Light and Dark Imagery in Romeo and Juliet
Light and dark imagery manifests in the Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.
Shakespeare repeats various light and dark images, such as the contrast of night and day
birds, and death and life. There is light and dark imagery present throughout the famous
balcony scene. Misfortune and calamity from the love they share is truly a "plague on
both their houses".
At the start of the play, Montague connects Romeo with darkness and night.
Montague says,
"Many a morning hath he there been seen / With tears augmenting the
fresh morning's dew, / Adding to clouds and more clouds with his deep
sighs; / But all so soon as the all- cheering sun / Should in the farthest east
began to draw / The shady curtains from Aurora's bed, / Away from light
steals home my heavy son / And private in his chamber pens himself, /
Shuts up his windows, locks fair daylight out, / And makes himself an
artificial night" (Rom. I i ).
In this passage Montague is explaining to his wife and Benvolio that when morning
comes and the sun rises, Romeo shuts the windows so no light comes in and makes an
"artificial night." At this point in the play they don't know why Romeo is doing this.
The light and dark imagery comes into powerful focus with Mercutio's speech on
Queen Mab (Hamiliton 60 ). Mercutio implies Queen Mab is the "instigator of dreams"
(Pettet 502). He connects this idea by saying, "And in this state she gallops night by
night, through lovers brains and then they think of love" ( Rom. I. iv. ). "Mercutio takes
what we would call a very Freudain approach to dreams: they are primarily wish-
fulfilment fantisies.
At the Capulet feast light and dark imagery is present in Romeo's first entranced
vision of Juliet (Pettet 502). Romeo reply's, "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
/ It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night / Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear... " (
Rom. I. v. ). Romeo continues by comparing Juliet to "a snowy dove trooping with
crows" ( Rom. I. v. ). A luminosity of imagery completely fills this scene (Pettet 502).
There is a light and dark imagery depicted in the famous balcony scene. When
Romeo says, "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and
Juliet is the sun..." he shows an example of this. In the dark night, day breaks and
through a window the sun (Juliet) rises in the east. From the prologue the reader knows
that death is connected with the love they share. On the other hand, the light that Juliet
represents is spiritual, which could similarly be related to the love they share. He repeats
such imagery several times. The darkness of night is utterly negated in the (Pettet 502).
Romeo portrays this negation by saying, " O, speak again, bright angel, for though art /
As glorious to this night, being o'er my head, / As is a winged messenger from heaven
unto the white-upturned wondering eyes of mortals..." (Rom. II. ii. ). The dark-
dispersing sunlight is discussed several times. For example, when Juliet says, "dove's
herald's should be thoughts, which ten times faster glide than the sun's beams driving
back shadows over lour'ing hills" ( Rom. II. v. ).
A "black fate" suddenly overshadows the bright day of love and sunshine (Pettet
502). Juliet's aubade contrasts Romeo's speech at the begining of the balcony scene. As
opposed to being flooded with light images, Juliet fills her soliloquy with morbid images
of darkness. She evokes such drab, somber, and dismal images by saying, "Come civil
night... with thy black mantle...Bring cloudy night immediately... Come, gentle night,
come loving, black-browed night" ( Rom. III. ii. ). Hamiltion believes that the character
who makes the most impressive entrances in this play is a character we never see, the sun
(58).
In Romeo and Juliet, the bird of darkness, the nightingale, symbolizes the desire
of the lovers to remain with each other. To contrast the nightingale there is the lark, or
the bird of dawn, which represents the need to preserve their safety. Earlier, in Juliet's
confusion, she refers to Romeo as a "dove-feathered raven". This metaphor suggests that
Romeo is not who he appears to be. Throughout the play Juliet is referred to as the
"swan" among "crows". Romeo means that Juliet stood out in a crowd of people. He
was mezmorized by her beauty, and she