Personification is a figure of speech in which inanimate objects and ideas are given human attributes. By attributing human-like characteristics to inanimate things, a personification offers an entirely new perspective of evaluating and understanding the inanimate world. Once the non-living things are bought to life, the readers can relate to them easily. Playwrights use personification to emphasize a certain point or to make a particular description more vivid to the readers that it can be done otherwise.
In “Romeo and Juliet”, personifications have been used to convey the depth of certain abiding emotions such as love, sadness, desire or to add a life-like element to natural occurrences such as morning, night and the most dreaded of all natural phenomena, death. Some of the instances of personification from the play are highlighted below:
Personification in “Romeo and Juliet”
“Alas that love, so gentle in his view,
Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!”
(I. i. 174-175)
This quote is delivered by Benvolio while he is conversing with Romeo. In this instance, love is personified as a person who seems gentle and harmless. However, when one has an encounter with love, as an individual, comes across as a cold and rough tyrant who merely exacerbates one’s loneliness and sadness. The element of personification in this example is used to emphasize the point that the emotional experience of love which serves as a strong contrast to merely encountering an abstract or theoretical concept of love.
“Alas that love, whose view is muffled still,
Should without eyes see pathways to his will!”
(I. i. 176-177)
This particular quote is spoken by Romeo while he is expressing the fact that falling in love is not a conscious choice. On the contrary, love is an emotion that takes a person by surprise, and once an individual is under its spell, he or she cannot disengage themselves from it. In order to make his premise clear, Romeo personifies love as an impartial living agent who despite being blind, is capable of persuasively lure a person in his trap.
“Earth hath swallowed all my hopes but she;
She’s the hopeful lady of my earth.”
(I. ii. 14-15)
Lord Capulet uses the above statement to convey the degree to which he cherishes his daughter Juliet and to emphasize how precious she is. While addressing Paris, Lord Capulet personifies earth as a living entity that has swallowed all of his children except Juliet. This particular personification is meant to highlight that Lord Capulet’s children were dead and buried at some point. Juliet is the only child who was able to escape the claws of death.
“When well-appareled April on the heel
Of limping winter treads, even such delight”
(I. ii. 27-28)
In these particular lines, the month of April is personified as a well-appareled individual that lightly steps on the heels of winter to replace it and bid the frosty season goodbye. This personification of April as a person is meant to emphasize the joy that young men feel when encountering beautiful young girls. The climatic change from winter to spring highlights the onset of new love and the joy, enthusiasm and the elated sense of anticipation that accompanies with its arrival.
“Now old desire doth in his deathbed lie…”
In this particular quote, the chorus personifies desire as an old confused individual lying on his deathbed and experiencing the last phase of his life. This personification of desire is meant to highlight that of Romeo’s first superficial love for Rosaline is fading. By emphasizing that Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline has almost come to an end, the chorus is highlighting the end of a significant chapter in Romeo’s life. This ending serves as a prelude to new beginnings for Romeo.
“And young affection gapes to be his heir.”
In this statement made by the chorus, affection is personified as a living being and a young heir to the old desire. This personification implies that Romeo’s newfound affection for Juliet is gradually replacing his old obsession over Rosaline. The representation of affection as a young heir to desire signifies that once desire originates, it seldom disintegrates. In effect, desire paves the way for a legacy of future wishes.
“To be consorted with the humorous night.”
(II. ii. 34)
In the statement above made by Benvolio, the night is personified as Romeo’s close confidante. While referring to Romeo’s melancholic brooding over Rosaline, Benvolio maintains that it seems as if Romeo has formed a strong, inextricable bond with the dark and gloomy night. This personification highlights Romeo’s reluctance to disengage himself from any thoughts of Rosaline. By emphasizing that the night is Romeo’s abiding friend, Benvolio is asserting that the night serves to complement Romeo’s sad mood and vice versa.
“By love, that first did prompt me to inquire.
He lent me counsel, and I lent him eyes.”
(II. ii. 85-86)
In this quote, Romeo personifies love as a strong and influential person who has a remarkable ability to maneuver people. This graphic personification of love highlights that falling in love is an unintended decision. He also adds that one has a minimal choice when it comes to choosing one’s beloved. By stating that love is the one who motivates and counsels Romeo to fall in love, Romeo is emphasizing that when it comes to matters of the heart, love has a tendency to act as an unchosen guide.
“The gray-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,
Check’ring the eastern clouds with streaks of light…”
(II. iii. 1-2)
Stated by Friar Lawrence, this particular quote presents dawn as a gray-eyed individual who jovially replaces the dark and frowning night and casts a series of soft, early morning rays on the clouds. This beautifully vivid personification of dawn serves to highlight the smooth and natural transition of night to early hours of the morning.
“Care keeps his watch in every old man’s eye,
And, where care lodges, sleep will never lie…”
(II. iii. 37-38)
In this particular verse, Friar Lawrence maintains that care afflicts all old men and where care resides, one can seldom experience a peaceful sleep. Through this personification of care as an uninvited guest that resides in old people’s minds, Friar Lawrence is trying to make Romeo realize that if he gives into worry, he will be condemned to experience a series of sleepless nights.