Romeo and Juliet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Romeo and Juliet | Act 1, Scene 4 | Summary



Romeo, Mercutio, Benvolio, and a handful of other men come masked (and therefore unidentifiable) for the party at the Capulets' home. Before they enter, they engage with one another on a range of topics, including love, sex, and the value and meaning of dreams. Romeo participates but with reserve, insisting that he'll light their way to the party but not dance. He describes his pain in repetitive detail—his "soul of lead" and the "heavy burden" of love under which he "sinks."

Romeo also hesitates to join the party because of a dream he had earlier; his mention of it triggers Mercutio's tale of Queen Mab, a fairy who makes lovers "dream of love," lawyers of money, soldiers of violent slaughter, and so on, each example revealing more human baseness and greed. Romeo eventually begs Mercutio for "peace" (notably when he starts on the topic of sex), and Benvolio reminds them that they're on their way to the party. Romeo no longer resists but leads the way.


Romeo and Benvolio, not welcome at the party, could reasonably expect to be accosted violently if their identities are discovered. They proceed, their youthfulness displaying itself in boasts and excitement. While Romeo's reckless companions are impatient to make their mark on the party, Romeo is initially inclined to merely observe. Despite his lack of maturity in some areas, Romeo demonstrates an awareness that there are larger, more dangerous powers in the world.

But the allure of beauty, and perhaps Mercutio's teasing, eventually overcomes Romeo's resistance. Perhaps the opportunity to gaze on Rosaline makes him willing to succumb to fate. Considering that he has just been discussing a vision of his impending death, and he embraces it, calling out to fate, "Direct my sail," Romeo's decision to proceed seems both passive and reckless—or immature. Despite his earlier reservations, he seems to ride the wave of his friends' energy, brightening suddenly at the scene's end as they enter the party.

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