Why does Shakespeare use religious metaphors when Romeo and Juliet first speak?

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When Romeo first sees Juliet at the Capulet's feast in act 1, scene 5, his first words about her carry religious connotations.

ROMEO. O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear—
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night. (1.5.46-55, emphasis mine)

Even Tybalt

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mattwuerch | Student

Shakespeare uses religious metaphors throughout Romeo and Juliet to convey the "pureness" of the love Romeo and Juliet have for each other. Specifically, the playwright utilizes religious metaphors to provide his audience with the emotional context in which Romeo and Juliet's feelings for each other is developed.

A particularly strong example of Shakespeare's use of religious metaphors in the conversations between Romeo and Juliet occurs in Act II, Scene II of the play. In this scene, Romeo speaks to Juliet, who is standing on a balcony above him, saying, "Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized; / Henceforth I never will be Romeo." In these lines, Shakespeare uses religious metaphor to emphasize the strong love Romeo feels for Juliet. By demonstrating his love in religious terminology, it is as if Romeo is saying to Juliet, "I can never be the same person after having fallen in love with you." Additionally, it is important to note who Shakespeare's audience was at the time he wrote the play.

In 16th century England, day-to-day life was structured around Christian values, which meant his audience would have responded strongly to the religious metaphors in the text. Shakespeare swiftly demonstrates the importance of Christian values and the intensity of the love shared between the two main characters, when Romeo (speaking about Juliet) states, "O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art / As glorious to this night, being o'er my head / As is a winged messenger of heaven." By likening Juliet to a "bright angel," Shakespeare is providing his audience the terminology through which a strongly Christian audience measures the love the two titular characters have for each other.

In conclusion, the text makes clear the reason for which Shakespeare uses the religious metaphors to demonstrate the intensity of Romeo and Juliet's love: To relate to his Christian audience and, by doing so, demonstrate the "pureness" of their love, which surpasses the social and familial boundaries standing between Romeo and Juliet.