development of character. His behavior strengthens the plot of the story and makes his actions all the more plausible. The figures of speech including hyperbole reveal just what extreme lengths he will ultimately go to for love.  

In Act I, scene i Romeo is lamenting how the days are long because Rosaline does not return his love. Romeo is overwhelmed by his feelings and his use of oxymoron when, for example he says "O loving hate... O heavy lightness" (lines 174 to 176) ensures that the reader is under no illusions as to the depth of his feelings or his despair. It is important to recognize the all-or-nothing obsession which he has and which will ultimately result in his tragic death. The oxymorons are in themselves examples of gross exaggeration and Romeo goes on to use hyperbole in his general description of Rosaline stating that in remaining chaste she

...makes huge waste; for beauty starved with her severity, Cuts beauty off from all posterity (216 to 218).

In other words, if Rosaline never has children, beauty will die with her because no-one, except Rosaline or her own children could ever be beautiful.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Let us remember that a hyperbole is a deliberate exaggeration for dramatic purposes and to emphasise or highlight the importance of something. The whole character of Romeo in this scene could be described as hyperbolic, as he is presented as a typically love-sick teenager who has allowed his emotions to become clouded by his love for Rosaline. However, for a clear presentation of how hyperbole functions in his thoughts about Rosaline, consider how he describes her to Benvolio when he urges him to forget about her:

He that is strucken blind cannot forget

The precious treasure of his eyesight lost.

Show me a mistress that is passing fair:

Where I may read who passed that passing fair?

Note the over-the-top way in which Romeo compares his love of Rosaline to a man struck blind and thinking about the gift of sight. Rosaline is so beautiful that even looking at other women will only serve to remind him of her whose beauty "passes" the beauty of others. No other woman can contend with Rosaline, in Romeo's opinion. Note the clear exaggeration of her beauty and her importance to Romeo's life.