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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act II, Scene 2
After his friends leave, Romeo approaches the house and waits near Juliet’s window. She appears and looks up at the stars. He compares her to the sun with more radiance than the moon that lights up the garden. The Moon is an emblem of Diana, the chaste, cold goddess. Romeo begs Juliet not to be Diana’s follower, but to be free to marry him. He waits for Juliet to say something. Her lips move only in sighs. He moves his attention to her eyes and wonders what would happen in the heavens if her beautiful eyes became stars.
Unaware of his presence, Juliet speaks a soliloquy in which she utters his name, wishes that he were not a
Montague, and professes her love. She says that “A man’s name means nothing - It is himself that counts, not
his physical appurtenances, but his soul....A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In exchange for
Romeo cannot contain himself and comes out into the moonlight. He declares that he will no longer be Romeo in order to win her. She is startled by his voice until she recognizes him. She asks him how he got into the garden and remarks that it would be death for him if he is discovered. Romeo answers that he would rather face death than live without her love. Juliet suddenly realizes that she has betrayed her modesty by speaking aloud, revealing her love for him, and being overheard. She feels herself blushing and is glad that the night hides her embarrassment. She tells him that her behavior was not right and says that she will not be taken for a frivolous girl.
Romeo is willing to swear by the moon, by his soul, and by Juliet herself that he loves her truly. She forbids all swearing. She tells him to wait until the bud of his love blooms into a flower and bids him good night, but Romeo will not let her go until they have formally pledged themselves to each other and exchanged vows.
At this point, the Nurse calls Juliet. Before going inside for the night, she returns to the window and tells Romeo that she will send a messenger to him the next morning. The messenger will tell Romeo where and when the couple can be married, so that she can follow him, her lord, throughout the world. Juliet then retires. Romeo, left alone and unable to sleep, announces his decision to go at once to his confessor to arrange for the marriage. Day is breaking as Romeo departs.
This famous scene, known as the Balcony Scene, is one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful and lyrical. Its airiness, its poetic flights of imagination, its love passages, and its lingering delays of parting make it a charming scene filled with emotional impact. The beauty of the night, with the moon casting its silvery rays, adds to the romantic nature of the scene and seems to light up what is happening on stage. When Juliet opens the window, Romeo bursts into exquisite poetry. He compares Juliet to the sun. Her very presence transports him into a world of rapture. He watches as her lips move in sighs. He feels that she is about to speak and knows he will feel like a mortal listening to an angel in heaven. Then, she utters his name and wishes that he were not part of the enemy family.
After hearing Juliet’s words, Romeo comes out of hiding and announces his presence to her. Juliet is at first alarmed at his sudden appearance. When she realizes who it is, she tells Romeo that if any Capulet knew of his presence in her garden, they would murder him. Romeo replies, “There lies more peril in thine eye than twenty of their swords.” Both confess their love for one another, Romeo swearing his love by the moon. Juliet warns him against swearing by the inconstant moon that monthly changes in its circled orb, lest his love should prove likewise variable. The lovers pledge themselves to each other and exchange vows.
The Nurse, who calls for Juliet to come inside from the balcony, interrupts their second meeting. After briefly going inside to answer the Nurse, Juliet returns to the balcony and Romeo. Their parting is portrayed in extremely poetic words as Romeo bids her farewell: “Goodnight, goodnight! Parting is such sweet sorrow/That I shall say good night till it be morrow.” Romeo’s passion for Juliet seems fathomless.”
The lyrical beauty of this love scene is unsurpassed in literature. The young lovers forget the conflicts of their families and unite in love. Romeo sheds his image as a lovesick and sentimental youth and expresses his devotion to Juliet with simplicity and intensity. Juliet also reveals that she has developed from a young girl of fourteen into womanhood. She plans to arrange the time and place of their marriage and communicate them to Romeo through a messenger. Romeo decides to go to Friar Lawrence, his confessor, to reveal the plans for their marriage.
The imagery of light and darkness are very important to the play and particularly to this scene. When Romeo felt he was in love with Rosaline, his mood was dark and gloomy because she was cold like the moon and similar to the goddess, Diana in her aloofness. Now in the darkness of night, lighted only by the moon, Romeo feels happy and bright. He has found true love in Juliet, who he compares to the sun in her radiance and warmth. He also compares her to a bright angel, once again developing the religious comparison begun during their first meeting.
The perfection of the scene is only tainted by the fears of the two young lovers. Romeo fears that the strife of their family will stand in the way of their love, and Juliet fears for Romeo’s life, knowing that if he is discovered in the garden by a Capulet, he will be murdered. Both also seem to know that their love is too intense and too sudden, almost foreshadowing that the perfection of their feelings cannot continue.