Romeo and Juliet Summary and Analysis
The chorus introduces the play, and tells the audience that two families in Verona have reignited an ancient feud. Two lovers, one from each family, commit suicide after trying to run away from their families. The loss of their children compels the families to end the feud.
Act One, Scene One
The servants of the Capulets are on the street waiting for some servants of the Montague's to arrive. When they do, Samson from the Capulets bites his thumb at them, essentially a strong insult. Abraham from the Montague's accepts the insult and the men start to fight.
Benvolio, Romeo's cousin, enters and makes the men stop fighting by drawing his own sword. Tybalt, Juliet's cousin, then also enters the street. Seeing Benvolio, he too draws his sword and enters the fight.
Old Capulet runs onto the stage and demands a sword so that he too may fight. His wife restrains him, even when Old Montague emerges with his sword drawn as well. The Citizens of the Watch have put up a cry, and manage to get Prince Escalus to arrive. The Prince chides them for three times before causing the street of Verona to be unsafe. He orders them to return home, and personally accompanies the Capulets.
The Montagues and Benvolio remain on stage. They ask Benvolio why Romeo was not with him, and he tells them Romeo has been in a strange mood lately. When Romeo appears, the Montagues ask Benvolio to find out what is wrong, and then depart. Romeo informs Benvolio that he is in love with a woman named Rosaline who wishes to remain chaste for the rest of her life, which is why he is so depressed.
Act One, Scene Two
Paris pleads with Capulet to let him marry Juliet, who is still only a girl of thirteen. Capulet tells him to wait, but decides to allow Paris to woo her and try to win her heart. He then tells his servant Peter to take a list of names and invite the people to a masked ball he is hosting that evening.
Peter meets Romeo on the street, and being unable to read, asks Romeo to help read the list for him. Romeo does, and realizes that the girl he loves, Rosaline, will be attending this party. Peter tells him that it will be held at Capulet's house, and that he is invited if he wishes to come. Both Benvolio and Romeo decide to go.
Act One, Scene Three
Lady Capulet asks the Nurse to call for Juliet. She does, and then tells Lady Capulet that Juliet will be fourteen in under two weeks. She then digresses and speaks of how Juliet was as a child, causing both Juliet and her mother embarassment.
The mother tells Juliet that Paris has come to marry her. She then describes Paris as being beautiful, and compares him to a fine book that only lacks a cover. Juliet does not promise anything, but agrees to at least look at the man that night at dinner.
Act One, Scene Four
Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are making their way to the masked party. Romeo is still depressed, even though he gets to see Rosaline. Mercutio tries to cheer him up by telling a story about Queen Mab, a fictitious elf that infiltrates men's dreams. Romeo finally shushes him and comments that he is afraid of the consequences of going to this party.
Act One, Scene Five
Romeo stands to the side during the dancing, and it is from this spot that he first sees Juliet. He immediately falls in love with her. Tybalt overhears Romeo talking to a servingman and recognizes him as Romeo Montague by his voice. However, before Tybalt can creat a scene, Old Capulet tells him to leave Romeo alone, since it would look bad to have a brawl in the middle of the festivities.
Romeo finds Juliet and touches her hand. They speak in sonnet form to one another, and Romeo eventually gets to kiss her. However, Juliet is forced to go see her mother. The Nurse tells Romeo that Juliet is a Capulet, at which he is startled.
Juliet finds her Nurse at the end of the party and begs her to find out who Romeo is. The Nurse returns and tells her he is Romeo, the only son of the Montague family. Juliet is heart-broken that she loves a "loathed enemy" (1.5.138).
Act One: Analysis
This play begins with a sonnet, a form of prose usually reserved for a lover addressing his beloved. The sonnet is a very structured form of prose, lending itself to order. Shakespeare cleverly contrasts this orderly sonnet with the immediate disorder of the first scene. Thus, the scene quickly degenerates into a bunch of quarreling servants who soon provoke a fight between the houses of Montegue and Capulet.
This scene is wrought with sexual overtones, with the various servants speaking of raping the enemy's women. The sexual wordplay will continue throughout the play, becoming extremely bawdy and at times offensive, yet also underlying the love affair between Romeo and Juliet.
The disorder within the play is evidenced by inverted circumstances. Servants start the quarrel, but soon draw the noblemen into the brawl. The young men enter the fight, but soon the old men try to deny their age and fight as well. The fact that this whole scene takes place in broad daylight undermines the security that is supposed to exist during the day. Thus the play deals with conflicting images: servants leading noblemen, old age pretending to be young, day overtaking night.
The Nurse speaks of Juliet falling as a child when she relates a story to Lady Capulet. This story indirectly pertains to the rise and fall of the characters. Since this is a tragedy, the influence of wheel's fortune cannot be overlooked. Indeed, Juliet's role in the play does parallel the wheel of fortune, with her rise to the balcony and her fall to the vault.
The Nurse also foreshadows, "An I might live to see thee married once" (1.3.63). Naturally she does not expect this to be realized in so short a time, but indeed she does live to only see Juliet married once.
Romeo compares Juliet to, "a rich jewel in an Ethiope's ear" (1.5.43) when he first sees her. This play on the comparison of dark and light shows up frequently in subsequent scenes. It is a central part of their love that important love scenes take place in the dark, away from the disorder of the day. Thus Romeo loves Juliet at night, but kills Tybalt during the day. It especially shows up in the first act in the way Romeo shuts out the daylight while he is pining for Rosaline.
In the fifth scene the lover's share a sonnet which uses imagery of saints and pilgrims. This relates to the fact that Romeo means Pilgrim in Italian. It is also a sacriligeous sonnet, for Juliet becomes a saint to be kissed and Romeo a holy traveler.
The foreshadowing so common in all of Shakespeare's plays comes from Juliet near the end of the first act. She states, "If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed." (1.5.132). This will be related over and over again, from her Nurse and later even from Lady Capulet.
One of the remarkable aspects of the play is the transformation of both Romeo and Juliet after they fall in love. Juliet first comes across as a young, innocent girl who obeys her parents' commands. However, by the last scene she is devious and highly focused. Thus, she asks her nurse about three separate men at the party, saving Romeo for last so as not to arouse suspicion. Romeo will undergo a similar transformation in the second act, resulting in Mercutio commenting that he has become sociable.
There is a strange biblical reference which comes from Benvolio in the very first scene, when he attempts to halt the fight. He remarks, "Put up your swords. You know not what you do" (1.1.56). This is the same phrase used by Jesus when he stops his apostles from fighting the Roman guards during his arrest. It seems to preordain Juliet's demise, namely her three day "death" followed by a resurrection which still ultimately ends in death.
Romeo and Juliet Essays and Related Content
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- Romeo and Juliet: Purchase the Novel and Related Material
- William Shakespeare: Biography
- Romeo and Juliet Summary
- About Romeo and Juliet
- Character List
- Summary and Analysis of Act 1
- Summary and Analysis of Act 2
- Summary and Analysis of Act 3
- Summary and Analysis of Act 4
- Summary and Analysis of Act 5
- About Shakespearean Theater
- Related Links on Romeo and Juliet
- Author of ClassicNote and Sources