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Nature Imagery in Romeo and Juliet

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The nature imagery enlaced throughout Romeo and Juliet, by William Shakespeare, contributes to its beauty and philosophicalness. The rose is used to symbolize Juliet, a bud is used to illustrate Romeo’s initial state of depression over Rosaline, and Friar Lawerence uses the duality of plants to represent the balance between good and evil as is seen in the characters.

The rose is widely known as a symbol of love, but in Romeo and Juliet, it can be interpreted to mean much more. Throughout the story, the word rose is consistently attached to Juliet’s character, whether she is using the word herself or whether another character is using it when referring to her. A rose seems beautiful and enticing from afar, but if one isn’t careful with it, one will be pricked. When Romeo first saw Juliet he became enchanted by her beauty. He tossed aside all rhyme or reason in a desperate attempt to smell the rose’s heavenly fragrance. However, his eyes were glazed over with his drunken longing for Juliet so he made no notice of the thorns before he plucked her carelessly from the ground. When Friar Lawerence is telling Juliet what will happen when she fakes her death he says, “The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade To paly ashes,” (4.1.101-102) The rosiness fading from her cheeks is like the rose withering in winter, only to bloom again when she awakens just before Romeo’s death, ready to entice and harm again lovers once more. Young love is like a rose; painful and momentary, but also, profoundly beautiful.

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“As is the bud bit with an envious worm, Ere he can spread his sweet leaves to the air, Or dedicate his beauty to the same.” (1.1.154-156) This beautiful simile compares Romeo to a bud and his heartbreak to an envious worm. During the 1300s, envious had two meanings; jealous or full of ill-will. In this quote, it meant the latter. The word here means before. Romeo is like a flower bud invaded by a malicious, malevolent, worm before he had the chance to spread his leaves or bloom in the sunshine. Although Romeo’s age was never officially mentioned in the play, we do know that he was still a young man, hence the comparison to the flower bud. Romeo had not truly experienced the world yet and could not tell the difference between true love and infatuation. Nonetheless, when Rosaline broke his heart he turned himself inwards and locked himself away, ashamed, depressed, and dejected. [connect to “bud”]

The most intriguing nature motif in the play is found when Friar Lawerence compares the duality between good and evil and life and death with the duality found in plants. The quote that arguably best encompasses this imagery is, “Within the infant rind of this weak flower, Poison hath residence, and medicine power” (2.3.23-24) Evil is always coupled with good and life with death. For instance, when the Friar attempted to marry the two star-crossed lovers, he was seeking to turn a silly young romance into something that would bring the reunion of two feuding families. In hindsight, the Friar could even be blamed for their deaths. It was he who provided Juliet’s poison. He did this all with good intentions but was unable to escape the inevitable good and ill effects of opposing actions. The lovers’ tragic ending was also coupled with a hopeful beginning for the two families, newly united as a result of their deaths. This is nature’s balance. Throughout the play, one may observe the beautiful symmetry created as a result of it. ___ even the sweetest flower can host deadly poison.

In conclusion, the beautiful simplicity of Romeo and Juliet would not be without the wisdom provided by nature imagery. Juliet is wonderfully represented by a rose, and Romeo’s young heartache by a budding bit with an envious worm. Finally, we observe the beauty of nature’s balance, both in plants and in the characters themselves. The power Shakespeare allows plants reflects how powerless the characters are themselves. Even the sweetest of things may turn sour if “virtue” is “misapplied”.   

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