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
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
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
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.