Summary and Analysis
Romeo and his fellow attendees arrive at the Capulet feast. The guests are greeted by Capulet, who reminisces with his cousin about how long it has been since they both took part in a masque. Romeo sees Juliet and falls in love with her instantly. Tybalt recognizes Romeo's voice and sends for his rapier to kill him. A violent outburst is prevented as Capulet insists on Tybalt's obedience, reminding him of Romeo's good character and the need to keep the peace.
Romeo and Juliet continue their exchanges and they kiss, but are interrupted by The Nurse, who sends Juliet to find her mother. In her absence, Romeo asks the Nurse who Juliet is and on discovering that she is a Capulet, realizes the grave consequences of their love. The feast draws to a close and Romeo leaves with Benvolio and the others. Juliet then discovers from the Nurse that Romeo is a Montague.
The theme of youth versus old age is again evident in this scene through Capulet's interaction with his guests and relatives, particularly Tybalt. The reminiscence with his cousin about the masques they danced in as young men emphasizes his position within the play as an old man past his "dancing days."
When Romeo sees Juliet for the first time, he is struck by her beauty and breaks into a sonnet. The imagery Romeo uses to describe Juliet gives important insights into their relationship. Romeo initially describes Juliet as a source of light, like a star, against the darkness: "she doth teach the torches to burn bright! It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night." As the play progresses, a cloak of interwoven light and dark images is cast around the pair. The lovers are repeatedly associated with the dark, an association that points to the secret nature of their love because this is the time they are able to meet in safety. At the same time, the light that surrounds the lovers in each other's eyes grows brighter to the very end, when Juliet's beauty even illuminates the dark of the tomb. The association of both Romeo and Juliet with the stars also continually reminds the audience that their fate is "star-cross'd."
Romeo believes that he can now distinguish between the artificiality of his love for Rosaline and the genuine feelings Juliet inspires. Romeo acknowledges his love was blind, "Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night."
Romeo's use of religious imagery from this point on — as when he describes Juliet as a holy shrine — indicates a move towards a more spiritual consideration of love as he moves away from the inflated, overacted descriptions of his love for Rosaline.
Such ethereal moments of the expression of true love never last long within this feuding society. The threat of violence immediately interrupts the romantic atmosphere created by Romeo's sonnet when Tybalt recognizes Romeo's voice and wants to kill him then and there. Although forced to accept Capulet's decision as head of the family to allow Romeo to stay, Tybalt utters a threat that indicates that he will disregard Capulet's command, as he does in Act II, Scene 4, when he sends a challenge to Romeo. In presenting these complex social interactions in a public space, the play explores not only the conflict between the two feuding families but also the conflict within the families and across the generations. All the intertwined motivations become a snare for Romeo and Juliet's newfound love.
Romeo proceeds to woo Juliet with another sonnet which continues to use the religious imagery begun in the first sonnet to emphasize the wonder and spiritual purity of his love. Flirting with his pure approach, Juliet teases Romeo as a lover who kisses according to convention rather than from the heart, but the audience recognizes that he has already shed most of his pretenses. Romeo and Juliet are so enrapt completing the sonnet and gazing into each other's sparkling eyes that they forget to ask one another for names; instead, both discover from the Nurse the other's identity. In an instant, Juliet concisely expresses the connection between love and hate and marriage and death: "My only love sprung from my only hate." She also declares immediately that if she cannot marry Romeo, she would rather die: "If he be married. / My grave is like to be my wedding bed." The image of death as a bridegroom for Juliet is repeated throughout the play to maintain an atmosphere of impending tragedy.
trencher a wooden board or platter on which to carve or serve meat.
marchpane marzipan, a confection of ground almonds, sugar, and egg white made into a paste and variously shaped and colored.
Pentecost a religious festival, the seventh Sunday after Easter.
antic face Romeo's face is still covered by his mask.
to fleer to laugh derisively (at); sneer or jeer (at).
portly dignified or well-mannered.
an ill-beseeming semblance an unfitting or inappropriate outward appearance or aspect.
set cock-a-hoop be boastful or conceited. Capulet is concerned that Tybalt's anger and lack of restraint will spoil the feast.
princox a coxcomb; fop. Capulet is keen to belittle Tybalt and force him to submit to his will as head of the household.
bitt'rest gall bitter feeling; rancor. Gall is another name for bile, one of the bodily humors (that is, bodily fluids thought to be responsible for one's health and disposition).
holy palmers' kiss a palmer is a pilgrim who carried a palm leaf to signify the making of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. For Romeo, love is likened to a religious quest.
you kiss by th'book that is, according to convention.
marry an exclamation of surprise. "Marry" is a respelling of (the Virgin) "Mary."
the chinks plenty of cash.
fay faith: used in oaths as here.
prodigious both wonderful and portentous.