Romeo and Juliet Home Page Shakespeare's England The Story Making Connections to the Arts Lessons [side curve]

Things to Think About
Things to Think About
The Art of Translation
The Art of Writing
The Complete Romeo and Juliet (outside link)

The Art of Writing: Literary Devices

Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet has an edge-of-the-seat plot full of murder, love, feuding, and betrayal. Driving this tragic play forward is the fast-paced, witty, and convoluted dialogue of the script. Effectively capturing the audience's attention, Shakespeare has used a number of important literary devices, which serve to amuse, guide, and hypnotize the viewer of this production.


A pun is a joke based on the use of a word, or more than one word, that has more than one meaning but the same sound. Mercutio and Romeo often exchange puns with one another in the play:

Mercutio--"Nay, gentle Romeo, we must have you dance."

Romeo--"Not I, believe me. You have dancing shoes / With nimble soles; I have a soul of lead…"(I iv 13-5)

Romeo has used the word "sole" when referring to Mercutio's shoes, then made a pun by referring to his own "soul."


Foreshadowing describes when a piece of dialogue or action in a work refers to events that will happen later in the story even though the characters have no prior knowledge such events will occur. In the following quote, Benvolio is consoling Romeo on his loss regarding Rosaline:

Benvolio--"Take thou some new infection to thy eye, / And the rank poison of the old will die" (I ii 49-50)

Here Benvolio unknowingly foreshadows the fact that as soon as Romeo sees Juliet, the "new infection," the "rank poison" of Rosaline dies and he can think only of his new Capulet love.


A metaphor is a comparison in which an object or person is directly likened to something else that could be completely unrelated. The most famous metaphor in Romeo and Juliet is Romeo's monologue outside the Capulet orchard:

Romeo--"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." (II ii 2-3)

Here, Juliet is metaphorically compared to the sun despite the fact that she has nothing physically in common with a glowing star hundreds of thousands of miles away.


Personification occurs when an inanimate object or concept is given the qualities of a person or animal. This is exemplified when Juliet is waiting for her lover, Romeo, to come to her windowsill in the Capulet orchard.

Juliet--"For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night / Whiter than new snow on a raven's back. / Come, gentle night, come, loving, black-brow'd night" (III ii 18-20)

Obviously, the night does not have wings, nor does it have a brow, but giving it these qualities adds a mystique to Juliet's monologue and a poetic quality to the language.


An oxymoron describes when two juxtaposed words have opposing or very diverse meanings. In the following quotation, Juliet has just learned that Romeo murdered her cousin, Tybalt, and she is venting her feelings of anger at her lover for hurting her family.

Juliet--"Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!" (III ii 77)

When Juliet refers to Romeo as a "beautiful tyrant," she is expressing an oxymoron because the acts of a tyrant will rarely be referred to as beautiful.


A paradox is a statement or situation with seemingly contradictory or incompatible components. On closer examination, however, the combination of these components is indeed appropriate. For example, see how Juliet describes Romeo in the following quote:

Juliet--"O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!" (III ii 75)

While Juliet knows that Romeo is not a serpent nor does he have a face full of flowers, her use of these descriptions show how paradoxically he is her lover and the murderer of her cousin at the same time.