Paris, a relative of the prince, asks Capulet for his daughter Juliet's hand in marriage. Capulet is initially reluctant to give his consent because Juliet is so young. Finally, however, he agrees to the match if Paris can gain Juliet's consent.
Capulet invites Paris to a feast to be held that night. Capulet sends off the guest list with a servant, who is, unfortunately, illiterate and cannot read the names. He meets Romeo and Benvolio whom he asks for help. The guest list includes Rosaline, the object of Romeo's affections, so Romeo resolves to go to the feast despite the danger involved. Benvolio hopes that Romeo will see another lady there to help him forget about Rosaline. Romeo again denies that this could happen.
Paris and Capulet's discussion of Juliet's age in the beginning of this scene continues another of the play's resounding themes: youth versus old age. In the world of the feud, the older generation's conflicts and bids for power control the destinies of their children without much apparent thought for their children's ultimate welfare. Thus the flaws in this patriarchal system make Romeo and Juliet's waywardness in love seem all the more innocent.
Capulet worries that Juliet, at 13, is too young to be married. He cautiously advises Paris: "Let two more summers wither in their pride / Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride." Shakespeare's emphasis on Juliet as a teenage girl poised between childhood and adulthood highlights that Juliet is a very young tragic heroine who is forced to mature extremely quickly during the course of the play.
Although Juliet's parents, like Romeo's, seem to look out for their child's best interests, Juliet's position is clearly subordinate to her father's political concerns. In the discussion of her marriage, Juliet is primarily a commodity. Paris wants her mainly because of her social status and beauty. Capulet may even be using her youth and innocence as "selling points" to Paris rather than expressing genuine fatherly concern for protecting her from the corruption of the big wide world. No sooner does he insist that Paris win Juliet's consent than he arranges the feast where Paris may woo her more easily.
Her father's half-hearted nod to gaining her consent is the last evidence of Juliet being empowered by her family. Hereafter, fate and her family control the marionette strings. Her actions (although not her words) are contrary to the powers that try to control her. Although her defiance doesn't become manifest until she refuses to marry Paris, this passage is both the twilight of her permissive independence and a harbinger of her defiant independence.
This scene presents Paris and Romeo as unwitting rivals for Juliet's hand. Paris is the model suitor — a well-to-do relative of the prince and notably courteous toward Capulet. He complies with social convention in his public proposal of marriage. Romeo, on the other hand, appears as a fanciful and fashionable young lover, with idealistic concepts of love. Romeo is reckless in his attitude towards love, quickly transferring his affections from Rosaline to Juliet, whereas Paris remains constant in his affection for Juliet. When Romeo falls in love with Juliet, he defies social conventions and woos her in secret.
A chance encounter with Capulet's illiterate servant later in the scene enables Romeo and Benvolio to find out about the feast. This chance meeting contributes to a sense of inevitability that Romeo and Juliet are destined to meet.
In his concluding speech, Romeo is only able to describe his feelings for Rosaline through figurative language that he has learned from poetry books. His borrowed images of love as a religious quest suggest that his idealism has separated him from reality; he is in love with an ideal, not a real person. Also borrowed second-hand from the sonnets are his images of "looking" — his declaration that his eyes cannot delude him only proves that he is the stereotypical lover blinded by love. This paradox builds dramatic suspense for Act I, Scene 5 when he falls in love at first sight with Juliet.
suit the act of wooing; courtship.
well-apparell'd April clothed or adorned with images of new growth associated with the spring, such as leaves and blossom. Contrast with "limping winter."
sirrah a contemptuous term of address, here used to indicate the difference in social status between Capulet and his servant.
new infection to thy eye Benvolio continues to encourage Romeo to look for another love. Ironically, Romeo and Juliet fall in love at first sight.
plantain leaf the leaf was used to heal cuts and bruises. Romeo replies sarcastically that Benvolio's suggestion of a cure for Romeo's love melancholy would be as effective as applying a plantain leaf.
transparent heretics Romeo says that if he saw another woman more beautiful than Rosaline his tears would turn to fire and burn his eyes as "transparent heretics" for lying.
poised balanced, weighed.
crystal scales Romeo's eyes are like the pans on a set of crystal scales.