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ACT I, SCENE V
We go from Romeo and his dark thoughts to a playful group of servants.
Watch how often this happens during the play; serious scenes follow silly ones, and poetic scenes are followed by quick dialogue.
Also, notice how many short scenes have come before the party scene. So many people have been getting ready for it that we're ready for something important to happen-and it does.
Now we're back in the Capulets' house, and Lord Capulet is in his element, happily welcoming all his guests. He's thrilled to see the young men in masks-it reminds him of his bachelor days when he did the same thing.
Then we have to sit back and imagine what we'd see if we were at the party: a beautiful hall in a wealthy man's house, plenty of food, musicians playing, and lovely women dancing with dashing men. Benvolio joins right in. Rosaline is there somewhere, but Romeo doesn't have time for her: he's already seen Juliet.
Juliet must be breathtakingly beautiful: both Paris and Romeo are enchanted by her looks before they even meet her. But something more is going on here: Romeo is so entranced that he's forgotten that he ever had a crush on anyone else. The silly, repetitious praises he made for Rosaline become wonderful, mature poetry as he exclaims about Juliet:
O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright! It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! (I, v, 46-50)
Romeo is talking to himself as he says this, which was an accepted custom on the Elizabethan stage. But, unexpectedly, someone overhears him; and, unfortunately, that someone is Tybalt.
Tybalt is furious. He recognizes Romeo and wants to kill him on the spot, but Lord Capulet stops him. Capulet calls Romeo "a virtuous and well-governed youth" while calling Tybalt "a saucy boy" and "a princox." For the first time we see Capulet unleash his anger on someone who doesn't instantly obey him. In the same speech, he goes back and forth between speaking jovially to his guests and calling Tybalt ugly names. True, Tybalt deserves it; but we'll later see Capulet act the same way towards someone who doesn't.
Romeo finally meets Juliet. They're not formally introduced; they don't know each other's names. Romeo reverently calls her "dear saint," and likens her hand to a shrine, and his lips to two pilgrims who've come to the shrine to be forgiven their sins. Who could resist a romantic line like that? Not Juliet. She's instantly smitten with this mysterious young man, but she gives him a run for his money. He asks if saints have lips as well as hands, and she says yes, but lips are used for prayer. When he does finally kiss her lips to absolve his "sin", she asks if her lips now have the sin, and makes him kiss her again to take it back. It's ironic that from the beginning Romeo claims that kissing Juliet pardons his sins, when some feel that their passion is the sin that leads to their downfall.
Romeo and Juliet fit together so well from the beginning that their gentle battle of wits (interspersed with joyful kisses) forms a sonnet-lines 95 to 108. Shakespeare seems to be telling us that the moment was so beautiful it had to be preserved as a poem.
The young lovers are interrupted by the Nurse, who tells Juliet that her mother wishes to see her. Romeo asks the Nurse who Juliet's mother is, and when he finds out, he exclaims:
Is she a Capulet? O dear account! My life is my foe's debt! (I, v, 119-20)
As the party breaks up, Juliet casually asks the Nurse to identify several young men, including Romeo. When the Nurse goes off to find out who he is, Juliet whispers to herself, "If he is married, my grave is like to be my wedding bed." We know that the opposite of this will be true; it is the first of many ironic foreshadowings.
This is the first time that marriage is linked to death. Keep an eye out for this idea to reoccur.
When Juliet learns his identity, her cry echos Romeo's:
My only love, sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! (I, v, 140-141)