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Bird imagery in Romeo and Juliet

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Anisha Mittal

on 16 February 2013

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Transcript of Bird imagery in Romeo and Juliet

Birds and Flight “Ben: ...Compare her face with some that I shall show/ And I will make thee think thy swan a crow” (99) The description of Rosaline’s beauty is compared to a swan. A swan is an externally beautiful bird, but they are considered arrogant and conceited. Choosing to describe Rosaline as a swan rather than another bird, shows that although Rosaline has a beautiful appearance, she is too arrogant as she chooses to remain alone and not associate herself with a man by remaining a virgin. This metaphor is contrasted with the image of a crow, which compared to a swan is ugly and considered a pest as they eat farmers’ crops. Crows are also considered one of the most intelligent birds, and since the word crow in this quote has a negative connotation, it shows that intelligence in women is not appreciated. Since swan has a more positive association, the reader can see that both Romeo and Benvolio value beauty in women, rather than intelligence or character. Through the contrast between the two bird’s appearances, Benvolio is implying that Romeo will not love Rosaline if she isn’t as pretty as he believes. “Romeo: So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows/ As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.”(116) This image of birds also represents external beauty. Romeo describes Juliet as a dove in the midst of crows. This is a repeated appearance of crows and since in the first instance it symbolized ugliness and intelligence, it means the same thing in this case. Romeo is showing that Juliet stands out from the other women because of her beauty. This again shows that Romeo values appearance rather than intelligence. However, instead of describing beautiful Juliet as a swan as he did with Rosaline, he describes her as a “snowy dove.” A dove is the symbol of love and peace, rather than an arrogant, yet beautiful swan. This implies that Juliet is truly beautiful, innocent and peaceful. It also suggests that Romeo’s love for Juliet will be true love and peaceful. However, we know this cannot be the case as Romeo and Juliet come from enemy families. “Juliet: I’ll look to like, if looking liking move,/ But no more deep will I endart mine eye/ Than your consent give strength to make it fly” (105): Fly is associated with flight, which is a characteristic of birds. The fact that birds can fly makes people consider them as free animals. Juliet is talking about Paris and is telling her mother that she will not fall in love with him unless her mother allows it, or unless her “consent” makes love “fly.” In this sense, the word fly is associated with love and the boundaries placed on Juliet’s ability to love. She seems to be restricted to her parents’ wants as only their consent can allow her to fall in love. Also, this use of flight seems to be connected with freedom, although still a restricted sense of freedom. Juliet can only be free in her love when her mother does not hold her down, similar to a bird being able to fly when it is not held down. She thinks her parents’ approval will give her a sense of freedom. I find this ironic, considering she ends up falling in love with Romeo and defying her parents’ best wishes. "Mer: You are a lover, borrow Cupid’s wings/ And soar with them above a common bound.
Romeo: I am too sore enpierced with his shaft to soar with his light feathers, and so bound I cannot bound a pitch above dull woe/ Under love’s heavy burden do I sink.” (106) Wings and flight are often associated with Cupid, the symbol of love. By borrowing Cupid’s wings, or love’s wings, Mercutio tells Romeo he can exceed normal people’s emotions. “Soar” implies a feeling of freedom and superiority, as to soar in the sky is above normal people’s abilities and is reserved for birds. The instances of “soar” in these two sentences demonstrate that love is a grander emotion and cause one to feel free. The slight spelling change of soar to “sore” in the second line is associated with pain rather than freedom. This sudden change demonstrates that Romeo’s love for Rosaline is not causing him freedom like Mercutio advised. Rather Romeo's love is a “burden,” as Romeo says, that causes him to “sink”. Birds are not able to fly if they are hindered. In the same way, he says that he is not able to “soar” with Cupid’s wings or on the wings of love and cannot be free but “bound” to misery. This contrast using the different meanings of “sore” and “soar” and the imagery of wings, all associated with flight, develop the idea that Romeo’s first love is causing him sadness rather than the feeling of liberty. “Juliet: Hist! Romeo, hist! O for a falconer’s voice to lure this tassel-gentle back again.” (134) Juliet wishes she could be a falconer to be able to lure her falcon back again. In this quote, the falcon or “tassel-gentle” is Romeo. “Tassle-gentle” suggests a noble characteristic and since the falcon is a powerful, intelligent bird, this suggests these features in Romeo. However, Juliet is shown with the power in their relationship here, as she is the falconer and has the ability to call or lure her falcon back, as Romeo is bound to her by his love. The footnotes state that Juliet’s falconer call helps in teaching the bird, (in this case Romeo), to stay close and be secret. This air of secrecy describes the way Romeo and Juliet’s relationship must be as their families are enemies. “Juliet: And yet no farther than a wanton’s bird,/ That lets it hop a little from his hand/ Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,/ And with a silken thread plucks it back again,/ so loving–jealous of his liberty.” (135) Juliet again calls Romeo her pet bird. She likens herself to a spoiled child playing with and wanting her pet bird. A wanton’s bird is kept close to the child, as the child is spoiled and always gets what it wants. This suggests that maybe Juliet will go to whatever extent to win over her love. The bird is also portrayed as liberated, and the child is jealous of the bird’s liberty. As birds are able to fly, readers can associate the feeling of flying to being free. Since the bird represents Romeo, the reader can see that Romeo seems to have more freedom than Juliet, who is constantly watched and controlled by her family. However, the child controls the bird and “plucks” it back to her again showing that her love is binding Romeo down from being free, as Romeo, (the bird), is not able to fly off again. “Juliet: Therefore do nimble-pinion’d doves draw Love,/ And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings.” (154) The image of doves in this quote is trying to show the swiftness of love. Doves are the messengers of Love and in this time are considered speedy. Wings and the ability to fly can allow someone to travel quickly, just like taking a plane is faster than taking a car. The fact that Cupid has wings demonstrates that he is swift and since he is the symbol of love, love is also swift. This portrayal of Love’s speed through bird and flight imagery might suggest that love is a sudden emotion and sometimes happens to quickly for it to be rational. Birds and Flight Imagery By: Anisha Mittal Do specified boundaries, as those placed on Juliet by her mother, allow her to feel free? Or does love, which has wings, allow one to feel liberated? Could love actually bind someone down? Or is this even love? Could it really be irrational lust that brings Romeo to Juliet? Conclusions:
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