How does Shakespeare use recurring themes of day and night in Romeo and Juliet?

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Answered by: JANE, An Expert in the The Plays Category
Throughout Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" there are contrasting themes of day and night, or darkness and light, evidenced by both the time scheme of the play and the language used by the main characters. Often, however, it is difficult to determine which is the more desirable, day or night, as the text is full of seemingly contradictory references to each. And it is this constant contradiction which begs the question: How well suited to each other were these "star-crossed lovers?" For example, in the play's opening scene, we learn that Romeo "...locks fair daylight out/And makes himself an artificial night" because he has lost the love of Rosaline. Later, when he meets Juliet, he often compares her beauty to the brightness of the sun: "It is the East, and Juliet is the sun/Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon." Later, he muses that "...her eyes in heaven/ Would through the airy region stream so bright/That birds would sing and think it were not night." These examples would seem to indicate that the light of day is more desirable to the lovers. If we remember, however, that all their meetings takes place during the night, (or in darkness - representing night), the theme becomes somewhat contradictory. The contradiction is furthered by a close look at Juliet's speech in Act 3 when she is awaiting the night the couple will consummate their marriage. It is interesting to note here that, while Juliet is yearning for nightfall, the audience is aware, as she is not, of the murder which Romeo has just committed. In this way, night takes on an additional meaning of symbolic doom. In her speech, Juliet's yearning for the night is readily exemplified by her allusion to Phoebus: "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds/Toward Phoebus' lodging." This creates an image of the sun chariot being driven across the sky to its place beneath the horizon. It is strikingly similar to the Friar's speech in a previous scene: "And flecked darkness like a drunkard reels/From forth day's path and Titan's burning wheels," except that the Friar is heralding the coming dawn. Juliet later personifies the night as "a sober-suited matron all in black" which bears a certain resemblance to the traditional personification of death. Night and death being thus linked, it is interesting to compare Juliet's phrase "love-performing night" with Romeo's "love-devouring death." The two, at times seem to be directly contradicting each other. Furthermore, in her speech, Juliet, making a bargain with the night, promises that if night comes quickly, she will, at her own death, give up Romeo to the night in the form of stars so that "all the world will be in love with night/And pay no worship to the garish sun." This echoes Romeo's "arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon," but with obvious contrast. He calls her the sun and she promises him to the night each without the other knowing. In this way, Romeo and Juliet really do become the "Star-crossed lovers" the prologue pronounces.

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