The Symbolism of Contracting Light and Darkness in Romeo and Juliet
The Bible states “God saw light was good, and he separated the light from darkness.” Though light and dark are separated in Romeo in Juliet, they have entirely different connotations. The presence of light turns the characters belligerent, while darkness pacifies them.
Light imagery indicates aggressiveness, impatience, and danger. For example, when Friar Lawrence speaks on Romeo and Juliet’s love, he advises, “These violent delights have violent ends / And in their triumph die, like fire and powder, / Which, as they kiss, consume” (2.6.9-10). Fire, a form of light imagery, personifies the amorous passion that Romeo and Juliet mutually share. Just as fire and gunpowder combust when mixed, the irrational feelings of the lovers reach new plateaus whenever they kiss. Friar Lawrence believes that this type of love is particularly dangerous, as it is neither stable nor particularly successful in the long run. In addition, impatiently waiting for the sun to set, Juliet proclaims, “Gallop apace, you fiery footed steeds, / Towards Phoebus lodging! Such a wagoner / As Phaeton would whip you to the west” (3.2.1-3). Fiery-footed steeds, Phoebus, and Phaeton all refer to the common Greek myth in which every day, Phaeton, the god of the sun, would ride his chariot of flaming horses from one end of the sky to the other. The quote epitomizes Juliet’s impatience for day to end, as she implores Phaeton to whip his horses faster so that the sun can set more quickly. Juliet despises the heat and loneliness she feels during the day, and recognizes that she only feels true happiness in the presence of night. Furthermore, after sleeping with Juliet, right before leaving in the morning, Romeo states ominously, “More light and light – more dark and dark our woes!” (3.5.36). In daytime, Romeo and Juliet are incapable of uniting, leaving each of them feeling grim. Light imagery characterizes the danger that could result in their meeting. The word “dark,” used figuratively, foreshadows a sinister ending to Romeo and Juliet’s love story. Various symbols of light represent intense emotion within the characters, and it is the corresponding actions to these impulses which allow the plot to twist so frequently throughout the play.
Darkness provides the lovers with comfort, intimacy, and love. Further, aptly speaking about Romeo’s love after the Capulet party, Benvolio asserts, “To be consorted with the humorous night. / Blind is his love and best befits the dark.” (2.1.33-34). Romeo’s heedless love to Rosaline best fits the night because it is only in the all-covering envelope of darkness that he can express his true love without fear of repercussion. The dark, symbolizing comfort, allows Romeo to find solace within him and emancipate the anxiety and stress he has carried throughout his love affair with Rosaline. Moreover, as Juliet anticipates Romeo’s arrival at night, she imagines, “Spread thy close curtain, love performing night, / That runaway eyes may wink, and Romeo / Leap to these arms untalk’d of and unseen” (3.2.5-7). Romeo and Juliet, both runaways in their own right, can only show their true nature and make love after dark. Closing the curtain from the outside world brings anonymity, and removes them from the melancholy of the day. This allows Romeo and Juliet to perform consummation on their wedding night to signify the start of what they ironically believe will become a long, prosperous marriage. Furthermore, in the same soliloquy, Juliet adds, “Come civil night, / Thou sober-suited matron, all in black, / And learn me how to lose a winning match” (3.2.11-13). Ironically, Juliet requests the night, depicted as a widow dressed in black, to teach her how to lose her virginity. Dark imagery is evident in her description of the maiden of night but also in the tone of her voice; Juliet speaks to it as if it is her friend. Darkness, often misunderstood as an omen of death, is actually a boon for Romeo and Juliet, as it is only in the moon’s presence that an ordinary teenage crush spawns into a burning passion.
In Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, the trauma and anguish experienced by these teenagers cause them to make brash, suicidal decisions. Though God separated good from bad when distinguishing light from darkness, those same divisions are not present in this story. Without them, another potent, celestial force leads to the ultimate fate of these star-crossed lovers. Like Romeo and Juliet, each aspect of Shakespeare’s symbolism is merely a puppet to the cruel and unforgiving hand of fate.
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