What are some similarities and differences between Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet?

Here is the answer and explanation to the question What are some similarities and differences between Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet?

What are some similarities and differences between Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 and the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet?

Both “Sonnet 18” and the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet contain unequivocal declarations of love. These declarations both use natural imagery and compare the subject to a sun or a summer’s day to show the heat of the speaker’s passion. However, the audience is able to see the romance from both sides in Romeo and Juliet; “Sonnet 18” only shows the relationship from the poet’s perspective.

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Both “Sonnet 18” and act 2, scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet contain declarations and explanations of love. Also, both employ nature-filled figurative language. However, in Romeo and Juliet, the reader is able to experience both sides of the relationship, unlike “Sonnet 18,” where we only hear from one speaker.

In “Sonnet 18,” the narrator begins with a rhetorical question: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” From there, the narrator continues that the subject is better than a summer’s day because she is “more lovely and more temperate.” Additionally, although a summer’s day fades, the subject’s beauty will last for all of time, thanks to the poem. The speaker of this poem makes sweeping, grand statements to demonstrate his love for the subject. This lofty and natural imagery is used to show the magnificent and eternal love that exists for this person.

In Romeo and Juliet, Romeo secretly visits Juliet outside of her balcony. Before she sees him, he studies her as she stands on her balcony. He says, ““But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun” (act 2, scene 2). He also notes that Juliet’s eyes are “two of the fairest stars in all he heaven” (act 2, scene 2). Similar to “Sonnet 18,” Romeo draws a connection between the woman he is admiring and a constant of nature. Additionally, both passages compare their subjects to parts of nature that are high in temperature to demonstrate the strength and heat of the passion that the speakers feel. In both passages, the speakers resort to figurative language and comparison to attempt to make their feelings understood.

When Juliet comes out onto the balcony, she is soliloquizing about the negative aspects of her feelings for Romeo. She regrets that he is a Montague and states that their love would be perfect if not for his name. In Romeo and Juliet, the audience is able to see both sides of this relationship. This can be contrasted to “Sonnet 18,” in which we only hear from one speaker about the relationship. The speaker’s voice, in that case, dominates the love to the point where he states that the subject will be remembered because of this poem.

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Probably the key point of comparison between act 2, scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet and Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 is in the figurative language Romeo and the speaker of the sonnet use to describe their respective beloveds.

In Sonnet 18, the speaker questions whether he should “compare thee to a summer’s day,” ultimately determining that his beloved is “more lovely and more temperate.” Unlike the sun, which “sometime . . . too hot shines,” while “often is his gold complexion dimm’d,” the poet’s beloved is “eternal” in his beauty: “thy eternal summer shall not fade.” The hyperbolic language Shakespeare uses in this poem to extol the beauty of his beloved is not dissimilar to that used in the poems of Philip Sidney and other courtly sonneteers. Where, in the Dark Lady sequence of sonnets, Shakespeare often subverts the expectations of romantic poetry in the sonnet form, his Fair Youth sonnets are often fairly conventional in their comparisons of the youth’s beauty to nature’s glories.

In act 2, scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet, then, we also find Romeo using hyperbolic language typical of courtly romance poetry to woo Juliet. He compares Juliet’s beauty to that of nature’s own lights:

Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,
Having some business, do entreat her eyes
To twinkle in their spheres till they return.

Meanwhile, the moon is “sick and pale with grief” over the fact that Juliet is, in Romeo’s estimation, fairer than it. We can see the comparison here between this description of Juliet and Sonnet 18’s depiction of its subject as “more lovely and more temperate” than a summer’s day.

What is interesting about Romeo’s hyperbolic wooing, as opposed to the poet’s in Sonnet 18, is that we can see Juliet’s response to it. Far from swooning at Romeo’s feet, Juliet’s responses are far more matter-of-fact, as if questioning the value of Romeo’s poetic pontificating. Romeo’s figurative language in praise of Juliet’s beauty almost parodies that of courtly poetry, and Juliet counters it bluntly. When Romeo declares, “thy kinsmen are no let to me,” having avowed that he has flown into the Capulet orchard on love’s wings, Juliet brings him back down to earth, stating, “If they do see thee, they will murder thee.”

So, in both pieces of work, we see Shakespeare use figurative language to woo a beloved by comparing them favorably to nature’s beauties. Only in Romeo and Juliet, however, do we see the effectiveness, or otherwise, of this wooing.

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For starters, both Sonnet 18 and Romeo and Juliet were written by William Shakespeare! Though this fact makes further similarities and differences all the more interesting. Let’s consider some differences, first.

While Sonnet 18 is a piece of standalone poetry, the balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet is but one part of a greater play. What’s more, Sonnet 18 is written from the perspective of the speaker to an unknown reader. In this way, it is like a love letter. We have the perspective of the speaker, but not the recipient-subject. The balcony scene of Romeo and Juliet may be considered to consist of parallel monologues until the two characters actually speak to one another. It differs from the Sonnet because we hear both characters’ perspectives, and each is the recipient-subject of the other’s speech.

What do these two pieces of text have in common? Both are declarations of love! They also bear similarities in their content. Comparisons of beauty and nature are in both, evoking images of beautiful summer flowers. One can easily understand what Shakespeare found beautiful in nature as well as in a person by reading and comparing these two texts.

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Further Reading

  • http://shakespeare.mit.edu/romeo_juliet/romeo_juliet.2.2….

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