Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare


Poetics Lesson

Metaphors, Similes, and Personification

Lesson Overview

Students will identify examples of metaphors, similes, and personification in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and explain how and why these poetic devices are used to convey the complex emotions of the characters. The accompanying worksheet can be completed numerous times as students read the text.

Get the worksheets for this lesson (plus much more!) in the printed SparkTeach guide for Romeo and Juliet.


Lesson Objectives

1. Students will identify metaphors, similes, and personification in Romeo and Juliet to analyze how poetic devices are used to convey complex emotions.

2. Students will correlate the literal, or concrete, meaning of language used figuratively with the abstract idea the language is used to convey.

3. Students will analyze the purpose and function of metaphors, similes, and personification.

Instructional Sequence

1. Convey the purpose of comparison.

Abstractions by definition are difficult for students to comprehend. Since the purpose of literature in all its forms is, ultimately, to convey some abstract concept about the human condition in a meaningful manner, writers often employ literary and poetic devices that make the intangible qualities of life’s experience concrete and relatable to the audience. Abstract concepts like love, jealousy, fear, and hate have a myriad of complex and nuanced characteristics. In order to clearly convey these concepts, writers often rely on comparisons in the form of figurative language.

2. Define metaphor, simile, and personification and provide examples from the text.

Both metaphors and similes compare two seemingly unlike elements in order to convey abstract meaning.

Ask volunteers to define metaphor and simile and encourage students to write the definitions in their notebooks or directly on their worksheets.

- Metaphors are a direct comparison of two unlike things.

- Metaphors are presented through words or phrases that are not literally true.

- Similes function exactly the same way as metaphors, but the comparisons they make are linked through the use of words such as like, as, than, and so.

One of the easiest ways for students to identify a metaphor or simile is to ask the question: Is the meaning of the word or phrase in the text literal? In Act 1, scene 1, line 181 of No Fear Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet, Romeo explains to Benvolio that “Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs[.]” In this metaphor, love, an abstract idea, is compared to smoke. The idea that relates to the abstract element, love, is made clear by its relationship to the concrete, smoke.

Romeo’s comparison suggests that love is like smoke. In order to discover what Romeo means by linking love and smoke, we must consider how love and smoke may be similar. Smoke is intangible, as is love. Smoke makes it difficult to see and hard to breathe. Love can make it difficult for a person to see reason, and it can cause mental and emotional pressure and excitement, which makes it hard to breathe. Therefore, we can see that Romeo compares love to smoke to demonstrate that love can make it difficult to see reason and think clearly.

Personification occurs when an implied comparison is made between an abstract idea or tangible object and some human quality. The act of personification animates, or gives life to, the abstraction and imbues it with a human quality. Personification is most often used to transfer the inner emotions of a character onto the world around him or her.

One of the easiest ways for students to identify examples of personification is to ask the question: Is this idea or object in the text given human characteristics—does the author suggest it can do something a human can do? In No Fear Act 1, scene 1, lines 161–162, while Romeo explains his depression to Benvolio, he states, “Alas, that love, whose view is muffled still, / Should, without eyes, see pathways to his will!” Here, love is referred to as having a “view” and “seeing,” both of which are human qualities. Romeo demonstrates that love, like Cupid who is referenced earlier, is blind or has a “muffled view,” which makes it difficult to see. In using this example of personification, Romeo asserts his difficulty making rational decisions because of his feelings.

3. Identify text selections.

Have each student identify a passage from the text that contains at least two metaphors, similes, and/or examples of personification. The passages should be short—approximately six to twelve lines. You may want to limit the range within the text that students search to a single act or scene. Longer speeches from one character may be easier for students to work with initially, but passages can also include conversations with multiple participants. (Note that this activity can be used to aid in the analysis of any piece of text that employs metaphors, similes, and personification.)

Copy this passage onto the board for practice with the class.


   Why, such is love’s transgression.

   Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast,

   Which thou wilt propagate to have it pressed

   With more of thine. This love that thou hast shown

   Doth add more grief to too much of mine own.

   (No Fear: 1.1.176–180)

Other passages that are rich in metaphor, simile, and personification are:

   Romeo: 1.4.104–111 and 2.2.1–17

   Juliet: 2.2.38–49 and 3.2.1–25

   Capulet: 3.5.175–186 and 4.4.63–69

   Prince: 5.3.305–310

4. Summarize the text.

Have students jot down a two- to three-sentence summary detailing the events, ideas, or information presented in the selected passage. Have two or three students share their summaries and draw from them to construct a summary on the board.

Romeo hints to Benvolio that he, Romeo, is depressed and that the reason for his depression is love. Romeo feels even worse now because Benvolio is concerned about him.

5. Identify the metaphors, similes, and/or personification.

Invite students up to the board to underline the metaphors, similes, and/or personification in the passage and label them appropriately.


Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast,

6. Compare the concrete to the abstract.

Have students identify the concrete representation of each metaphor and simile in the passage. Then have them identify the abstract idea the figurative language is meant to convey. Finally, students should explain how the poetic device is used in respect to the speaker’s purpose.

Griefs of mine own lie heavy in my breast,

Concrete representation: Lying heavy describes a physical force of weight upon a person.

Abstract idea: Grief is compared to weight in order to show that it has a physical effect on Romeo. Romeo feels the weight of his grief, which is due to his unrequited love of Rosaline, and this weight is making it difficult for him to act.

Speaker’s purpose: Romeo describes his grief as being heavy in order to demonstrate his deep sadness and show the burden it places on him.


Differentiated Instruction

This activity can be modified to help all students access learning.
Decrease difficulty

Choose a passage from the text that all students will work with to complete the chart. Identify the poetic devices in the passage as a class.

Have students work in pairs to identify the literal and figurative meanings of the metaphors/similes/personification.

Review students’ answers as a class and extend the discussion to cover the purpose of each poetic element.

Increase difficulty

Open the activity up to types of figurative language other than metaphor, simile, and personification.

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