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).