How does Shakespeare use figurative language to describe Romeo's feelings for Juliet?

When Romeo first sees Juliet, he seems to fall instantly in love with her. He conveys this feeling of love at first sight through similes, metaphors, and hyperbole.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Seeing Juliet across the room at the Capulets' party, Romeo is immediately besotted. He falls in love with Juliet's beauty. He proclaims that she is "like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear." The intended meaning of this simile is that Juliet's beauty is, to Romeo, so radiant as to...

Check Out
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Seeing Juliet across the room at the Capulets' party, Romeo is immediately besotted. He falls in love with Juliet's beauty. He proclaims that she is "like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear." The intended meaning of this simile is that Juliet's beauty is, to Romeo, so radiant as to make everything and everyone else around her appear dark by comparison. The comparison of her beauty to "a rich jewel" further suggests that her beauty is precious and rare. Romeo uses a second simile to convey much the same idea. He says that Juliet is like "a snowy dove trooping with crows." The motif of light and whiteness suggests that Juliet's beauty seems to Romeo to be pure and perhaps even heavenly or angelic.

Romeo also uses hyperbolic language when he says that Juliet's beauty is so incredible that it is "for earth too dear!" In other words, Juliet's beauty seems to him to be transcendent and beyond the ordinariness of earth. Romeo also says that Juliet's beauty is "too rich for use," again using hyperbole to suggest that Juliet's beauty is special and unique. Romeo is obviously feeling completely in love and overwhelmed with Juliet's beauty.

Later in the same scene, Romeo asks Juliet for her hand, and he refers to her hand metaphorically as "this holy shrine." The implication of this metaphor is that Juliet's beauty is heavenly and that Romeo is so in love with her that he wants to worship her. He later refers to his own lips as "two blushing pilgrims." The suggestion of this metaphor is that Romeo feels as if he has been traveling all of his life to meet with Juliet, just as a pilgrim travels a long way on their pilgrimage to a holy place. Romeo feels about Juliet as a pilgrim might feel about a religious figure.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Romeo sneaks into the garden beneath Juliet's balcony, he says,

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid since she is envious.
Her vestal livery is but sick and green,
And none but fools do wear it. (2.2.2-9)

Here, Romeo uses a metaphor to compare Juliet's window to the east, where the sun rises, and he develops this metaphor into another metaphor, by which he compares Juliet to the sun itself. He, likewise, personifies the moon, saying that she feels grief and envy of Juliet, the sun, because Juliet is more beautiful than she, the moon. He expresses his feelings for Juliet, especially concerning her beauty, with these comparisons. Romeo uses apostrophe, speaking to Juliet although she cannot hear him or respond yet, telling her to refuse to be a servant of the moon. He describes the dress of those maids who serve the moon as being a sickly green color and declares that Juliet ought never to wear it.

Romeo goes on to describe Juliet more, saying,

Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.
What if her eyes were there, they in her head?
The brightness of her cheek would shame those
stars
As daylight doth a lamp . . . (2.2.15-21)

Now, he personifies the stars, suggesting that they have some business to which they must attend, and so they ask Juliet's eyes, also personified as something which can understand and respond to questions, to take their places in the sky. He wonders if Juliet's eyes and those stars have actually switched places, emphasizing how brightly her eyes seem to shine. He uses a simile to suggest that Juliet's cheeks are so bright that they shame the stars, just like the daylight shames a lamp because it is so very much brighter than the lamp could ever be. In this simile, the lamp is also personified as something which could feel shame.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A couple of the best examples of Shakespeare's use of figurative language to display Romeo's love for Juliet can be found in Act 2, Scene 2. Romeo's speech at the beginning of this scene, upon seeing Juliet at her balcony, employs two metaphors to compare Juliet to celestial bodies. 

The first: "It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." With this line, Romeo is comparing Juliet to the sun. Not only does this metaphor describe how brightly Juliet's beauty lights Romeo's world, but it also shows that already Romeo feels that his universe revolves around Juliet. The play was written in the 1590s, and the concept of the sun as the center of the universe was still relatively new, having been discovered by Copernicus at the beginning of the century. 

The second metaphor compares Juliet's eyes to the brightest stars in the sky. He says that if her eyes were to take the place of stars in the heavens, then they would shine so brightly that the birds would be confused and believe it to be daytime. 

From these strong metaphors and Romeo's passionate dialogue in this scene, it is easy to discern that he has fallen hard and fast for the fair Capulet. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team