365 Days of Shakespeare

That's right – the Bard in a year.

244. Shakespeare’s use of oxymoron

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“Fair is foul, and foul is fair.”

“Parting is such sweet sorrow.”

“O brawling love! O loving hate!”

These are just a few examples of Shakespeare’s use of oxymoron and paradox in his writing. He was known for his wit and wordplay, for more or less reinventing the way we phrase ourselves as a body of  English speakers. It is staggering to imagine how much of a difference one man made with his body of work so many centuries ago.

In Shakespeare’s plays, there are usually so many puns and plays on words that it can be nearly impossible to catch them all in a single reading or a single viewing of a performance. His plays are steeped in his wit and wisdom, often in such a way that the audience may not even realize that he has imparted his genius upon them until later reflection.

The three examples of his use of oxymoron and paradox are perhaps the three best-known in his works. The first, from “Macbeth”, serves as both foreshadowing for the events to come – situations in which so much is not as it seems – and as an implication that everything has turned upside-down, with everything from nature to man behaving in ways that are abnormal.

Juliet’s proclamation that “parting is such sweet sorrow” is perhaps the best way to summarize what it means to depart from a loved one. There is indeed a “sweet sorrow” in seeing a lover just before they are gone from sight, and in “Romeo and Juliet”, it is made all the more bittersweet by the audience’s knowledge that the young lovers will be dead by the play’s end. For all Romeo and Juliet know, it could be the last time they see each other unless their plans to escape together are successful.

And from the same play, “Romeo and Juliet”, Romeo gets his own wonderful paradox by bemoaning the ache of unrequited love. His infatuation with Rosaline and the pain that accompanies it certainly gives leverage to his cry of “O brawling love! O loving hate!” The fun with this is that the audience knows there is a reason why this play is not called “Romeo and Rosaline” – Romeo’s adoration of Rosaline will soon overturn upon his viewing of Juliet, which may perhaps make Romeo a bit of a paradox himself…but that is another analysis for another entry.


Written by Caroline Mincks

June 2, 2010 at 9:39 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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