Romeo and Juliet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 1, Scene 5

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides in-depth summary and analysis of Act 1, Scene 5 of William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet | Act 1, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

The Capulets' party begins. After servants bustle through, cheerfully readying the house for the party, Lord Capulet welcomes his guests with a funny speech in which he reminisces fondly about his younger days of dancing and courting women. He invites his younger guests to dance now in his place. Romeo sees Juliet for the first time and is instantly struck by her beauty.

Tybalt, a Capulet nephew, recognizes in the masked Romeo the voice of a Montague and alerts Lord Capulet to the trespasser's presence. Lord Capulet, however, wants to "let him alone," to which Tybalt temporarily agrees and leaves.

Left alone, Romeo approaches Juliet, takes her hand, and kisses it as they exchange their first words. Romeo calls Juliet a "holy shrine," likening her to a "saint" and his sinful lips to two devoted "pilgrims" ready to repent with a kiss. They flirt and kiss, twice, before the nurse interrupts them to tell Juliet her mother is looking for her, revealing to Romeo that Juliet is the daughter of his father's enemy. When he leaves as the party ends, Juliet asks the nurse to learn his name. "My only love sprung from my only hate!" Juliet responds when she learns who he is.

Analysis

Romeo's final words in the previous scene ("On, lusty gentlemen") lead into the boisterous opening mood of this scene. However, a dramatic shift takes place when Romeo first sees Juliet. He speaks to himself of her beauty, brighter than torches, as vivid against the "cheek of night" as a bright jewel in an Ethiopian's ear. The image of night comes alive through Shakespeare's use of personification, giving night a "cheek." Shakespeare begins to build his motif of night and day, showing that nighttime is safe for the lovers, while daytime is dangerous.

The way Romeo describes Juliet's beauty as "too rich for use, for Earth too dear" makes her seem too precious to be human. She forces him to consider his past ideas of love, and he concludes that he has not known true love until now because he has never before seen true beauty. For Romeo, beauty and love are intertwined.

In the play love and hate are intertwined, and violence follows closely behind exchanges of love, always arriving to erase happiness. The young and angry Tybalt introduces violence into the scene when he recognizes Romeo as a Montague and threatens to "strike him dead." A clash of youth against age takes place between Tybalt and Lord Capulet. Tybalt wants a fight, and Lord Capulet tries to subdue the anger, resorting to asserting his authority: "Am I the master here or you?" When Tybalt leaves, the audience may correctly assume that the young hothead has not been truly stopped. Youth, it appears, may win this struggle.

So far love has been associated only with physical beauty. In Romeo and Juliet's first encounter, love takes on religious qualities. Where men had previously touched only through their weapons, Romeo immediately takes Juliet's hands even while he is speaking his first words to her, a stranger. The religious references to the shrine, saint, and pilgrims set the tone for their romance, lifting it up to a higher level than duty or physical attraction.

Shakespeare wrote poetry as well as plays. Romeo and Juliet's first conversation forms a sonnet, a 14-line poem. Shakespeare's style of sonnet, which he often used to write about love, contains three quatrains (stanzas of four lines that alternately rhyme) and one couplet (two rhyming lines). The use of this form emphasizes how exalted the young couple's feelings are and how different their interaction is from the dialogue that has come before. Juliet is the first of the two to call what has come between them "love"—though, ominously, it is "love sprung from ... hate" for "a loathed enemy."

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