There are dozens of oxymorons in William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. An oxymoron is a rhetorical device that combines two words that appear contradictory. In his plays, William Shakespeare frequently employs oxymorons to reveal conflicting or complex emotions in his characters. Here are some of the more famous examples from the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
When Benvolio advises Romeo to abort his relationship with Rosalind, Romeo melodramatically replies,
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate . . .
Shakespeare’s use of oxymoron here reveals the raging infatuation Romeo feels for his crush. The strength of Romeo’s infatuation is emphasized by pairing hate, one of the strongest negative emotions, with the positive emotion of love.
Later, when Romeo is rejected by Rosalind, he again uses several back to back oxymorons to express his tortured emotional state.
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep that is not what it is!
One final example of oxymoron is uttered by Juliet in Act III when she learns that Romeo has killed her cousin Tybalt. Attempting to process the fact that the man she loves has murdered a family member, she exclaims,
A damnèd saint, an honorable villain!
Juliet uses oxymoron to mirror her conflicting emotions of sadness and anger at the death of her cousin and the love she feels for Romeo. In this moment of distress, Juliet cannot decide whether to curse or honor her lover, nor can she determine whether Romeo is a saint or a villain.
These are just a few of the oxymorons in Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet. Good luck finding more for yourself as you study the play!