How does Shakespeare portray ambiguity in the play Romeo and Juliet?

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Ambiguity – Romeo and Juliet

The exploration of ambiguity in the play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ encapsulates Shakespeare’s message of how there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ ‘good’ or ‘evil’. This theme is sparked from the contextual circumstance of the play, set in Renaissance England, a time of great change and cultural ambiguity, bringing about the protestant reformation and the emergence of ‘the new man’ and new outlooks on love and romance.

Shakespeare adopts descriptive techniques and distinctive wordplay, integrating literary devices and imagery to portray ambiguity subliminally throughout the play. The concept of ambiguity is portrayed by his use of oxymoron, for instance “Oh brawling love, oh loving hate” depicts ambiguity through the binary of love and hate and how elements of both can be found in one another, thus highlighting Shakespeare’s message of how the entire concept of the play is ambiguous. An oxymoron is by definition ambiguous, and is often adopted to conceptualise ambiguous meanings and ideas. Similarly, Shakespeare uses paradox, for instance, when Juliet questions, “was ever a book containing such vile matter so fairly bound?” to depict Juliet’s complexity as a character, and her conflicting emotions when trying to battle with the idea that the love of her life is a murderer. In addition Shakespeare conveys ambiguity by categorising imagery into two extremes, light and dark. This imagery continually recurs throughout the play, and is often adopted by Romeo, for instance when he first sees Juliet he declares, “O, she doth teach the torches burn bright” and Juliet is continually referred to as a light in the darkness and Juliet concurrently expresses how “Romeo’s body” be “cut out in little stars.” Shakespeare uses this to accentuate the contrast of love and hate, an ambiguous disparity Shakespeare uses to encapsulate the meaning of the play. Furthermore, Shakespeare’s use of distinctive language and character repartee is used for contrast and to craft oxymoron and paradox to illustrate ambiguity, for instance; “A damned saint, an honourable villain! The poignant contrast between the words, “damned” and “honourable” each adjectives used to inverse the distinct characterisations of “villain” and “saint” in the form of an oxymoron.

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Ambiguity is also explored through the characters themselves. For instance, Friar Lawrence is portrayed to have a vested interest in the happiness of both Romeo and Juliet and appears as an advocate of their forbidden romance and even helps to marry the two in secret, later providing Juliet with a substance that will give her the power to fake her death to avoid her marriage to Paris. However it appears he has an ulterior motive fuelled by his peace loving disposition. This is portrayed when he states that “this alliance may so happy prove to turn your households’ rancour to ...

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