What are some oxymorons in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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There are multiple oxymorons in Romeo and Juliet. In Romeo’s speech in the very first scene, he refers to “brawling love,” which is an oxymoron as fighting and loving are opposite actions. Other oxymorons in this speech include “heavy lightness” and “loving hate.”


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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!

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Tamara K. H. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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One good place to start finding oxymorons in Romeo and Juliet is Romeo's first longer speech in the very first scene.

One example is "brawling love." While it may be true that lover's quarrels can be frequent, fighting, or brawling is a contradiction of love. Likewise, there is a contradiction in the phrase "loving hate." Hatred is the exact opposite of love, therefore the combined term is an oxymoron.

Also in this speech, another example of an oxymoron is "heavy lightness." Lightness cannot be both heavy and light. Romeo is using this phrase to define his interpretation of love and his definition continues with the oxymoron "misshapen chaos." Chaos has no shape; it is a state of utter confusion and disorder, therefore chaos cannot be "misshapen." To be misshapen is to be "badly shaped" or "deformed" (Dictionary.com).

Another good place to find oxymorons is in Act 3, Scene 2, when Juliet first learns that Romeo has killed Tybalt. Juliet refers to Romeo as a "fiend angelical!" A fiend is another word for Satan or the devil, or a cruel, wicked person, while angelical is an adjective describing one who is like an angel, or virtuous. A fiend cannot also be an angel, therefore the phrase is an oxymoron.

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taras1 | Student

Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,
O anything, from nothing first create,
O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms,
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.

Act 1. Scene 1. 175-182

Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow,

Act 2. Scene 2. 184

Beautiful tyrant! fiond angelical!
Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!

Act 3. Scene 2. 75-76

A damned saint, an honourable villain!

Act 3. Scene 2. 79.

Thats all I can find. You can split the first one up into two since it is so long. Good luck!

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