What is an example of imagery in Romeo and Juliet?

An example of imagery in Romeo and Juliet is Mercutio's vivid description of Queen Mab's miniature carriage in his "Queen Mab" speech (act 1, scene 4):

Her wagon-spokes made of long spinners' legs, 
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider's web,
The collars of the moonshine's watery beams,
Her whip of cricket's bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm

Expert Answers

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

Imagery can be defined as any vivid, descriptive language that appeals to the reader's physical senses. Authors utilize imagery by employing figurative language to create visual representations of ideas in the reader's mind. One example of Shakespeare utilizing imagery in Romeo and Juliet takes place at the beginning of act two, scene three during Friar Laurence's opening soliloquy. As Friar Laurence gathers herbs, flowers, and plants from his garden, he reveals his inner thoughts regarding the duality of nature and humans, which contributes to the theme of paradox running throughout the play.

Friar Laurence utilizes visual imagery through personification and similes to illustrate how the night turns into day, which allows the audience to picture the pleasant scene in their mind. Friar Laurence begins his soliloquy by commenting on the "gray-eyed morn," which frowns at the night. He continues to offer a visual description of the sunlight "Checkering the eastern clouds with streaks of light" and compares the darkness to a stumbling drunk man attempting to escape the sunlight.

Friar Laurence goes on to personify the sun by referring to "his [the sun's] burning eye" as the fiery rays advance and dry the moist dew on the ground. By utilizing visual imagery, Friar Laurence conveys the stunning vision of the sun rising in the sky as a new day begins. Friar Laurence continues his soliloquy by examining and comparing the similarities between herbs and humans, which is an extended metaphor on the duality of nature and life.

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

There is a great deal of imagery in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. When trying to find examples of imagery in this or any other Shakespeare play, it is a good idea to look to the major monologues. In these speeches, characters are generally alone as they examine their own emotions, which allows imagery and poetic language to abound.

In Romeo and Juliet, some prime examples can be found in Mercutio's "Queen Mab" speech in act 1, scene 4, and in several of Juliet's monologues: in "Gallop Apace" in act 3, scene 2, she entreats nighttime to come faster so she and Romeo can consummate their marriage. In doing so, she employs lots of imagery of light versus dark and night versus day. In her "What if this mixture do not work at all?" monologue in act 4, scene 3, in which she fears she will either die from Friar Lawrence's potion or wake up too early in her family's tomb, she uses lots of death imagery to express her fears.

A specific example from Mercutio's speech, in which he argues that Romeo's lovestruck condition is a result of magical fairy interference and digresses about several long folkloric tangents, might be as follows:

Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders' legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider's web,
The collars of the moonshine's watery beams,
Her whip of cricket's bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick'd from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o' mind the fairies' coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love;

Here, you can find an abundance of nature imagery as Mercutio paints a picture of how the fairy, Queen Mab, gets around.

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

There are several excellent examples of imagery in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Just in Act I, imagery abounds: Romeo's indictment of his unrequited love for Rosaline ("O, brawling love, O loving hate); the Prince's monologue about violence in the street ("With purple fountains issuing from your veins"); Mercutio's Queen Mab speech ("foul sluttish hairs"). Imagery is visually descriptive language which often uses figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, personification, oxymorons and others. Maybe the best example of imagery which surfaces throughout the play is the imagery involving Shakespeare's theme of light and dark. 

Romeo often compares Juliet to the brightest thing he has ever seen. In Act I, Scene 5 he uses imagery involving personification and a simile to describe Juliet across the room at Capulet's party:

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
As a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear—
In the balcony scene, Act II, Scene 2, Romeo uses a metaphor to compare Juliet to the sun:
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun.
A little further in the same speech he again employs personification and a simile to portray the light emanating from the Juliet's beauty:
The brightness of her cheek would shame those
stars
As daylight doth a lamp
Interestingly, Shakespeare alternates his theme of light and dark. While Juliet is often described as the light and thus Romeo's cherished love, the darkness is sometimes good. After all, Romeo and Juliet's most important encounters take place in the dark during the balcony scene and the honeymoon. In Juliet's soliloquy which opens Act III, Scene 2, she uses an allusion to Greek mythology to hasten in the night when Romeo would come to her for their honeymoon:
Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,
Towards Phoebus’ lodging. Such a wagoner
As Phaëton would whip you to the west
And bring in cloudy night immediately.
The images that best exemplify this juxtaposition are the birds mentioned in Act III, Scene 5. Juliet demands that it is the nightingale, symbol of the night, singing outside her window and it is not time for Romeo to leave her. She says,
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree.
The image of the nightingale represents Juliet's wish that Romeo might stay with her a bit longer before he is exiled to Mantua. The opposite image is the lark. Romeo, for once in the play, is realistic when he tells Juliet it is not the nightingale, but the lark, symbol of daylight, singing in her tree. He says,
It was the lark, the herald of the morn,
No nightingale. Look, love, what envious streaks
Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east.
Look further at Shakespeare's language and imagery is not hard to find. 
 
 

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial