What are some oxymorons used in Act III of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?
Oxymoron phrases are often constructed with an adjective and a noun, such as princely fool, painful jest, tearful laughter, although not always, since Juliet says in III.ii "serpent heart" to mean false heart or false love. These, like price fool are noun phrases, with a noun modifying a second noun. Sentences containing an oxymoron have contradictory words within different parts of the same sentence, for example (this example actually presents two oxymoroa, one associated with night and one with fire): e.g., The pitch night became glaring brightness in the shadow of the dancing fire.
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem'st,
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
Romeo, come forth; come forth, thou fearful man:
Affliction is enamour'd of thy parts,
And thou art wedded to calamity. [...]
There on the ground, with his own tears made drunk
In these oxymoron-laced lines, Friar Laurence is evincing the emotion of dismay; his meaning is in his intent to show Romeo (who is listening to Laurence talk with Nurse) a true picture of himself in the hope of bringing him to a state of sensible thought; he wants Romeo to stop seeing the horrible side of events and instead see the happy side (in fact, Laurence virtually quotes what Juliet says to herself to change her focus from Tybalt's death to Romeo's life). Laurence says that "affliction" (pain and suffering) is in love with Romeo. This oxymoron employs the contradictory ideas of pain and love to describe Romeo's state. He then says that Romeo is married to "calamity" (a terrible and damaging event) to further identify Romeo's condition by employing the ironic and contradictory ideas of marriage (as he has just married Juliet) and disaster. Laurence then describes Romeo's physical state by using the contradictory ideas of tearful sorrow and drunkenness to say that Romeo is lying on the floor, as he would be if passed out drunk, crying unrelentlingly over his sorrows; of course tears cannot make drunk, a contradiction that adds significantly to the oxymoron.
Some of the best oxymorons in Act 3 our found in Scene 2, when Juliet learns that Romeo has killed Tybalt and has been banished. Juliet shows just how much she feels she has been deceived by Romeo through calling him all sorts of contrary opposites.
One oxymoron she refers to Romeo as is "beautiful tyrant." A tyrant is an oppressive dictator who pays no heed to justice. Since tyrants oppress their people, tyrants cannot be considered beautiful.
Another is "fiend angelical." A fiend is the devil or an extremely "cruel" and "wicked person" ("Fiend," Dictionary.com). The word angelical refers to an angel, or a very good and virtuous person. Therefore, a "fiend" cannot also be "angelical."
A third oxymoron is "Dove-feather'd raven." Dove's are typically white, while ravens are black. Therefore a raven cannot be white, or "dove-feather'd." Also, since doves are characteristically considered beautiful, while ravens are plain, ugly, or even scary, they are contradictory images. The images contrast what Juliet first perceived as Romeo's beauty to what she now believes is his ugly soul.
Oxymorons are apparently contradictions, but there is often some deeper relationship that makes them true.
After the Nurse returns from obtaining the rope ladder for Romeo to come and visit Juliet under the cover of night, she is extremely distraught, crying "he's dead, he's dead." Of course, in another dramatic instance of miscommunication, Juliet believes that the Nurse alludes to Romeo and she, too, becomes extremely upset. Finally, the Nurse reveals that Romeo has slain Tybalt and he is now banished from Verona. In reaction, Juliet speaks, using several oxymorons:
- "wolfish-ravening lamb"
- "Despised substance of divinest show"
- "A damned saint"
- "an honourable villain"
While these four oxymorons are apparently contradictions, there is much truth in them that Juliet feels in her conflicted state of mind. For, Romeo was a "lamb" to her before he killed Tybalt in a "wolfish" manner; he was "divinest show to him" before this murder, but now he is despised by her family; he was like a saint to her, but now he is damned to banishment; he is honorable in defending his friend, but a villain to the Capulet family.