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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.