Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, is perhaps the most beautiful love story ever written. The two lovers in this play, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet, have become widely known for their brightly magical but tragically ended love. Throughout the play, William Shakespeare used light and dark imagery to compare the romance between Romeo and Juliet. This imagery is used continuously throughout the play, and each use has a slightly different meaning. The light and dark imagery plays an important role in creating mood, symbolizing love, and foreshadowing action and fate.
Shakespeare first used light and dark imagery during the Capulet ball (Act I, Scene 5), when Romeo and Juliet fall in love with each other across the dance floor. Romeo says,
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiops ear
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady oer her fellows shows.
When Romeo sees Juliet for the first time, her stunning beauty amazes him. Romeo describes Juliet as a source of light, like a star, in the darkness. He also compares her to a bright jewel against the dark skin of an Ethiopian and a white snowy dove mixed with crows. The two lovers will continue to provide this enchanting light for one other during the course of the play.
The biggest and most profound use of light and dark imagery occurs in the famous balcony scene (Act II, Scene 2). This scene, combined with the imagery, describes the flourishing romance between the two lovers. Romeo states,
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick with grief that thou her maid art far more fair than she.
As Romeo stands in the shadows, he looks upwards at Juliets balcony and notices a light breaking through the window. Romeo then compares Juliet to the sun, asking the sun to rise and kill the envious moon. Ironically, Romeo had previously compared Rosaline to Diana, the goddess of the moon. This quote represents that Juliet, the sun, has outshone the moon, Rosaline. In addition, Juliets brightness saves Romeo from his dark troubles with Rosaline. Also, as Romeo steps from the moonlit darkness into the light from Juliets balcony, he has left behind his dark, dramatic problems and woes over Rosaline and moved toward a more genuine and mature love with Juliet.
Furthermore, the well-known balcony scene takes place in the dark of night. This symbolism is used repeatedly in the play, and represents many aspects of the love story. First, the balcony scene illustrates the way Romeo and Juliets love exists in a peaceful, secretive, and darker world. This is unlike their feuding families, who often violently fight in daylight in the streets of Verona for all citizens to see. Secondly, throughout the play, Romeo and Juliets love flourishes at night, such as during the balcony scene, their agreement to marriage, the daytime marriage in the darkness of Friar Lawrences cell, their honeymoon night, and, eventually, their deaths.
This dark mysterious night setting symbolizes an illusion to the forbidden nature of their relationship. Many times in the play, dawn or daylight becomes their enemy, forcing the two to separate, such as after their honeymoon night. As the night ends and dawn breaks the day after their honeymoon, the two are forced to part to avoid being discovered by the Capulet kinsmen. Romeo and Juliet fear that they might be exposed, thereby forcing their permanent separation.
Romeo and Juliet often compare one another to the sun in the sky or bright stars in the night sky. even though light has become their enemy. In Act II, Scene 2, for example, Romeo states, Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, having some business, do entreat her eyes to twinkle in their spheres till they return. What if her eyes were there, they in her head? The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars as daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven would through the airy region stream so bright that birds would sing and think it were not night. Also, in Act III, Scene 2, Juliet speaks of Romeo and the night:
Come, gentle night; come, Romeo, come; thou day and night;
For thou wilt lie upon the wings of night.
Whiter than new snow on a ravens back.
Come gentle night; come, loving, black-browed night;
Give me my Romeo; and, when he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
This comparison to the stars represents the timeless and rare quality of Romeo and Juliets love for one another, as well as the uniqueness of the light that the two give each other. Shakespeare continuously compares the lovers to the stars in the sky to reinforce the theme that the two are star crossd lovers who will only truly be united in death.
The last scene of the play, appropriately, takes place in the dark of night at the Capulet tomb. Previously in the play, Romeo and Juliets relationship flourished at night, and each provided the other with warming light. In his final speech (Act IV, Scene 3) Romeo once again uses light and dark imagery to describe Juliet as she acts as source of light in the darkness of tomb. Romeo says, For here lies Juliet, and her beauty makes this vault a feasting presence full of light.
Even though this scene is the most tragic in the play, such images of light seem to represent finding a joy. This makes the ending of Romeo and Juliets bright love in darkness much more dramatic. However, these images of brightness also suggest a spiritual and joyful light that may surround the couple beyond death.