Out in the streets at night, the Montagues, led by Mercutio, dance and laugh with lit torches, planning to invade the Capulet party. Romeo expresses his hesitance, saying they shouldn’t go because he had a dream about it. Mercutio goes off on a long, nonsensical rant about the “Queen Mab,” an imaginary little creature that brings dreams and fantasies to people while they sleep. His monologue grows more and more impassioned until he appears distraught and Romeo has to calm him down, saying he’s talking of nothing. Benvolio advises them to hurry to the party. Romeo hangs behind and worries aloud that going to this party could be a terrible decision that might end in his death. A bell tolls in the distance. He dons his mask.
Lord Capulet greets the dozens of guests in his house merrily, including Romeo and the other masked Montagues. Romeo and Benvolio observe the many beautiful women in attendance. Romeo watches the dancers out on the floor when suddenly he spots Juliet dancing with a guest. He is immediately struck by her as if in a trance. After a moment, he remembers to stay hidden behind his mask, but continues to watch her as she dances. She notices him watching her, and continues glancing at him as the dance goes on, even as she begins dancing with Tybalt and others. Romeo talks of her beauty to himself, swearing that he’s never loved until now, nor “saw true beauty until this night.”
While dancing, Tybalt noticing Romeo watching and points him out to Lady Capulet. He then makes Lord Capulet aware, but Capulet sees that the intruder is Romeo and, citing Romeo’s reputation as a virtuous and well-behaved youth, tells Tybalt to calm down and leave him alone. Lady Capulet cheerfully announces a dance called the Moresca, performed by wearing bells on the wrists and flicking and ringing them as one dances. Romeo joins in and soon finds himself dancing with Juliet. Tybalt watches furiously and attempts again to have Lord Capulet intervene, but the latter grows angry, telling Tybalt to drop it, for he is not the master of the house. Lady Capulet pulls them separately aside and tells them both to calm down. Romeo and Juliet continue to dance as the tempo and laughter increase. The onlookers cheer them on and everyone appears to be having a great time. As the song concludes, Juliet frees herself from the crowd and a Capulet named Peter takes center stage to sing a song.
As Peter croons, Juliet returns to the onlooking crowd and searches for Romeo as he also looks for her. They spot one another and slowly make their way closer together, keeping an eye on one another between the heads of the other guests. They finally stop on either side of a wall, separated by a curtain, and Romeo reaches across it and takes her hand suddenly, causing her to gasp and briefly draw the attention of a nearby guest. Romeo says that if his hand isn’t worthy to touch hers, he could kiss her instead. We see a close-up of her eyes as she listens intently, completely taken with him. He attempts to kiss her hand and she pulls it away and looks at him, seeming dumbstruck. He pulls her closer, and she puts the palm of her hand to his, likening it to a kiss. She then separates herself from him after a moment and tries to drink some wine, saying lips are for praying. He asks to kiss her and she hesitates, but he slowly leans in and kisses her. The music swells and Juliet jokes that he transferred sin to her lips. He asks for it back and they kiss again. Peter then concludes his song to enthusiastic applause.
The Nurse comes looking for Juliet, saying her mother is looking for her, and Juliet splits from Romeo to go find Lady Capulet. The Nurse pours herself some wine as Romeo asks her who Juliet’s mother is. She says she’s the lady of the house, whose daughter The Nurse herself breastfed. She beckons him closer and says that anyone who marries Juliet will be very rich. She then downs her wine and runs off. Romeo removes his mask and laments that Juliet is a Capulet, his family’s sworn enemy.
The guests begin to leave, including Paris, who bids Juliet goodbye. Juliet asks the Nurse to find out who the boy she was talking to is, and the Nurse consults Tybalt and tells her that he’s Romeo Montague. Like Romeo, Juliet is shocked. She touches her mouth as if to remember his kiss, and Tybalt notices this unhappily.
Later, Juliet is in the courtyard and hears men shouting for Romeo. Her mother calls her away, but she hesitates as she hears his name again, and then her own. Next, out in the streets, we see Romeo running from his drunken group of friends, who carry torches and bellow his name. He scales the wall of the Capulet house and goes over the other side to avoid them.
He notices a light coming from the house, and approaches to see Juliet on her balcony, appearing lovestruck and forlorn. He professes how beautiful she is, wishing to be a glove on her hand so that he may touch her face. He considers yelling to her, but holds himself back. He hears her asking herself why Romeo must be a Montague, wishing that he’d renounce his name, or else let her renounce hers so that they may end up together, for it is Romeo’s last name that is her enemy, not Romeo himself. She says the name Montague is not a physical part of him, just an arbitrary title—like how a rose is still a rose no matter what you call it—and that without his name she’d still love him.
Romeo cries out to her, saying he’d give up his name for her, and this startles her. She doesn’t recognize him and tries to leave, but he calls to her that he can’t introduce himself because his name is her enemy, and she recognizes him as Romeo. She’s baffled that he got over the house wall and worries he’ll be caught, but he reassures her. She asks him to profess his love faithfully to her, and he swears by the moon. She protests this, saying the moon changes too often to be relied upon. He swears instead by himself, and they embrace and kiss passionately. After a moment, Juliet separates and bids him goodnight. He asks that they exchange their promise to be faithful to each other before they go, and she brings her palm to his as they did during the party, and then kisses him again. The Nurse calls for Juliet off-camera, and Juliet asks Romeo to wait in secret lest he be caught, and then runs inside. Romeo hangs by one hand from the tree beside the balcony, elated and celebrating his love. Juliet returns and asks him to contact her the next day by 9am, but only if he swears he really loves her. He promises to contact her. He tries to leave, but she calls to him again, seemingly for no other reason than to stall his departure. He climbs the balcony and kisses her again. They finally say goodnight, and we see their hands separate slowly as the camera zooms out to view Romeo leaving at the base of the wall as Juliet watches him from above. Cheerful music plays as Romeo runs off through the woods.
Mercutio is among the most memorable characters in the story—certainly, he’s the most charismatic and outspoken. His monologue about Queen Mab, delivered while the Montague men head to the Capulet feast, is a defining moment for his character. He discourses in an obscure but passionate manner, working himself up. His description of the Mab first as a whimsical creature bringing about good dreams, and then as a nasty hag raining curses upon unchaste women, parallels the atmosphere of oppression that Romeo and Juliet face in the play. The Mab herself can be viewed as representing the vindictive establishment of Verona that impedes Romeo and Juliet’s budding relationship—they are cursed by authorities that plague them for daring to love, as the Mab plagues non-virgins for having intercourse.
The song Peter sings to the party guests is another poignant example of foreshadowing, and it introduces a melodic motif that will come up many other times in the film, including when Romeo and Juliet each take their own life. The lyrics speak of Cupid ruling us all, a nod to the idea that Romeo and Juliet are controlled by their urges and desire for each other. The lyrics also say, “A rose will bloom / It then will fade / So does a youth.” This is a description of the fleetingness of youth, but also parallels the blooming love between the two protagonists which soon will fade as they cut their own lives short.
That Romeo and Juliet are from feuding families, while far from surprising given the story’s premise, is nevertheless an overarching example of situational irony. Juliet sums it up perfectly in calling Romeo “my only love sprung from my only hate.” There is literally only one person each for Romeo and Juliet who is completely off-limits, per their family’s wishes: the offspring of their enemies. And yet it is that person for whom each of them fall. This ties back to the idea that the two are “star-cross’d lovers”; their entire relationship is characterized by the fact that it’s the one relationship that wasn’t supposed to exist, and therefore one that cannot last without dire consequences ensuing.
Romeo and Juliet’s first encounter sets up the intensity of their relationship for the remainder of the film. Romeo sees in Juliet a kind of beauty and feels a kind of love that he claims never to have known before; the camera focuses on just Juliet’s eyes as she closes them and listens to him speak. Their entire relationship is characterized by their being utterly overwhelmed by each other. Yet at the same time, the fact that their relationship is marred by the divide between their families places an unfortunate reality check upon them, physically represented by the fact that they first interact on opposite sides of a curtain, a manifestation of the barrier that will keep them from knowing true happiness.
The scene in which Romeo finds Juliet out on her balcony is perhaps the most famous scene in the play. Romeo overhears Juliet pondering, among other things, the nature of names (with her iconic saying: “A rose by any other name would smell just as sweet”). Juliet postulates that Romeo exists separately from his social and familial identity—that while he lives by a certain name because it’s the only one he has, his label of “Montague,” and even of “Romeo,” is entirely arbitrary, and therefore should bear no influence on whether or not he can be with her. Her ability to separate his existence from his identity as a Montague helps her to rationalize being in love with her enemy’s son.