Oxymora in Shakespeare's Works
Shakespeare used the oxymoron quite often to express mixed emotions both in his plays and his sonnets. "Fair is foul, and foul is fair", "Parting is such sweet sorrow", "O brawling love! O loving hate!" - these are a few of his famous oxymora. Let's take a look at his use of the oxymoron, and we'll throw in a few paradoxes just for the fun of it.
The oxymora are underlined, the paradoxes italicized. To view the quote within the context around it, click on the chapter reference.
(Technically the plural of oxymoron is oxymora, but since so many people use oxymorons and language is always evolving, I'll use both.)
Romeo and Juliet
Oxymorons in Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a love story that is just filled with oxymora, but that's sort of how love is. It's wonderful and it's painful.
O brawling love! O loving hate!
O anything of nothing first create!
O heavy lightness, serious vanity* !
Misshapen 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.
* (As pointed out by tandemonimom, "serious vanity" used here is an oxymoron because "vanity" here means not being vain or proud, but (in context with the oxymorons around it) the older sense of emptiness, or "something worthless, trivial, or pointless" as the dictionary defines it.)
Parting is such sweet sorrow.
Struggling between her love for Romeo, and the criticizing him for killing Tybalt, Juliet whips out these few lines with a whopping six oxymorons and four paradoxes:
Act 3, Scene 2
O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! fiond angelical!
Dove-feather'd raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem'st;
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
O, nature! what hadst thou to do in hell
When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend
In mortal paradise of such sweet flesh?
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O! that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace.
Macbeth - Oxymorons in Macbeth
Paradoxes in Macbeth
I must be cruel only to be kind: Thus bad begins, and worse remains behind.
You are the queen, your husband's brother's wife.
More on Shakespeare's Use of Oxymora
These articles go into further detail about Shakespeare's use of oxymora.
Oxymorons in Julius Caesar
Tut, I am in their bosoms, and I know
Wherefore they do it: they could be content
To visit other places; and come down
With fearful bravery, thinking by this face
To fasten in our thoughts that they have courage;
But 'tis not so.
An Oxymoron in The Tempest
Do that good mischief which may make this island thine own forever...
Oxymorons in Twelth Night
Act 2, Scene 4
Come hither, boy: if ever thou shalt love,
In the sweet pangs of it remember me;
Act 2, Scene 4
Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
Act 2, Scene 5
She that would alter services with thee,
A Midsummer Night's Dream
Oxymorons in A Midsummer Night's Dream
Act 5, Scene 1
A tedious brief scene of young Pyramus
And his love Thisby; very tragical mirth.'
Merry and tragical! tedious and brief!
That is hot ice and wondrous strange snow."
Oxymorons in Shakespeare's Sonnets
And, tender churl, mak'st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee.
I do forgive thy robbery, gentle thief
Unless you would devise some virtuous lie
Till my bad angel fire my good one out.
Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,