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Symbolism and foreshadowing are two significant literary devices often used by writers of literary works to achieve certain goals. Illona (2010) defines symbolism as applied in literature as “something a writer uses to represent a complex or larger thing.” In this regard, a writer uses a symbol to refer to something indirectly. Foreshadowing is a literary device which a writer uses to cause a writer to figure out what the text will focus on. The style enables a writer to tell the story in a coherent way by reflecting both forward and backward.
This paper will discuss the two literary styles as used by William Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet. The discussion is backed up with quotes of examples of symbolism as foreshadowing as used in the book.
Shakespeare embraced the use of nature’s symbols such as “stars, flowers, birds, darkness and light” to stand for certain meanings in the book (Lehmann, 2002). He likens Romeo to a rose flower, considered nature’s most beautiful flower. Besides the beauty, the rose flower also has an attractive scent. The comparison implies that Romeo is handsome and sweet to love just like a rose flower.
Lady Capulet equates Paris to a stunning bloom that no nature has endeavoured to produce. The unique flower compared to Paris demonstrates how distinctively beautiful the lady is. The love of Juliet to Romeo at the early stages is described as the “bud love, expected to grow into a beauteous flower” when the two meet later (Lehmann, 2002).
When Juliet learns of the death of her cousin Tybalt who was killed by Romeo the man she fell in love with, she described Romeo as “serpent hid with a flowering face” (Shakespeare, 2002). The serpent in this statement refers to the character in Romeo that caused him to kill her cousin. The flower, on the other hand, refers to the character in Romeo that made her fall in love with him.
Shakespeare recognizes flowers to signify the personality of Romeo, the love of Juliet. As a serpent, Romeo goes ahead to hatch a plan to kill Tybalt, who is Juliet’s cousin. The symbol of flowers is also used in the instance where Juliet took Friar’s concoction and died. The writer, in this case, compares the bridal flowers to the flowers used at the funeral as the bouquets.
Shakespeare also used stars to create symbolism in his text. Romeo and Juliet are likened to “star-crossed.” The common belief was that a person’s fortune was dependent on the stars. The “crossed-star” in the text implied that nature would work against the love relationship between Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare widely used stars to bring out the belief that stars determined people’s fate. While preparing to attend the Capulet party, Romeo points out that “my mind misgives some consequences hanging in the stars” (Shakespeare, 2002).
More symbolism of the stars is where Juliet thinks of chopping Romeo into small stars to make everyone be in love with the night. Romeo on his side, likens Juliet’s eyes to two very bright stars of heaven. Juliet later finds herself in a situation wondering whether to marry Romeo, who already has already been pushed to marry Paris. She wonders whether “there is any pity sitting in the clouds” (Dunkling, 2005). At this instance, Juliet is annoyed that the stars have sealed her fate with her love Romeo.
Shakespeare also utilized darkness and light as symbolic elements in the story. At the beginning of the story, Romeo is described as being in “artificial darkness by adding clouds to more clouds” (Dunkling, 2005). This symbol is created to paint the picture of the depression mood of Romeo. His tears are described as “locking out light.” The first time Romeo meets Juliet in the house, he flirts her by saying that she “teaches the torches to burn bright” (Reyhner and Francis, 2002). The statement points to the beauty and brightness those Juliet possess. Romeo further remarks that “Juliet is the sun” implying that she is hot. According to Romeo, Juliet’s beauty overshadows the brightness of the sun.
In one of his remarks about the two lovers, Friar points out that the “darkness of the night gives way to the gray eyed morning.” This symbol indicates new dawn that has come “to the lives of the two lovers” (Dunkling, 2005). The day the two lovers consummated their marriage, daybreak came sooner than they expected. They would have wished a long night to prevail, but as nature is not controlled by human power, daybreak was obvious for them to explore the challenges the day brings.
Another creation of nature that Shakespeare used to paint the picture of symbolism in his work is the bird. The Nurse refers to Juliet as the “Ladybird,” while waiting for the Nurse to return with a word of love from Romeo, Juliet remarks that “words of love are born by doves, and they are not the swiftest birds.”
Juliet described Romeo as “a doved feathered raven” when he killed his cousin Tybalt (Reyhner and Francis, 2002). The symbol describes the horrible character of Romeo covered in his innocence and love. The lark birds have been used in the book to illuminate night whereas nightingale to signify morning.
This is a writing style where the writer informs the reader of what will happen ahead in the story through flashbacks. Shakespeare embraced this style on several occasions in the text. A typical example of this is found in Act I, where one of the actors in a sonnet brings out the hatred between Montagues and Capulets and also looks at Romeo and Juliet as unfortunate lovers (Reyhner and Francis, 2002). The two are unfortunate, according to the chorus because they were “born in warring families” (Shakespeare, 2002).
Montagues and Capulets are described as “a pair of star-crossed lovers who take their lives.” “Taking their life” is a statement that informs the reader of events to come ahead. It describes how the two characters would vanish from existence by taking their own lives. In another instance of foreshadowing, Romeo describes Juliet in a song as the “Sun at daybreak that is envied by the moon.” He calls on the sun to “arise and kill the envious moon” (Shakespeare, 2002). The statement implies that the sun killed the moon out of sympathy for the moon’s grief. The statement revealed in advance what would happen to both Romeo and Juliet at the end of the play where they killed themselves because of anguish.
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The writer used foreshadowing instances as a sign of something bad coming to happen ahead. When for example, in the city of Verona, a story of “star-crossed lovers” is told, it points out the fate that will later befall the two lovers. During a discussion process between Romeo and Juliet, Juliet remarks that she feels “as one dead in the tomb” (Shakespeare, 2002). The statement expresses her mixed feelings about the affair. She foresaw disaster in the planned arrangements that yielded to the two meetings for the discussion.
The strong feelings Romeo has for Juliet would ultimately lead to his downfall. Death seems to surround the two lovers in the story. Juliet, for example, had remarked that if she is given Romeo when he dies, she will chop him into tiny stars. According to Juliet, this would make the whole world to love the night. This description is a prediction that Juliet would witness Romeo’s death.
The style is also used to describe the love that could not be stopped by anything. In a discussion between Romeo and Benvolio about Tybalt, Romeo points out that “the day’s black fate must end with others.” Romeo knows that Tybalt hates him and has set out to kill him because of that. It is also hinted in the story that Romeo would die of poisoning. Juliet’s mother remarks that “Romeo should upon receipt of poison sleep in quiet” (Shakespeare, 2002). Romeo’s death would be as a result of his relentless pursuit for love. All he cared was to be with Juliet whatever it takes.
The discussion has pointed out the various instances in the text that Shakespeare used symbolism and foreshadowing styles. Various creations of nature such as stars, birds, light and darkness, are used as symbols in the text. The symbols stand for something more complex to communicate the writer’s message to the reader. Apart from symbolism, Shakespeare also uses foreshadowing as a literary device in his writing. He used foreshadowing mainly to enable the reader to prefigure what is coming ahead. The death Instances of the various characters are predicted in the storyline through foreshadowing.
Dunkling, L. 2005. When Romeo and Juliet Met. New York: Trafford publishing ltd.
Illona, S. 2010. Reality And Illusion In Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Norderstedt: Druck und Bindung.
Lehmann, C. 2002. Shakespeare Remains: Theater to Film Early Modern to Postmodern. New York: Cornell university press.
Reyhner. J., A. and Francis, N. 2002. Language and Literacy Teaching For Indigenous Education: A Bilingual Approach. New York: Multilingual matters ltd.
Shakespeare, W. 2002. Romeo and Juliet. New York: Baron Educational Series Inc.