The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Figurative Language Study Guide


Simile:  A simile is a language device that compares two ideas. Usually one idea tends to be concrete while the other is abstract.  A simile points out the comparison using like or as.


  1. While Romeo watches Juliet on her balcony (II.ii) he supposes that her eyes are stars and how the would affect the appearance of her face.

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars

As daylight doth a lamp…

  1. As Romeo (II.ii) continues to watch Juliet from afar and hears her sigh:

O, speak again, bright angel!  For thou art

As glorious to this night, being o’er my head

As is a winged messenger of heaven

3.       Juliet (II.ii) reflecting upon having fallen in love with Romeo, her family’s enemy:

What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet.

  1. Juliet (II.ii) speaking to Romeo, wishing she could profess her love to him attain and again:

My bounty is as boundless as the sea,

My love as deep; the more I give to thee,

The more I have to give.

  1. Friar Lawrence (III.iii) speaking about the dawn:

And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels

For forth day’s path…


Metaphor:  The metaphor also compares two ideas—one concrete and one abstract.  Where a simile points out the comparison using like or as, a metaphor makes the comparison directly.  Consider these examples of the same comparison stated as both similes and metaphors:


Simile:            Sam is as hungry as a bear.

Metaphor:    When Sam is hungry, he’s a real bear.


Simile:              Angel runs like the wind.

Metaphor:            Angel breezed across the finish line.


Simile:              The Barbarian ate like a pig.

Metaphor:    The Barbarian is a real pig when he eats.


Now consider these examples of metaphors from the play:

  1. Juliet (Act III, scene ii)  wanting night to come, so she can be with Romeo:

      Come, civil night

Thou sober suited matron, all in black.

  1. Juliet (Act III, scene ii) describing Romeo’s face to her Nurse:

Upon his brow shame is ashamed to sit

For ‘tis a throne where honor may be.

  1. Romeo (Act III, scene iii) reflects to Friar Lawrence upon the hellish punishment of banishment from Verona:

Heaven is here,

Where Juliet lives.

  1. Romeo (Act III, scene iii) continues to reflect upon his banishment:

Flies may do this, but I must fly.

                        They are freemen, but I am banished.

  1. Friar Lawrence (Act III, scene iii) tries to comfort Romeo:

I’ll give thee armor to keep off the word (banishment);

Adversity’s sweet milk, philosophy.

  1. Friar Lawrence (Act III, scene iii) comforting Romeo.

The law, that threatened death, becomes thy friend

And turns it to exile.

  1. Lord Capulet (Act III, scene v) comments upon Juliet’s eyes that are red from crying:

For still thy eyes, which I may call the sea,

                        Do ebb and flow with tears


Apostrophe:  You’re walking down the hallway after school and you pass a classmate.  You turn and call out, Kim, could I speak to you?”  Kim doesn’t hear you and continues on her way.  You mutter, “That’s O.K., Kim, it wasn’t very important anyway.”

            In the first line of dialogue, you addressed Kim directly.  In the second, although Kim was no longer within hearing, you pretended she was present and aired your feelings.

            Poets also use the device of having a character speak to a person or an abstract idea even though the person or idea isn’t or can’t be present.  This particular device is called apostrophe.  Consider the following examples:


                                    Death, be not proud


                                    Twinkle, twinkle little star,

                                    How I wonder what you are.

            In the first example, the speaker addresses Death and tells it not to be proud.  This suggests that the speaker doesn’t fear death. The nursery rhyme in the second example lets the speaker address a star and contemplate it.


DIRECTIONS:  The following passages from Acts I-V are examples of apostrophe. Decide what the apostrophe suggests about the speaker’s attitude towards the absent person.


  1. Mercutio (Act II, scene i)

Romeo! Humors! Madman! Passion! Lover!                        _______________

Appear thou in the likeness of a sign:                        _______________

Speak but one rhyme and I am satisfied                        _______________

  1. Romeo (Act II, scene ii)

She speaks,                                    _______________

O, speak again, bright angel!                                                _______________

  1. Juliet (Act II, scene ii)

O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?            _______________

Deny thy father and refuse thy name.                        _______________

  1. Romeo Act III, scene i) after Tybalt kills Mercutio:

O sweet Juliet                        _______________

Thy beauty hath made me effeminate                        _______________

And in my temper sof’ned valor’s steel!                        _______________

  1. Nurse (Act III, scene iii):

O, Tybalt, Tybalt, the best friend I had!                        _______________

O courteous Tybalt! Honest gentleman!                        _______________

  1. Juliet (Act III, scene v)

Of Fortune, Fortune! All men call thee fickle            _______________



  1. Capulet (Act IV, scene v)

O child, O child!  My soul and not my child!            _______________

  1. Romeo (Act V, scene i)                                                          _______________

Then I defy you, stars!                                                _______________

  1. Romeo (Act V, scene ii)

Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight                        ______________

Personification:  One evening you are watching television and your family dog is dozing on the floor, feet outstretched.  The dog’s feet begin to move, and it barks softly but remains asleep.  Your parents smile and point out that the dog is dreaming about chasing cars.

            In the middle of your mathematics exam, the batteries go dead on your calculator.  You put it away in disgust saying, “This machine is out to get me.” You’ve probably heard someone say “Love is blind.”  The cliché suggests anyone who is in love is unable to see his or her lover’s faults.

            In each of the examples people have given human qualities to non-human things.  From the evidence of watching the dog, we presume that the dog is dreaming.  Similarly, the episode with the calculator presumes that the machine will react like human beings; the calculator wants revenge.  In literature, authors often give human qualities to non-human things.  This technique is called personification.


  1. Lord Capulet (Act I, scene ii) speaking about the coming of spring.

When well appareled April on the heel

Of limping Winter treads

  1. Romeo (Act II, scene ii) speaking of Juliet:

Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon

  1. Friar Lawrence (Act II, scene iii) describing the sun rise:

The grey-eyed morn smiles on frowning night,

Check’ring the Eastern clouds with streaks of light.

  1. Friar Lawrence (Act III, scene iii) comforting Romeo who has been banished:

Happiness courts thee in her best array.

  1. Romeo (Act III, scene v) describes sunrise to Juliet before he leaves her:

Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day

Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

  1. Lord Capulet (Act IV, scene v) commenting upon Juliet’s “death”:

Death is my son-in-law, Death is my heir.

  1. Friar Lawrence (Act IV, scene v) trying to console Lord and Lady Capulet:

For though fond nature bids us all lament

Yet nature’s tears are reason’s merriment.




            A soliloquy is a speech in which a character; alone on stage, expresses his or her thoughts to the audience.  An aside is a remark made to the audience, unheard by the other characters.  There are two differences between these devices.  First a soliloquy is usually two differences between these devices.  First, a soliloquy is usually length; an aside is brief.  Second, a soliloquy is usually spoken when no other characters are present; an aside is delivered with other characters present but unable to hear.  Both devices, however, let the audience know what a character is really thinking or feeling.

            Similar to a soliloquy is a monologue, which is a lengthy speech. Unlike a soliloquy, however, a monologue is addressed to other characters, not to the audience.




[Enter FRIAR LAWRENCE alone, with a basket.]


FRIAR:  The gray-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,

Check’ring the eastern clouds with streaks of light;

And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels

From forth day’s path and Titan’s burning wheels.

Now, ere the sun advance his burning eye

The day to cheer and night’s dank dew to dry.


(This soliloquy also contains other figurative devices.  “Titan’s burning wheel”  refers to Greek mythology.  Such a reference is called a “Classical reference” since anything Greek is termed “Classical” in literature.   Another figurative device is the alliteration  “dank dew to dry.”  The repetition of the initial letter “d” brings a poetry to the line.


Act III, Scene ii

[Enter JULIET alone.]

            JULIET.  Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds,

            Toward Phaeton would whip you to the west

            And bring I cloudy night immediately.

            Spread thy close curtain, love-performing night,

            That runaway’s eyes may wink, and Romeo

                        Leap to these arms untalked or and unseen….


(This soliloquy has a second Classical reference in referring to “Phaeton.” What is more, there is another alliteration in the words “would whip you to the west” with the “w” being repeated.)


[Enter Prince Escalus, with his Train.]

PRINCE.  Rebellious subject, enemies to peace,

Profaners of this neighbor-stained steel—

Will they not hear?  What, ho!  You men, you beasts,

That quench the fire of your pernicious rage

With purple fountains issuing from your veins! . . .


Act I, Scene iv

The famous “I dreamt a dream”

Mercutio.  O, then I see Queen Mab hat been with you.

She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes

In shape no bigger than an agate stone

On the forefinger of an alderman.

Drawn with a team of little atomies,

Over men’s noses as they lie asleep:

Her wagon spokes made of long spinners’ legs,

The cover, of the wings of grasshoppers:

Her traces, of the smallest spider web;

Her collars, fo the moonshine’s wat’ry beam;

Her whip, of cricket’s bone; the lash, of film;

Her wagoner, a small gray-coated gnat.

Not half so big as a round little worm

Pricked from the lazy finger of a maid;

Her chariot is an empty hazelnut…”





Romeo (Act II, scene ii) Romeo overhears Juliet speaks at the beginning of the balcony scene.


ROMEO. [Aside] Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?


Act IV, Scene I


Friar and Paris are discussing his upcoming marriage to Juliet


FRIAR. [Aside}  I would I knew not why it should be slowed—

Look, sir, here comes the lady toward my cell.


Questions to contemplate. 


What is a sonnet?  How many lines long?  What is the difference between an Italian sonnet and a Shakespearean sonnet?  What is meant by the term “iambic pentameter”?


How many people die in the play?


How does the Friar’s complicated scheme for Romeo and Juliet fail?


How does Juliet find herself entirely alone?  Everyone deserts her in the end; how does this happen?


Is Romeo truly “Fortune’s Fool”?