In my coursework I am going to analyse two works of Shakespeare, these will be Sonnet XVIII and Romeo and Juliet. Both of these poems show share similarities, the main one being the theme – love. In Sonnet XVIII, a man is talking about a woman, and is trying to find a comparison to her, that will do her beauty justice, whilst Romeo and Juliet follows a love story, between these two characters, it is a romantic play, which ends in tragedy. Another shared feature of both plays is Shakespeare’s use of ‘Natural Imagery’. This is a technique that is often used by writers, and is a favoured method of writing used by Shakespeare.
Natural imagery is used in writing for description and/or comparison. In these two instances, it compares characters and feelings to that of nature. In Shakespeare’s era, nature was enjoyed by most people, as it was all around them – it was something that everybody understood, Shakespeare used natural imagery as something that people could relate to – they knew that the Sun was warm, that the night was mystical, and that fire was passionate, therefore if something or someone was compared to one of these, they knew exactly what was meant. Act two, scene two in Romeo and Juliet is set in Capulet’s orchard.
This setting is full of natural beauty – plants, flowers, insects – this reflects Romeo and Juliet’s natural love for each other. When he enters into the orchard, he talks about Juliet; he says that ‘Juliet is the Sun’. This is the first of many natural images within this scene. His comparison of her to the Sun shows very strong feelings – the Sun is essential to life, it gives light and warmth to the world – Romeo is saying that without Juliet, he could not live and that she is the light of his life. Stars are an amazing part of nature; they light up the night skies, they are bright and beautiful.
Romeo compares Juliet’s eyes to “Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven. ” This describes the beauty of her eyes, how they are bright and vivid. The way that stars give light also describes his illuminate feelings for her. Stars also were thought to speak to people (Astrology). Romeo feels that Juliet’s eyes are so beautiful and complex that they tell him a story of love and passion. “O speak again, bright angel”. Romeo refers to Juliet. This statement is very ironic. Romeo states this as a positive comparison – angels are beautiful, they are angelic.
They show immortality, just like his love for her. However, the “bright angel” that he speaks of, is God’s bright angel, named Lucipher, this bright angel fell from heaven to hell, just as Juliet will fall from life, or love, to death. Whilst on the balcony, Juliet is talking about her love for Romeo, but how he is a Montague. She says how a name is only a name, and not a person. “That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet. ” A rose is a beautiful flower; it both looks beautiful and smells sweet. This natural image shows Juliet’s feelings for Romeo – he is beautiful, calm and kind.
With this comparison the audience can relate more towards how Juliet feels, and her way of thinking, that Romeo is the same, loving person, whatever his name may be. However this comparison is also an example of dramatic irony. A rose is born; it flourishes with beauty, but then withers and dies; just like their love, at this point there love is just being born, but by the end of the play they die. The audience are aware of a tragedy in the end of this play, as the prologue suggests this, however at this point the characters are completely oblivious to this.
At the opening of this scene, the ‘envious moon’ is portrayed as a negative thing (the Sun is much more beautiful than the Moon, and only the Sun can conquer the Moon, by spreading light onto the night). At this point in the scene, the moon is again described negatively. Romeo tries to swear by the moon of his love for her. However Juliet then speaks, “O swear not by the moon, th’ inconstant moon”. The moon is forever changing; Juliet wants their love for each other to stay the same; they are already feeling true love for each other, why would they want that to change?
Juliet now speaks of how quick their meeting has been, “too like the lightening,” she describes it as. Lightening is quick but beautiful, just like their meeting. It is also bright and powerful, like their love for each other. However lightning also symbolises danger, it is destructive, just like their relationship. The meeting that they have just had is the beginning of all of this: they declare their love for each other and so the destruction of their lives begins, their love is quick but beautiful.
Juliet’s comparison to the meeting is more accurate than she thinks, again showing dramatic irony. On their parting, Juliet compares Romeo and their love like a “wanton’s bird”, this is a caged bird, reflecting how their love should be freed, and how it is forbidden. She goes on to say that were Romeo a bird she would “kill thee with much cherishing. ” This statement is incredibly ironic and foreshadows events, as their love for each other does end up in killing them both. Romeo then says to Juliet, ‘Sleep dwell upon thine eyes,”.
This again foreshadows events that are to come. Romeo is wishing Juliet to go to sleep. This is ironic as Juliet’s sleep later on in the play ends in the suicide of Romeo. In Sonnet XVIII, the narrator of the poem is trying to compare a beautiful woman to something that will do her justice. He begins to compare her to a summer’s day, but then realises that she is much better than that. The initial comparison to a summer’s day is the first and most obvious example of natural imagery – summer is beautiful and warm, much like the woman he speaks of.
He goes on to say how “Rough windes do shake the darling buds of Maie. ” This shows how summer is vulnerable, the woman is not. The word “buds” also represents new life, or new love. Shakespeare then goes on to describe the negative aspects of summer, “lease hath all to short a date”. This states how summer is short – it begins and ends. The woman’s beauty is ongoing, it does not begin, nor end, it is eternal.
The sun is now personified, to make it easier for the audience to compare it to the woman; it is described as the “eye of heaven”, with “often is his gold complexion dim’d. This presents another difference of the woman to the sun – the sun brightens and dims but, once again, the woman’s beauty is constant, it is forever the same. The word “gold” in this phrase also symbolises wealth and beauty, much like the woman. “Nor shall death brag though wandr’st in his shade,” The writer has previously stated how her beauty is immortal, it will defeat death. In this line the write personifies death – “wandr’st in his shade. ” This makes the task of defeating death seem much easier if death is actually mortal.
The final two lines, which are also a rhyming couplet, are like a conclusion to the poem and the writer’s thoughts. He explains how her beauty is immortalised through the poem. “So long lives this, and gives life to thee. ” The word “this” within the line is once again, personification, this time of the poem itself. It is stating that the woman’s beauty has been trapped and kept alive within the poem. The personification of the poem makes it much easier for the audience to understand how her beauty is immortalised through it – if the poem lives, so does the woman’s beauty.
To conclude, I have found a lot of natural imagery in both of the works that I have read. In Romeo and Juliet, the natural imagery is used mainly to compare the feelings they have for each other to nature. However, the way it is used is very ironic – almost every use of natural imagery has a double meaning, e. g. “Rose”, Juliet means this to be beautiful, however it also shows how, just like a rose, their love will begin, flourish, and eventually die. At the time of the meeting that Romeo and Juliet have, they are not aware of the tragedy that is about to occur.
In Sonnet XVIII, the natural imagery is used to compare beauty. It is used to show how beautiful the woman is, as she is portrayed better than nature, or “a summer’s day”. This poem seems to be negative throughout, but is, in fact, just reflecting upon how beautiful the woman in the poem actually is. I can see from both of these texts that natural imagery is an effective way to describe thoughts, feelings, and things. The audience of the time would have easily been able to relate to each of the natural images that Shakespeare presented to them.