Skip over navigation

Romeo and Juliet

William Shakespeare

Act 1, scene 5

Act 1, scene 4

Act 2, prologue–scene 1

Summary

In the great hall of the Capulets, all is a-bustle. The servants work feverishly to make sure all runs smoothly, and set aside some food to make sure they have some enjoyment of the feast as well. Capulet makes his rounds through groups of guests, joking with them and encouraging all to dance.

From across the room, Romeo sees Juliet, and asks a servingman who she is. The servingman does not know. Romeo is transfixed; Rosaline vanishes from his mind and he declares that he has never been in love until this moment. Moving through the crowd, Tybalt hears and recognizes Romeo’s voice. Realizing that there is a Montague present, Tybalt sends a servant to fetch his rapier. Capulet overhears Tybalt and reprimands him, telling him that Romeo is well regarded in Verona, and that he will not have the youth harmed at his feast. Tybalt protests, but Capulet scolds him until he agrees to keep the peace. As Capulet moves on, Tybalt vows that he will not let this indignity pass.

Meanwhile, Romeo has approached Juliet and touched her hand. In a dialogue laced with religious metaphors that figure Juliet as a saint and Romeo as a pilgrim who wishes to erase his sin, he tries to convince her to kiss him, since it is only through her kiss that he might be absolved. Juliet agrees to remain still as Romeo kisses her. Thus, in the terms of their conversation, she takes his sin from him. Juliet then makes the logical leap that if she has taken Romeo’s sin from him, his sin must now reside in her lips, and so they must kiss again.

Just as their second kiss ends, the Nurse arrives and tells Juliet that her mother wants to speak with her. Romeo asks the Nurse who Juliet’s mother is. The Nurse replies that Lady Capulet is her mother. Romeo is devastated. As the crowd begins to disperse, Benvolio shows up and leads Romeo from the feast. Juliet is just as struck with the mysterious man she has kissed as Romeo is with her. She comments to herself that if he is already married, she feels she will die (1.5.131). In order to find out Romeo’s identity without raising any suspicions, she asks the Nurse to identify a series of young men. The Nurse goes off and returns with the news that the man’s name is Romeo, and that he is a Montague. Overcome with anguish that she loves a Montague, Juliet follows her nurse from the hall.

Analysis

This is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Romeo sees Juliet and forgets Rosaline entirely; Juliet meets Romeo and falls just as deeply in love. The meeting of Romeo and Juliet dominates the scene, and, with extraordinary language that captures both the excitement and wonder that the two protagonists feel, Shakespeare proves equal to the expectations he has set up by delaying the meeting for an entire act.

The first conversation between Romeo and Juliet is an extended Christian metaphor. Using this metaphor, Romeo ingeniously manages to convince Juliet to let him kiss her. But the metaphor holds many further functions. The religious overtones of the conversation clearly imply that their love can be described only through the vocabulary of religion, that pure association with God. In this way, their love becomes associated with the purity and passion of the divine. But there is another side to this association of personal love and religion. In using religious language to describe their burgeoning feelings for each other, Romeo and Juliet tiptoe on the edge of blasphemy. Romeo compares Juliet to an image of a saint that should be revered, a role that Juliet is willing to play. Whereas the Catholic church held that reverence for saint’s images was acceptable, the Anglican church of Elizabethan times saw it as blasphemy, a kind of idol worship. Romeo’s statements about Juliet border on the heretical. Juliet commits an even more profound blasphemy in the next scene when she calls Romeo the “god of her idolatry,” effectively installing Romeo in God’s place in her personal religion (2.1.156). We have discussed already how Romeo and Juliet’s love seems always to be opposed by the social structures of family, honor, and the civil desire for order. Here it is also shown to have some conflict, at least theologically, with religion.

When Romeo and Juliet meet they speak just fourteen lines before their first kiss. These fourteen lines make up a shared sonnet, with a rhyme scheme of ababcdcdefefgg. A sonnet is a perfect, idealized poetic form often used to write about love. Encapsulating the moment of origin of Romeo and Juliet’s love within a sonnet therefore creates a perfect match between literary content and formal style. The use of the sonnet, however, also serves a second, darker purpose. The play’s Prologue also is a single sonnet of the same rhyme scheme as Romeo and Juliet’s shared sonnet. If you remember, the Prologue sonnet introduces the play, and, through its description of Romeo and Juliet’s eventual death, also helps to create the sense of fate that permeates Romeo and Juliet. The shared sonnet between Romeo and Juliet therefore creates a formal link between their love and their destiny. With a single sonnet, Shakespeare finds a means of expressing perfect love and linking it to a tragic fate.

That fate begins to assert itself in the instant when Romeo and Juliet first meet: Tybalt recognizes Romeo’s voice when Romeo first exclaims at Juliet’s beauty. Capulet, acting cautiously, stops Tybalt from taking immediate action, but Tybalt’s rage is set, creating the circumstances that will eventually banish Romeo from Verona. In the meeting between Romeo and Juliet lie the seeds of their shared tragedy.

The first conversation between Romeo and Juliet also provides a glimpse of the roles that each will play in their relationship. In this scene, Romeo is clearly the aggressor. He uses all the skill at his disposal to win over a struck, but timid, Juliet. Note that Juliet does not move during their first kiss; she simply lets Romeo kiss her. She is still a young girl, and though already in her dialogue with Romeo has proved herself intelligent, she is not ready to throw herself into action. But Juliet is the aggressor in the second kiss. It is her logic that forces Romeo to kiss her again and take back the sin he has placed upon her lips. In a single conversation, Juliet transforms from a proper, timid young girl to one more mature, who understands what she desires and is quick-witted enough to procure it. Juliet’s subsequent comment to Romeo, “You kiss by th’ book,” can be taken in two ways (1.5.107). First, it can be seen as emphasizing Juliet’s lack of experience. Many productions of Romeo and Juliet have Juliet say this line with a degree of wonder, so that the words mean “you are an incredible kisser, Romeo.” But it is possible to see a bit of wry observation in this line. Juliet’s comment that Romeo kisses by the book is akin to noting that he kisses as if he has learned how to kiss from a manual and followed those instructions exactly. In other words, he is proficient, but unoriginal (note that Romeo’s love for Rosaline is described in exactly these terms, as learned from reading books of romantic poetry). Juliet is clearly smitten with Romeo, but it is possible to see her as the more incisive of the two, and as nudging Romeo to a more genuine level of love through her observation of his tendency to get caught up in the forms of love rather than love itself.

Are you ready for the test?
Quick Quiz   →

More Help

Previous Next
Translation

by DenerioWillis19, October 18, 2012

I really like how they translated the quotes into modern day time.

Thanks.

10 Comments

127 out of 169 people found this helpful

Dramatic Irony

by Shookie219, December 18, 2012

This site is wonderful but it doesn't point out some literary elements I think it should such as dramatic irony. In Act IV Scene I one of the first occurrences of dramatic irony is that Paris believes Juliet is weeping over Tybalt's death but she is weeping over Romeo which the audience knows.

It would be nice to have dramatic irony's pointed out a little!

8 Comments

130 out of 166 people found this helpful

Owen's Eternal Love for Brooklynn

by cameronwelch12, February 15, 2013

Hey guys, it's Cameron again, my poor friend Owen is having issues getting a girlfriend. His true love is Brooklynn Smithington AKA Brian Smithington's daughter. Owen is 4 years old and was born on a leap year. He also enjoys making sandwiches for his love's father Brian Smithington. Please help him get a date with Brooklynn and I will give you 3 wishes. - By the way, I am a Genie

3 Comments

73 out of 356 people found this helpful

See all 36 readers' notes   →

Follow Us