In Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare creates irony within the conflict of handling and expressing emotions. He contrasts the perspectives of the various characters against Romeo’s inability to foresee the consequences of his extreme actions in response to his ever-changing feelings. As a result, the audience gains a big picture view of Romeo’s egocentricity and helplessness to manage his emotions. Shakespeare uses figurative language to illustrate the recoccuring theme of exaggeration within the character’s dialogue, especially Romeo.
Throughout the play, Romeo’s character is reliant on the exaggeration and confidence with which he projects his emotions. Romeo wouldn’t be Romeo if he didn’t perceive his capacity for love or the fiery passion he sees within himself as unstoppable. Romeo illustrates his extreme response to emotions when he professes his divine adoration of Juliet. Arriving under Juliet’s balcony Romeo whispers sweet nothings, “O, speak again, bright angel, for though art as glorious to this night, being o’er my head, as is a winged messenger of heaven…” (2. . 30) Romeo’s use of metaphors gives the audience a characteristically overdramatic view of his less-than-24-hours-love. Having just met Juliet, Romeo is already idolizing her into the form of an angel, which, in today’s world, would be like saying, “You’re out of this world! ” To add to his metaphor, Romeo’s speech also encompasses a double meaning. In Shakespearian times, the ideas surrounding heaven and religion often went hand in hand with marriage and love.
When Romeo uses words like heaven, angel and glorious in his declaration of Juliet’s beauty, his over exaggerated feelings of idolization and matrimony come across clear. Furthermore, the power of love Romeo perceives within himself, and the “cloak” of invincibility he believes it provides, puts him in danger. When Romeo is confronted by the possibility of being killed by Juliet’s guards he brushes it off, “I have night’s cloak to hide me from their eyes, and but thou love me, let them find me here. My life were better ended by their hate than death prorogued, wanting of thy love. (2. 2. 80) Armed by the shield of love, Romeo justifies Juliet’s warnings by saying he has “night’s cloak,” a metaphor for darkness, to hide him and that even if her guards found him, his love for her is so strong that he would rather die than not have her love. Romeo thinks he’s the center of the universe and when he is enraptured with something he assumes everyone else is enraptured the same way. Because Romeo feels love, he believes that everyone else feels happy with love as well, although, ironically, he is one of the only people who feel’s the love.
Additionally, the strength of Romeo’s emotions turned into actions quickly turns deadly when he realizes that his loving perspective of the world isn’t seen by all and he witnesses the resulting death of his friend. After Romeo accidentally steps between a deadly fight he regrets it, saying, “O sweet Juliet, thy beauty hath made me effeminate and in my temper softened valor’s steel. ” (3. 1. 115) Romeo uses the metaphor of “valor’s steel” to convey the idea that prior to meeting Juliet his bravery and courage was as strong as steel, then Juliet’s beauty made it like a woman’s.
Because Romeo was so overcome with love, he thought that everyone else would be as well. Like a baby, Romeo doesn’t realize that his own emotions weren’t at the center of everyone else’s thoughts. Romeo’s failure to see past his own feelings leads to Mercutio’s death. Ironically, giving love is polar opposite of being egocentric, yet Romeo tries to show love to everyone and change their feelings to make them more like his own; by doing this Romeo is being egocentric. Romeo’s inaccurate self-perception is noticed within the very characters he associates with.
Throughout the play Romeo’s friends and lovers accept, and seemingly enable, his erratic behavior that always ends in discord. This tacit encouragement of egocentric behavior illustrates the irony of human nature to follow the path of least resistance rather than the best long term course. For instance, Romeo’s cousin, Benvolio, sees Romeo’s overdramatic ways and instead of telling him to grow up, tries to make Romeo perk up and party. When trying to persuade Romeo to go to the Capulet’s party Benvolio says, “I will make thee think thy swan a crow. ” (1. 2. 1) Benvolio uses a metaphor and double meaning wrapped in one to push Romeo into moving on. Benvolio uses “crow” and “swan” as a way of metaphorically saying that he will show Romeo Rosaline is not that beautiful. He also uses it as a double meaning that signifies to Romeo to stop sinking but fly, hence the metaphor of birds. Instead of imposing on Romeo’s egocentric attitude problem Benvolio takes the easier route of helping Romeo get over his broken heart. However, curing Romeo’s broken heart didn’t cure the real problem: Romeo’s emotional instability.
Similarly, Friar Lawrence also takes the easier route and agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet instead of questioning their motives and what they really need. When Romeo comes to Friar Lawrence, Friar Lawrence chides him a bit but then agrees to marry them. Friar Lawrence sees that Romeo doesn’t understand his emotions and uses the metaphor, “Oh, she [Rosaline] knew well, Thy love did read by rote that could not spell. But come, young waverer, come, go with me. I’ll thy assistant be…” (2. 3. 95) to convey to Romeo that Rosaline knew he was just acting like he was in love without really understanding what it meant.
Friar Lawrence sees through Romeo’s strong facade to his camouflaged core. Romeo’s exaggeration and extreme emotional projections come from being unsure of who he is. Without really knowing what is going on in his head and having no one to lean on, Romeo tries on different “character costumes” hoping to find one that fits. When in his “character costume” Romeo overreacts to fulfill the role of his perceived personality. Amazingly Romeo does all of this without knowing he is doing it. Instead of telling Romeo to do some soul searching, Friar Lawrence sacrifices Romeo’s delicate soul so that the houses can reunite.
Tragically, the reason no one offers to help Romeo is because he gives off the vibe of power, when really that power is a defense mechanism protecting the inner emotions he suppresses subconsciously. In contrast, Juliet tries approaching Romeo about his over-the-top, irrational actions surrounding their love. She, however, is dissuaded by Romeo and his self-perception that he is passionate and knows what he wants. When Juliet feels Romeo is moving to fast with their relationship she says, “Although I joy in thee, I have no joy of this contract tonight.
It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden, Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be Ere one can say “It lightens. ” Sweet, good night, This bud of love, by summer’s ripening breath, May prove a beauteous flower when next we meet. ” (2. 2. 115) Juliet uses the lightning simile to exaggerate the fact that Romeo is moving to fast with their relationship. She uses the budding flower metaphor as a way to tell Romeo that if they let their love grow and blossom they may have a strong beautiful love.
In this regard Juliet, despite her younger years, seems much more mature than Romeo. Their levels of maturity prove to be an ironical contrast between Romeo’s selfish irrationality and Juliet’s selfless practicality. Through Romeo’s inaccurate self-perception and the characters contrasting perceptions, the audience gains a greater comprehension of the conflicts and what causes them. The audience, seeing the big picture understands how Romeo’s over-exaggerated actions root from the emotional turbulence of him not knowing who he is.
Romeo’s suppressed subconscious inner turmoil and lack of correction and support from those around him lead to an egocentricity that shapes the conflict within the play. Throughout the play Romeo’s emotional pendulum is seen by him as bravery and strength, yet, ironically, the audience sees it as egocentric and a weakness of heart. After Romeo’s night with Juliet he talks to Friar Lawrence about his change of heart, Romeo tells the Friar how he has spent time with his enemy and they’re not that bad, he actually likes them!
An insightful audience would see that Romeo is trying to turn his hate into selfless love, but that he is failing. Romeo is unsuccessful because, ironically, all the love and peace he feels is in his head. Romeo thinks that everyone feels this love that is vibrating throughout his soul but he doesn’t realize that the emotions he feels are personal and not likely shared by everyone else. This lack of awareness shows Romeo’s egocentricity. Romeo can’t comprehend the idea of everyone not feeling the way he does because he is spoiled and has never had his one-way-thinking challenged.
Similarly, the audience sees this same ironic egocentricity when Romeo tries to spread his love by intervening in Tybalt and Mercutio’s fight. Romeo waltzes into a tense gathering talking solely about love and, immune to the tension, about his new love for the Capulet family. In Romeo’s statement he acts as though he is perfect and is selflessly forgiving everyone else for what they have done. The audience sees the irony of how selfish Romeo is while he is trying to be selfless.
He expects everyone to cheer for him and drop their emotions because he has announced that he is going to give love. The costume of “loving peacemaker” blinds him to the dangers going on around him. In a way Romeo is like all of those mean girls who put up fronts to hide their own insecurities and their confusion of who they are, only instead of using meanness as his blindfold, he uses love. As can be seen, the conflicts of the play are centered around Romeo’s impulsive emotional responses due to not knowing who he is.
Romeo’s self-perceived loving attitude is seen by the characters as selfishness and by the audience as someone who doesn’t understand himself or love. The perspectives of the characters and the audience gives the conflicts caused by Romeo an ironic twist. The pattern of over-exaggeration within the plays figurative language further illustrates the conflict caused by Romeo’s explosive personality. People who are unsure of themselves do crazy things as they try to unlock the secret of themselves and who they are.