But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief
That thou, her maid, art far more fair than she. . . .
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As daylight doth a lamp; her eye in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night.
Romeo speaks these lines in the so-called balcony scene, when, hiding in the Capulet orchard after the feast, he sees Juliet leaning out of a high window (2.1.44–64). Though it is late at night, Juliet’s surpassing beauty makes Romeo imagine that she is the sun, transforming the darkness into daylight. Romeo likewise personifies the moon, calling it “sick and pale with grief” at the fact that Juliet, the sun, is far brighter and more beautiful. Romeo then compares Juliet to the stars, claiming that she eclipses the stars as daylight overpowers a lamp—her eyes alone shine so bright that they will convince the birds to sing at night as if it were day.
This quote is important because in addition to initiating one of the play’s most beautiful and famous sequences of poetry, it is a prime example of the light/dark motif that runs throughout the play. Many scenes in Romeo and Juliet are set either late at night or early in the morning, and Shakespeare often uses the contrast between night and day to explore opposing alternatives in a given situation. Here, Romeo imagines Juliet transforming darkness into light; later, after their wedding night, Juliet convinces Romeo momentarily that the daylight is actually night (so that he doesn’t yet have to leave her room).
O Romeo, Romeo,
wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
Juliet speaks these lines, perhaps the most famous in the play, in the balcony scene (2.1.74–78). Leaning out of her upstairs window, unaware that Romeo is below in the orchard, she asks why Romeo must be Romeo—why he must be a Montague, the son of her family’s greatest enemy (“wherefore” means “why,” not “where”; Juliet is not, as is often assumed, asking where Romeo is). Still unaware of Romeo’s presence, she asks him to deny his family for her love. She adds, however, that if he will not, she will deny her family in order to be with him if he merely tells her that he loves her.
A major theme in Romeo and Juliet is the tension between social and family identity (represented by one’s name) and one’s inner identity. Juliet believes that love stems from one’s inner identity, and that the feud between the Montagues and the Capulets is a product of the outer identity, based only on names. She thinks of Romeo in individual terms, and thus her love for him overrides her family’s hatred for the Montague name. She says that if Romeo were not called “Romeo” or “Montague,” he would still be the person she loves. “What’s in a name?” she asks. “That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet” (2.1.85–86).
O, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you. . . .
She is the fairies’ midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate stone
On the forefinger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomi
Athwart men’s noses as they lie asleep.
Mercutio’s famous Queen Mab speech is important for the stunning quality of its poetry and for what it reveals about Mercutio’s character, but it also has some interesting thematic implications (1.4.53–59). Mercutio is trying to convince Romeo to set aside his lovesick melancholy over Rosaline and come along to the Capulet feast. When Romeo says that he is depressed because of a dream, Mercutio launches on a lengthy, playful description of Queen Mab, the fairy who supposedly brings dreams to sleeping humans. The main point of the passage is that the dreams Queen Mab brings are directly related to the person who dreams them—lovers dream of love, soldiers of war, etc. But in the process of making this rather prosaic point Mercutio falls into a sort of wild bitterness in which he seems to see dreams as destructive and delusional.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes
A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life,
Whose misadventured piteous overthrows
Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife. . . .
O, I am fortune’s fool! . . .
Then I defy you, stars.
This trio of quotes advances the theme of fate as it plays out through the story: the first is spoken by the Chorus (Prologue.5–8), the second by Romeo after he kills Tybalt (3.1.131), and the third by Romeo upon learning of Juliet’s death (5.1.24). The Chorus’s remark that Romeo and Juliet are “star-crossed” and fated to “take their li[ves]” informs the audience that the lovers are destined to die tragically. Romeo’s remark “O, I am fortune’s fool!” illustrates the fact that Romeo sees himself as subject to the whims of fate. When he cries out “Then I defy you, stars,” after learning of Juliet’s death, he declares himself openly opposed to the destiny that so grieves him. Sadly, in “defying” fate he actually brings it about. Romeo’s suicide prompts Juliet to kill herself, thereby ironically fulfilling the lovers’ tragic destiny.