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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act I, Scene 4
Benvolio, in rounding up his party of masked guests to attend the dance, has included a new character in the group--Mercutio, known for his wit and love of adventure. The guests are accompanied by torchbearers to light the way and drummers to announce their coming. The maskers are expected to announce their presence with a short speech, after which the host would welcome them and invite them to participate in the dance. Romeo is worried about making a speech and being discovered. Benvolio, however, dismisses the idea, adding that they will dance awhile and then leave.
Romeo says that he wants to enter as a torchbearer, for he only wants to look on. Mercutio insists that he must dance, but Romeo declares that his soul is too heavy for dancing. He says that he has been too sorely wounded by Cupid’s arrow to soar high. Mercutio grows impatient with his friend, but he prefers jesting and exchanges puns with Romeo. Romeo tells him of a dream in which he was warned of death if he goes to the dance. Mercutio ridicules dreams and their interpretations. Benvolio is annoyed over the delay caused by his friends. He orders the drummers to beat the drums and announce their arrival at the party. Romeo joins in the festivities, but his mind is not at ease.
This scene introduces Mercutio. He is a contrast to the moody Romeo in his wit and excitement. He has been included in Capulet’s list of guests since he is not a Montague; but he is a friend of Benvolio and Romeo, both Montagues. He prefers to accompany them as a masker, for it gives him an opportunity to display his wit and enjoy the fun. Mercutio directs his wit at Romeo, trying to laugh him out of his moodiness. While coaxing Romeo to enter the Capulet’s ball, Mercutio delivers the famous Queen Mab speech. This speech does not appear to have any bearing upon the development of the play; but it is a superb piece of poetic wit describing the occupations of Queen Mab, a mischievous “fairy-midwife”, an ironic juxtaposition of words. Fairies are lovely, delicate creatures, while midwifes are usually old and haggard beings that deal with the pain and blood of childbirth. Through the speech, Mercutio is trying to show Romeo just how fanciful and unrealistic is his love for Rosaline. Dramatically, it lengthens the suspense of the audience.
Finally, Romeo is persuaded to enter Capulet’s house in the hope of meeting Rosaline. He, however, has no desire to take part in the dance, for he is in a love-lorn state. His moodiness has made him subject to bad dreams, and he feels that some evil, some untimely death may befall him if he goes to the ball. Thus, this scene foreshadows the future tragedy of the play through the fears of Romeo. The suggestion of doom in the scene is in sharp contrast to the playful mood created by Mercutio.
Benvolio’s impatience at Romeo’s hesitation to enter the ball is revealed. He is anxious to put his plan for Romeo to the test; Romeo must participate in the ball in order to see the other beauties and forget his love for Rosaline. At the end of the scene, Benvolio gives quick orders to the drummer to lead the way to the party. Romeo follows.