Consider the oxymorons, "heavy lightness," "serious vanity," "brawling love," and "loving hate," from Romeo's oxymoronic speech in Act 1, scene 1. What does Romeo's use of oxymorons show?

Expert Answers

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

The context behind Romeo using oxymorons in this scene is the fight that his cousin Benvolio has just been a part of. Romeo isn't necessarily talking about Rosaline at this point because he is lecturing Benvolio for choosing to be a fighter rather than a lover. Romeo is angry that the rivalry between the Capulets and the Montagues continues. He does not like it and he wishes that Benvolio would stop it, as follows:

"O me! What fray was here?

Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.

Here's much to do with hate, but more with love.

Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!

O anything of nothing first create" (I.i.168-172).

The above passage establishes the reason behind the use of the oxymorons in the lines to follow. Romeo is amazed that there is such a fine line between love and hate that it is so easy for people to break into fatal blows whenever they are challenged. Romeo also seems to be telling Benvolio that we can choose whether or not to brawl or to love because these feelings are so closely related. Romeo also recognizes that these feelings are tough to decipher, whereupon he continues as follows:

"O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!

Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms! (I.i.173-174).

It's as if he recognizes that when life is "heavy" we tend to take things too lightly. We get caught up in vanity and pride which twists reality in our minds which can bring chaos from what we believe are good intentions (or well-seeming forms). Hence, Romeo isn't confused about love, or Rosaline, in this passage, he is condemning the choices that people make to fight, but also recognizes that life is confusing and comes at us like an oxymoron.


Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act I with his monologue about his lover Rosaline who is now lost to God as she has decided to go to a nunnery, Romeo employs rhyming verse when speaking of love; his use of oxymoron in the verse certainly introduces Romeo's conflicted mind as well as the situations into which he places himself later in the play. 

The conflict of traditional binaries is, indeed, introduced here and is developed through the trope of light/dark, love/violence, constancy/inconstancy

  • light/dark - Much imagery is employed in this poetic play. In the famous balcony scene of Act II, for instance, Romeo compares Juliet to the sun in contrast to the "sick and envious moon" that is dim. Her eyes are two "of the fairest stars in all the [night] heavens."
  • love/violence - There are several instances of the binaries of love and violence, but the most salient is that of Act III in which the newly married Romeo seeks to intercede in the steamy quarrel between Mercutio and Tybalt:

TYBALT: Boy, this shall not excuse the injuries
             That thou has done me, therefore, turn and draw
ROMEO: I do protest I never injured thee,
             But love thee better than thou canst devise
             Till thou shalt know the reason of my love (3.1)

  • constancy/inconstancy - Mercutio's famous monologue of Act I, Scene 4 presents this motif and is a pivotal point of character and plot development. The fickleness of the little fairy suggests the love and pining of Romeo for Rosaline with thin "substance as the air" which is "more inconstant than the wind." Later, the fluctuations of Romeo and Juliet's relationship reflects the constancy/inconstancy of life.
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Romeo's use of oxymorons, specifically cited "heavy lightness", "serious vanity", "brawling love", etc., conveys the internal emotional turmoil he is experiencing. Though he says he is happy in love, he is unhappy in that he is "out of her favor where [he] is in love" (again bringing in the contradictory ideas of out and in). What he is saying is that though he is in love with Rosaline, which should bring him happiness, he realizes that she does not know to acknowledge his love, nor even his presence, since she has chosen to devote her life to god by joining a nunnery (convent). Therefore, his happiness (being Rosaline) is also the root of his unhappiness, thus acting emotional turmoil. This links to the conflict of traditional binaries in that it is this contradiction of emotions that is creating his conflict with himself in that he cannot be happy nor unhappy and is instead caught in the contradiction of his ironic situation.

Posted on
Illustration of a paper plane soaring out of a book

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