In The Shadows: Examining Light And Dark Imagery In "Romeo And Juliet"

1830 words - 7 pages

John Steinbeck once said “It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone”. In order to appreciate something for all that it truly is, one must learn to compare it to its opposite. These opposites both complement each other and bring out the worst in one another. Moreover, they also produce energy through the tension they create. This is true of opposition everywhere, literature included. Authors often make use of it, thus making their works more interesting and relatable. In the play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare uses light and dark imagery to create a tension that mirrors the energy we encounter in our everyday lives. In particular, this energy is found in setting, characterization, and the theme of love.

All of the scenes in the play take place in either the light of day or the darkness of night. Although this may seem obvious, the opposition between these settings plays an important role in conveying the mood of both characters and events. Traditionally, the brightness of sunlight is used to represent hope and joy. Nevertheless, Shakespeare often uses the light of day to create irony by setting a dark ambience. In the opening scene of Act 1, Lady Montague is looking for her son. When Benvolio says that he saw him walking towards the woods, Montague responds with,“Many a morning hath he there been seen. / With tears augmenting the fresh morning’s dew” (1.1.128-129). Montague is stating that Romeo is crying in the forest, as he does most mornings. This relates his sadness to daybreak, and establishes that the brightness of day often carries a solemn feeling. Similarly, it creates irony in the fact that although the setting is bright and joyful, Romeo’s mood is somber. The significance of this is that in spite of the fact that sunlight is frequently seen as a sign of optimism, the rays of the sun can be jarring and unforgiving. Furthermore, darkness represents a time when the two lovers can safely be together, without having to worry about being seen. In Act 3 Scene 2, Juliet is longing to see Romeo, which she can only do at night. She expresses her yearning desire to be with him through a soliloquy laced with light imagery, during which she says, “As Phaeton would whip you to the west, and bring cloudy night immediately” (3.2.3-4). As Juliet is impatiently waiting for the close of day, she wishes for a “cloudy night”. This implies that she wants the evening to be as dark as possible, rendering their meeting more secretive. She is aware that Romeo would be killed if he were seen, so she links darkness with the privacy needed for them to spend time together. After the sun sets, it is often difficult to see all that is visible in broad daylight. Although this may be good, like in Romeo and Juliet’s case, there are times in our lives where seeing what is hidden by shadows could be important. In literature, darkness is frequently linked with feelings of melancholy. On the contrary, in Romeo and...

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