Personification In Romeo And Juliet

Identify three examples of personification in Romeo and Juliet (including the act and scene number).

Examples of personification in Romeo and Juliet include Juliet's personification of death when she says, “Death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead” (3.2). Love itself, a central theme of the play, is personified as “so gentle in his view” but “so tyrannous and rough in proof” (1.1). Personification is the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman things, and there are many excellent examples of personification in Romeo and Juliet.

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In act 4, scene 5 of Romeo and Juliet, and also in act 5, scene 3, Shakespeare personifies death. For example, in act 4, scene 5, when Juliet's parents discover her apparently dead body, her father exclaims that "Death...hath ta'en her hence to make me wail." Death is personified here (as indicated by the capital D at the beginning of the word) to suggest that death is an antagonist, with a will of its own. The personification of death suggests that Lord Capulet feels his daughter's supposed death as a kind of personal attack.

Later in the same scene Lord Capulet says that "Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir...all is Death's." His meaning here is that he feels closely and inextricably tied to death. When he says that "Death is my son-in-law," he means that "Death" has, in a sense, married his daughter. In other words, "Death" has coupled, or joined permanently, with his daughter. When he says that "Death is my heir" and that "all is Death's," he means that "Death" shall take, or perhaps has already taken, everything from him.

In act 5, scene 3, death is personified again, but this time by Romeo. Romeo, upon seeing what he thinks is Juliet's dead body, exclaims that "Death...hath suck'd the honey of (Juliet's) breath." "Death" is here personified to suggest that it is some sort of vampiric, parasitical creature, which has "suck'd" the life out of Juliet. By personifying death, Romeo perhaps is able to make more sense of the sudden shock of Juliet's apparent death. It is easier to have somebody to blame and somebody to direct his anger towards than it is to accept that the love of his life has simply died. It is probably for the same reason that Juliet's father personifies death in act 4, scene 5.

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Personification is the humanizing of an inanimate object. In other words, it is the act of giving human traits to non-human things. Shakespeare was a master of this type of figurative language, and as such, his plays are absolutely riddled with personification.

It's difficult to choose just 3 examples of personification from "Romeo and Juliet;" however, there are a few extraordinary uses of it.

During the fight scene in the opening act, Prince Escalus admonishes the families for their constant fighting in the streets:

Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word

By thee, Old Capulet, and Montague,

Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets, (Act 1, scene I, lines 80-82).

In the same speech, Prince continues to speak figuratively, yet convincingly, when he warns (and foreshadows):

If ever you disturb our streets again,

Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace, (lines 87-88).

Later in Act I, scene I., Romeo laments to his cousin, Benvolio, about his unrequited love sickness. Love itself is personified in many different ways. Benvolio begins with:

Alas that love, so gentle in his view,

Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof! (lines 160-161).

To which Romeo responds:

Alas that love, whose view is muffled still,

Should without eyes see pathways to his will (lines 162-163).

His personified discussion continues through a string of juxtapositions:

Why then, O brawling love, O loving hate,

O anything, of nothing first create!

O heavy lightness, serious vanity,

Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms,

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health,

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is! (lines 167-172).

Still later in Act I, scene II, Capulet and Paris have a discussion during which Capulet tries to convince Paris that his daughter is too young for marriage, and she is his only daughter, "Earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she," (line 14). He goes on to explain that he is hosting a party that evening and invites Paris to attend and take stock of the other beautiful girls who will be in attendance.

At my poor house look to behold this night

Earth-treading stars that make dark heaven light.

Such comfort as do lusty young men feel

When well-appareled April on the heel

Of limping Winter treads, even such delight

Among fresh fennel buds shall you this night

Inherit at my house, (lines 24-30).

Though these examples are early in the play, they illustrate Shakespeare's use of personification to bring the language to life.



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Virtually a poem itself--it contains two sonnets--as it is written completely in iambic pentameter, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is virtually overflowing with figurative language. 

  • In his bemoaning of his loss of Rosaline, amid the oxymorons Romeo employs personification with the phrase "still-waking sleep." (1.1)
  • Further, as he continues to speak of Rosaline, Romeo observes that as she goes into the nunnery, she will not "bide the encounter of assailing eyes,/Nor ope her lap to saint-seducing gold." (1.1.)
  • Later, when Lady Capulet broaches the subject of marriage to Paris, Shakespeare employs an extended metaphor in which Paris is compared to a book. Within this speech, there is personification in the line "And find delight writ there with beauty's pen." (1.4)
  • Of course, the most poetic scene is that of Romeo in Juliet's orchard in Act II. In one of the plays many light/dark images, Romeo speaks of the night and the day wtih images of the moon and the sun, which he personifies with this line: "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon." (2.2)
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In Act II, scene iii the friar says in lines 1-2

The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light

The morning can't smile, that's a human trait.

In the same scene, the friar again uses personification giving care the ability to use eyes, and fill a place to reside:

Care keeps his watch in every old man's eye,
And where care lodges, sleep will never lie;

Lastly, In Act III, scene ii near the end, Juliet asks death to take her "maidenhead" (virginity). This is quite the personification:

Come, cords, come, nurse; I'll to my wedding-bed;
And death, not Romeo, take my maidenhead!

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