Oxymoron - Definition and Examples

Oxymoron

Definition

Oxymorons are the combination of words whose definitions seem to contradict each other.

A critic might comment how a terribly good performance of “Romeo and Juliet” was bittersweet and seriously funny. In this example, “terrible” and “good”, “bitter” and “sweet”, “serious” and “funny” all have opposite meanings but are easily understood together.

If used properly, this technique is an effective way to reveal the absurdity of a situation or depict the ambivalent thoughts of a troubled character who is confronted by a dilemma. It can also draw our attention to the complexity of an idea’s unusual qualities.

Sweet Sorrow

At the end of the balcony scene, when Romeo and Juliet have declared their love for each other and are saying goodbye, Juliet describes their farewell:

“Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.”

Shakespeare uses the oxymoron “sweet sorrow” to express her mixed feelings. The moment is full of sadness and disappointment because Romeo has to leave the Capulet’s house before he is discovered and punished. However, the intimate embrace is a “sweet” joy she would like to repeat again and again.

Characterisation

The use of oxymoron is epitomised by Romeo’s reaction to the aftermath of the violent brawl at the start of the play.

“O me! What fray was here?
Yet tell me not, for I have heard it all.
Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love.
Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!
O any thing, of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness! serious vanity!
Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!
Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!
Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!
This love feel I, that feel no love in this.
Dost thou not laugh?”

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