Romeo and Juliet Questions and Answers
by William Shakespeare

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What are some uses of figurative language in Romeo and Juliet, act 1 and act 2?

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is filled with instances of figurative language. In act 1, scene 1, for example, the Prince uses metaphor to liken the men to "beasts" and their blood to "purple fountains issuing from their veins." Later, Romeo employs a simile to compare Juliet's beauty to "a rich jewel in Ethiope's ear."

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The use of allusion is definitely worth noting in acts 1 and 2. An allusion is when a writer makes an indirect reference to a person, a place, or an object without actually mentioning it by name. There are lots of examples of allusion acts 1 and 2 which would have resonated strongly with Shakespeare’s audience.

Firstly, in act 1, Shakespeare alludes heavily to mythological gods and goddesses. For example, in act 1, scene 1, there is a reference to Cupid, the Roman god of love, and to Diana, the goddess associated with virginity and hunting. Here, Romeo is comparing Rosaline to Diana, who took a vow of celibacy. Try as he might, Romeo cannot get Rosaline to fall in love with him; it is as though she has taken the same vow as Diana. Allusion therefore helps Romeo to express his frustration as he battles unrequited love. Similarly, the allusion to Cupid reinforces the theme of love.

Secondly, there is an interesting allusion to a titan in act 2, scene 3. The titans ruled ancient Greece before the Olympian Gods, and Friar Lawrence references a “titan’s fiery wheels” as he is collecting flowers and herbs in the morning. The purpose of this illusion is to create a sense of haste. The Friar wants to gather the herbs before the sun comes up, or before the titan has had a chance to race his chariot across the sky.

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Shakespeare uses many types of figurative language in Acts I and II of Romeo and Juliet.  If you look at the first link below, you will see one of my previous answers, where I list many allusions that appear in these acts.  Some others examples of figurative language are below:

Metaphor: This is used early on, when the Prince appears on the scene to break up the street brawl that erupts in Act I, i.  The Prince rebukes the brawlers with his words:

What, ho! you men, you beasts,
That quench the fire of your pernicious rage
With purple fountains issuing from your veins ...

The men are compared to "beasts," their rage to "fire," and the spurting blood to "purple fountains."

Simile: One of the most well-known lines from the play arises when Romeo first sees Juliet and uses an exquisite simile:

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

In this speech, he compares the brightness of Juliet's beauty and the way she stands out in the night to a "rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear."  This speech also uses hyperbole in saying she "teach(es) the torches to burn bright."

Personification: This appears when Benvolio speaks to Romeo's parents, who are worried about their son.  They ask Benvolio if he has seen Romeo recently, and Benvolio responds:

Madam, an hour before the worshipp'd sun
Peer'd forth the golden window of the east,
A troubled mind drave me to walk abroad ...

Here, the sun is personified as "peering forth" as if it had eyes.

Hyperbole:  Romeo uses hyperbole when he asks, "Can I go forward when my heart is here?" (II, I, l.1). His heart is obviously not literally in the Capulet garden, but he feels he cannot leave Juliet's garden because he is so in love with her and cannot bear to be apart.  He also uses both simile and hyperbole when he talks of Juliet's brightness:

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,
As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.

Her cheek and her eyes are so bright that they would shame the stars and make the birds think it is still daytime.

Symbolism: When Mercutio teases Romeo to try to get him to reveal where he is hiding at the beginning of Act II, Romeo responds with the following:

"He jests at scars that never felt a wound" (II, ii).

He means that Mercutio can only make fun of Romeo being in love (his "scar") because Mercutio, himself, has never experienced the pain of unrequited love (a "wound").

Oxymoron: Romeo uses this when speaking to Benvolio in Act I, upon learning that there has been another street fight.  He says:

Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

This speech, filled with contradictions, shows his frustration and confusion at the ongoing feud.  Romeo recognizes the feud has "much to do with hate but more with love."

Alliteration: Juliet uses this, with the repeated "l" sound, in response to her mother's question of whether she might be interested in Paris:

I'll look to like, if looking liking move:
But no more deep will I endart mine eye
Than your consent gives strength to make it fly.

Allusion: See first link below

 

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