In Romeo & Juliet why is the moon envious?

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The reference to the "envious moon" occurs in act 2, scene 2, when Romeo visits the Capulets' orchard and sees Juliet above at her balcony. Romeo compares Juliet to the sun, and commands her to "arise[...]and kill the envious moon." The suggestion is that the moon, currently "sick and pale with grief" because Juliet, as the sun, shiners brighter ("fairer") than the moon does, will be killed entirely should Juliet rise, just as the moon is "killed" when the sun emerges and the moon disappears. Because the moon can only shine in the reflected light of the sun, it must necessarily be envious of the sun which, like Juliet, radiates its own greater beauty.

Romeo's reference to the "vestal livery" of the moon's maidens also suggests an allusion to the classical idea of the vestal virgin. In wearing "vestal livery," Juliet would be adhering to the vows of chastity taken by those who served the goddess Vesta. Vesta was the goddess of the hearth, but there may be some conflation here between Vesta and Diana, the moon goddess. At any rate, Romeo may be making the sly suggestion that, instead of playing "maid" to the moon goddess and remaining a virgin, Juliet should "cast off" this guise and become a wife instead. The association between chastity and the moon is one that is drawn frequently in poetry of this era.

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Romeo begins this monologue of love-stricken thought by comparing Juliet to the sun. He sees the light shining in her window as being the radiance and beauty of Juliet's presence, just as the sun sheds light on all its surroundings.

When the sun arises, the moon is no longer alight and visible. So, one interpretation of "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon" can simply be recognizing that when the sun rises, the moon ceases to visibly exist.

Another interpretation could draw upon the traditional use of the moon as a symbol for Diana, the moon goddess. As Romeo continues, he explains that the moon is envious, "sick and pale with grief," because Juliet, the sun, is "far more fair than she (the moon)." Romeo ends this section of his thoughts, watching the light from Juliet's window, by encouraging Juliet to cease her symbolic relationship with the moon: "Be not her maid, since she is envious."

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