Essay on a Metaphor in 'Romeo and Juliet'

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“Love is a force more formidable than any other. It is invisible – it cannot be seen or measured, yet it is powerful enough to transform you in a moment, and offer you more joy than any material possession could.”

Barbara De Angelis

When you hear the name Shakespeare, what comes to mind? I am sure it’s his timeless play, Romeo and Juliet. This play has also been contemporized and made into a movie by the same name, but the latter disappoints and dismays any lover of Shakespearean work. Both the play and the 1996 movie Romeo and Juliet explore the complex theme of desirous teenage love between two adolescents from feuding families and how they sacrifice themselves for the sake of love. While this theme has been handled in depth by Shakespeare through powerful uses of iambic pentameter and monologues, the movie contemporizes the play through the use of visual storytelling, yet falls short in terms of impact on the viewer. If you have zero appetites for literary works, this pop version of a movie might appeal to you. But if you do have any remote liking for literature, this movie will make you cringe. Elements like skyscrapers, in-your-face tattoos, and guns with sword names make a desperate attempt at setting the era, context, and place but they fall flat as the actors enter the scenes and deliver dialogues spiritlessly. Every word and element in Shakespearean literature is loaded with punch and intention but the movie fails at delivering the goods.

Shakespeare makes Romeo and Juliet’s first meeting so unforgettable that the audience is hooked into the force of love whereas the film delivers a not-so-powerful experience. In Act 1 scene 5, an extremely sentimental and religious metaphor captivates the reader:

“If I profane with my unworthiest hand

This holy shrine, the gentle sin this:

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand” (I.V.95-7)

Can you imagine a teenage boy actually referring to a teenage girl as a holy shrine and his own lips as pilgrims waiting to kiss the shrine? OMG! We usually come across the lover describing his lady comparing her with the beauty of flowers, angels, etc. but this metaphor of shrine and pilgrim’s lips seems extreme and raises his physical desire to a serious and spiritual level. If anyone said,

“Romeo and Juliet are just about lust and infatuation…” then this verse would silence the critics. This shows the almost-spiritual level of intimacy and I can’t deny I got goosebumps when I read it for the first time.

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In the movie, Romeo and Juliet standing on either side of a fish tank (symbolizing they are from opposing families) catch each other’s eye.

The cinematographic elements of this scene would be quite captivating for a typical teenager. The camera focuses on the faces of both star-crossed lovers and captures their expressions of curiosity, wonder, mischief, and passion. The romantic background music sets a romantic mood. Upbeat colors heighten the senses of the viewer.

However, in comparison, I think the play has a more powerful impact as compared to the movie. The play’s unforgettable metaphors shock the reader tremendously. It allows the reader’s imagination to run wild while the movie demonstrates limiting cliched visual elements seen across modern romantic films in Bollywood and Hollywood.

Throughout the play, Romeo and Juliet reunite a few times which simply shows the force of formidable love and the unsurpassed joy it brings the lovers. However, the movie has clearly changed the reunions aspect of Romeo and Juliet, rendering it a weaker version.

In the play, Romeo and Juliet reunite when he rushes to her balcony and describes her beautifully, “But soft, What light through yonder window breaks?” (I.II.1). He continues, “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun!” (I.II.2) He describes her surpassing beauty as if she transforms the darkness into daylight. To him, she is the morning light that enters the room and brightens the room. This metaphor that she is the sun (singular, brilliant, incomparable) suggests that Juliet is the most beautiful person that exists on earth. The metaphor also conveys that Romeo has been in darkness and has suffered too much pain and now Juliet has appeared to brighten up his life.

In the movie, Romeo is backed to the wall looking at Juliet’s window where Juliet is nowhere to be seen. The quote “But soft, What light through yonder window breaks?” seems to refer to something completely irrelevant to the actual meaning of the quote in the play. The quote seems to refer to the light in Juliet’s room that literally flicks on! The whole metaphor of Juliet being singular and brilliant is lost.

In the play, the climax is violent and fast-paced: Romeo reaches the graveyard, he meets Paris, they fight, and Romeo ends up killing Paris. This shows the forcefulness of love because Romeo killed Paris in a duel, just for the sake of his love. This scene was totally omitted in the movie! In Act 5 scene 3, when Juliet “dies”, Romeo goes to Juliet’s grave where he uncovers her and delivers this beautiful heart-rending monologue about how much he loves her. “I still will stay with thee,” This shows the force of love because Romeo who was banished from Verona comes back, just for Juliet. This also demonstrates how Romeo is still thinking of Juliet in during the last minutes of his life. In the play, Romeo dies right beside Juliet. This unites them in death and the afterlife and is unforgettable. In the movie, the massive monologue of Romeo at the grave is also edited resulting in a pale, watered-down, unclear version. In the movie, there are a lot of visual loads that distract from the relationship, romance, and tragedy. When Romeo enters the crypt, we see a wide-angle shot of the crypt in the middle of which lies Juliet on a bed. The crypt is filled with brightly colored crosses which distract from the intensity of their relationship.

In comparison, the play is clearly more powerful in the climax because it zooms in on the emotions and actions of Romeo. He killed a person just for Juliet and dedicates his life and death to her. But in the movie, Romeo merely enters the crypt and cries for her death.


To conclude, I believe that the play is more forceful as it has originality. Even though the movie used acrobatic cinematic techniques, it is still no match to the play because the latter has been written in more detail.

Furthermore, the movie is basically the play represented in modern times except it has been ambiguously portrayed with people conversing unconvincingly in absurd Shakespearean English in a modern context of skyscrapers and corporates. To put it rather mildly, I think Shakespeare would have turned in his grave when the movie was released in 1996.

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Essay on a Metaphor in ‘Romeo and Juliet’. (2023, April 21). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 20, 2024, from
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