What is it called when a thought or idea is given physical traits? One example of this is from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet:

For stony limits cannot hold love out

In this passage, love is given a physical trait of being able to be physically blocked. Would this just be personification?

  • 3
    Isn’t the passage saying precisely the opposite? That love does not have the property of being able to be physically blocked?
    – Spagirl
    Mar 5, 2020 at 23:53
  • @Spagirl Perhaps the statement "stony limits cannot hold love out" implies that some people might try exactly that.
    – Tsundoku
    Jan 3, 2021 at 21:03
  • @Tsundoku well yes, they might try. But the phrase doesn’t attribute to love the trait of being able to be physically blocked, as the OP claims.
    – Spagirl
    Jan 3, 2021 at 21:54

1 Answer 1


The cited passage is not simply an example of a thought or idea that is given physical traits; what is happening here is more complex. Below is Romeo's speech as given in the First Quart of 1597:

By loues light winges did I oreperch these wals,
For stonie limits cannot hold loue out,
And what loue can doo,that dares loue attempt,
Therefore thy kinsmen are no let to me.

The first line refers to "love's light wings", which is an allusion to Cupid, who is traditionally portrayed as a winged boy.

The second line says that walls cannot stop "love". One way of reading this is that walls can't stop Cupid. However, it is Romeo, not Cupid who managed to get into the Capulets' orchard (see the fourth line), so a second reading suggests itself: Romeo is in love, and he uses the word "love" to refer to himself, which may be interpreted as a pars pro toto.

Three additional comments:

  • If "Love" had been capitalised in order to denote the god of love, the line would have been an example of antonomasia.(See also "antonomasia" in Cuddon.)
  • The terms reification or concretism can be used to refer to treating an abstraction or an abstract concept as if it were a concrete event or a physical entity.
  • Wikipedia's discussion of metonymy and synecdoche is confusing. Possibly, instead of stating "X means ...", those articles should limit themselves to describing how various theorists have defined those terms instead of presenting them as if they had a generally agreed upon meaning in literary theory.

Cuddon, J. A.: The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Third edition. Penguin, 1992.

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