To what does Romeo compare Juliet during the balcony scene in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?
It is interesting, too, how Romeo's comparisons are linked to contemporary interests. The previous educator's mention of the comparison that Romeo draws between Juliet's beauty and "a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear" is a reference to ostentation and a reminder of the ways in which Europeans, at the dawn of the Age of Exploration, tended to associate exaggerated ornamentation with people from Africa and the Middle East.
During the balcony scene, he compares her not only to light and the sun but also to an ethereal, supernatural creature:
O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o'er my head
As is a winged messenger of heaven
Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy-pacing clouds
And sails upon the bosom of the air. (2.2.28-34)
This language, rather religious in nature, contrasts with the earlier astronomical comparisons to the stars and Juliet as the "sun" that "[kills] the envious moon." She is like an angel, "as glorious to his night...as is a winged messenger of heaven." She is an object to be gazed at by "mortals," as mortals would gaze at that winged messenger, a possible reference to Mercury in Roman mythology, or Hermes in Greek mythology—the messenger god of travelers and merchants.
In the balcony scene of Act II, Romeo compares Juliet to the sun.
This lovely scene of Romeo and Juliet is part of Romeo's monologue that exemplifies well the use of light/dark image patterns that prevail throughout the play. Interestingly, Juliet's beauty of light is most apparent in the night against which there is the greatest contrast. Earlier, in Act I, Scene 5, when Romeo first sees Juliet, for instance, he remarks,
Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear-- (1.5.44-45)
It is interesting that Juliet is perceived by Romeo in terms of the sun, burning torches, and other images of light because, as it turns out, the light is dangerous for them. For, it is only in the darkness that they can safely meet. It is also in the darkness that they consummate their marriage and, when the dawn begins to break, Romeo must part from his fair Juliet.