What does Romeo mean when he says, "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,/Who is already sick and pale with grief"?

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Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" is a sort of ode or tribute or homage to youth and young love. On summer nights young boys and girls find their youth a burden because they can't sleep--and probably don't want to sleep even if they could. While the old folks in the play have been sound asleep and snoring away for hours, the young men are wandering the streets burning up their excess energy. In those times maidens were securely locked up to keep them away from these passionate young men for pretty obvious reasons. Juliet is such a prisoner. Romeo can leap over her wall to get a look at her--but he can't get any closer than that. Juliet hasn't been asleep either. Convention is telling her one thing and nature is telling her another. 

The young people have stayed up so late that it is getting close to daybreak. That's the main point of all this talk about the sun and the moon. We can see the moon in the daytime, but it always looks pale white and lacks the gold color that makes it beautiful by night. We can estimate that the time is around five in the morning. Romeo uses a poetic cliche when he says that Juliet is the moon's maid. He compares Juliet to the sun and at the same time to the moon's handmaiden. Juliet is "far more fair" than the moon regardless of whether it is nighttime or broad daylight. That is why Romeo is comparing Juliet to the sun. Shakespeare is deliberately breaking with conventional poetic symbolism because comparing a girl to the moon is something that has been done to death by poets of Shakespeare's time and long before that.

When Romeo says, "Arise, fair sun," he is thinking both of Juliet and of the real sun. He is comparing Juliet to the sun as a deliberate flouting of poetic language, and he is also thinking that when the real sun actually rises, as it will do quite soon, then there is a better chance that Juliet will wake up and appear on the balcony. It doesn't occur to Romeo that Juliet is having trouble sleeping too--and for the same reasons. He is thinking that when she does appear on the balcony she will be such a beautiful sight that she will seem like the sun. Naturally her brilliance will kill the moon, just as the real sun is so brilliant that it shuts off the lights of all the stars and planets and will sometimes, but not always, shut off the moonlight completely. On this particular night the moon may be full and also very close to the earth, so it would be hard for the sun to obliterate the moon completely. We have all been struck by seeing a big, white full moon in the sky when it is the middle of a bright summer day. 

What Romeo says about the moon being sick and pale with grief is nothing but a poetic conceit. He is trying to flatter the girl he loves with extravagant praises. It is a poetic conceit on the part of Romeo and, of course, a poetic conceit on the part of his creator William Shakespeare. The moon is actually losing its gold color and turning white, or pale, because the sun is rising and the sky is getting brighter.

Perhaps the most striking thing...

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coco48 | Student

Juliet come out and brighten my world/take away my grief

 

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