Religious Imagery in Romeo and Juliet

English Literature, GCSE, Uncategorized

Religion is important to the context of the play.  Shakespeare focuses on Catholicism with the use of the Friar and confession.  When Romeo and Juliet meet their language has religious symbolism throughout.  They clearly worship each other from the beginning.  Religious devotion is compared to love because the rituals and traditions would be familiar to an Elizabethan audience.  Everyone went to church and if they failed to do so they were fined.

Using biblical Imagery to describe devotion to God such as Song of Solomon.  Praying would be a sign of devotion and commitment to God.  Praying is supposed to be a time when devotees reveal their true selves, speak about the things we fear to share with others.

Confession is a means of purging sin, Romeo is confessing his sins to Juliet. 

Act 1 Scene 5. 10 Key quotes on Religion

10 key quotes explained

1. Romeo (To Juliet) If I profane with this unworthiness hand  This holy shrine, the gentle sin is this.

Romeo describes himself as unworthy in the presence of Juliet.  She is a ‘holy shrine’ a place of worship for pilgrims.  Devotees usually look up because they are placed in high places.  Pilgrims usually kneel or bow before the shrine.  Shrines are not usually touched so the word profane is juxtaposed with ‘holy’.  Romeo is using flattery to engage Juliet’s interest.

2. Romeo (to Juliet) My lips two blushing pilgrims ready stand.  To smooth that rough touch with a gentle kiss.

The metaphor comparing his lips to ‘two blushing pilgrims’.  He has been on a quest to find true love and in the presence of Juliet he feels compelled to take her hand and kiss it.  Juliet is presented as a goddess exalted above Romeo he again lowers his status to lift up Juliet.  The quatrain is delivered in iambic pentameter and a regular rhyme scheme. 

3. Juliet (to Romeo) Good pilgrim you do wrong your hand too much.

Juliet echoes Romeo’s symbolism in her response.  The word ‘good’ shows that Juliet immediately trusts Romeo.  She contradicts Romeo’s idea of being unworthy ‘you do wrong your hand too much.’  Juliet shows she can match Romeo in wit and religious imagery in her speech.  She describes his behaviour as respectful and acceptable ‘mannerly devotion’.

4. Juliet (to Romeo) For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

Romeo describes his kiss as ‘rough’ whereas Juliet describes it as ‘holy palmers’ kiss.’  She wants to show Romeo that she will not play the coy, submissive typical Elizabethan woman.  Both compare touching hands to kissing – for Juliet this is breaking all the rules.  She is almost engaged to Paris, she is talking un chaperoned to a stranger in public and she is flirting with this young man.

5. Romeo (to Juliet) Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

Romeo replies with a rhetorical question clarifying that saints have human emotions.  They physically show their religious devotion through prayers and rituals such as kissing statues.

6. Romeo (to Juliet) Thus from my lips, by thine, my sin is purged.

The extended metaphor continues with the reference to sin.  Why does he mention ‘sin’?  In this scene Romeo and Juliet have transferred their worship and devotion to God to each other which might be classed as sinful by an Elizabethan audience.  The word ‘purged’ symbolises cleansing and purification. 

7. Romeo (to Juliet) O, then, dear Saint, let lips do what hands do: They pray — grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

Shakespeare juxtaposes ‘faith’ and ‘despair’ effectively in this speech.  It is an example of foreshadowing anytime the couple feel hopeful in the play it is overshadowed by the feud.  Even before they meet there is danger and threat brooding from Tybalt.   Romeo is presented as impetuous and impatient in this scene. 

8.  Juliet (to Romeo) Saints do not move, though grant for prayers sake.

Juliet’s language shows that she is not the innocent, passive and submissive girl presented in earlier scenes with her mother and the Nurse.   She shows she has a voice and she speaks intelligently and articulately despite her young age.  She is giving Romeo permission to touch her.

9. Romeo (to Juliet) Sin from my lips? O trespass sweetly urged!

Romeo uses exclamatory phrases to show his enthusiasm, passion and commitment to Juliet.  Is Romeo in love with being in love?  Shakespeare shows Romeo’s progress from his love for Rosaline.  Rosaline has promised to keep herself ‘chaste’ he has endured unrequited love at the beginning of the play but he has become more optimistic because Juliet returns his love. She encourages Romeo to kiss her again.

10. Romeo (to Juliet) Give me my sin again.

Shakespeare subverts ideas connected to religion at the time.

The kiss (sin) is on Juliet’s lips so Romeo must remove it with another kiss.

The whole encounter between Romeo and Juliet is captured in the sonnet for. Two quatrains with equal lines for Romeo and Juliet. The sonnet then breaks down into individual lines for Romeo and Juliet showing harmony and equality in the relationship.