In this opening exchange, the audience sees how deep-rooted this hatred is. It begins fairly calmly with servants of the two families mocking each other–biting thumbs, the Shakespearean equivalent to rude modern hand gestures–escalates when some of the family members turn up, and culminates with the heads of both houses preparing to draw their weapons. Shakespeare makes it absolutely clear that these two families detest each other. However, we also learn a little about some of the characters: Tybalt demonstrates his fiery temper, contrasting with Benvolio’s desire for peace. Montague and Capulet present themselves as two people who are not willing to let this feud go.
Prince Escalus’ speech, when stopping the fight, gives us a number of insights into the family.
But the main purpose of it, can be found in two lines:
__“If ever you disturb our streets again/Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.” __
There is no ambiguity in this; the next person who is involved in a fight, will be punished with death. In stage terms, this increases the stakes of the entire play, as the threat of death looms over them. We as an audience know that it will kick off again, we just don’t know who will be responsible. Shakespeare does this in other plays, A Midsummer Night’s Dream being one, where Hermia is told that if she doesn’t marry Demetrius, she will be killed or sent to a nunnery. This all serves to increase the tension around Romeo and Juliet’s love affair.
Love Sick Romeo
We finally get to meet Romeo at the end of Scene 1. The audience recognises that Romeo is miserable and we find out the cause is Rosaline, who has rejected him. Compared to the other characters,__ he speaks poetically__, with reference to Cupid. This establishes Romeo’s personality nicely. It illustrates that he is a romantic but also poses a key question around his character: the fact that he falls in love with Juliet so quickly after Rosaline, might show how true their love is; however it might show that Romeo is fickle and easily changes his mind.
So which do you think it is?
- Scene 2 opens with Paris convincing Capulet to let him marry his daughter, Juliet.
- The audience learns that Juliet is only thirteen years old, an acceptable age to get married in those days, but still rather young.
- This is the point Capulet is making and he appears to be asking Paris to wait, but Paris is insistent. He eventually says that, if Paris woos Juliet and gains her consent, then he will give his;“My will to her consent is but a part.”
- Here the audience begins to see another obstacle to Romeo and Juliet’s love.
Following a humorous exchange between Capulet’s servant and Romeo, Romeo discovers there will be a party at the Capulet house and Rosaline will be attending.
This is a small moment of fate, where the path to Romeo and Juliet meeting is paved with a lucky meeting. Without this accident, Romeo wouldn’t have gone to the party and may never have met Juliet, particularly given that the families dislike each other. Romeo even says “mine own fortune in my misery.” “Fortune” refers to this idea of fate, and it is his “misery” which causes him to go to his enemy’s party to find Rosaline; he will end up meeting someone else that night…
Scene 3 introduces us to the other eponymous (person who the play is named after) character of the play, Juliet.
We meet her, along with the Nurse and Lady Capulet, and the scene offers an insight into their relationship. Lady Capulet seems uncomfortable speaking to Juliet alone, initially asking the Nurse to leave but then quickly asking her to stay.
It is the Nurse who knows Juliet’s precise age and we discover that she nursed (breastfed) Juliet as a baby, her own daughter having passed away. Lady Capulet asks Juliet whether she wants to be married and Juliet is quite clear that she does not.
Eventually she agrees to get to know Paris but nothing more for now. Interestingly, the audience also learns that Lady Capulet was a mother at around the same age as Juliet (“I was your mother much upon these years/That you are now a maid”) meaning Lady Capulet can only be around twenty-six or twenty-seven years old.
The Boys Prepareto Party
The start of Scene 4, sees Romeo, Benvolio and Mercutio on their way to the Capulet’s party. Both are trying to convince Romeo to have fun at the party, who is being resistant. There is a fun and cheeky atmosphere to the scene (“If love be rough with you, be rough with love;/Prick love for pricking”).
Unlike the romantic Romeo, Mercutio is far more practical and sharp-witted. As Romeo begins to talk of a dream he had, Mercutio cuts in to talk about Queen Mab, beginning one of Shakespeare’s most famous speeches. In it he presents the view that dreams are false and fit themselves to the dreamer’s fears and desires.
Arguably, if Romeo had Mercutio’s cynical nature, then he would not find himself dead at the end. His hamartia (“tragic flaw”) is that he is a romantic and believes in fate, which leads him to Juliet.
Tybalt’s Blood Boilsatthe Ball
In the final scene, Scene 5, of the first act, Romeo and Juliet finally meet.
The party begins with a speech from Capulet, but in a matter of minutes Romeo spots Juliet and, without even speaking to her, is blown away by her looks (“I ne’er saw true beauty till this night”).
Tybalt spots Romeo and goes to draw his rapier (sword) but Capulet commands him to leave Romeo alone, explaining that Romeo is not a threat, is well-liked, and that he does not want a fight at his party. Once again we see Tybalt’s temper. This is another hint at the danger bubbling beneath the surface, showing Tybalt is aware of who Romeo is and dislikes him, almost to the point of disobeying Capulet.
Loveat First Sight
Thus the two lovers are left to properly meet. He wants to kiss her and she teases him initially, but then they do kiss.
The Nurse separates them and both quickly learn that the other is the child of their enemy, leaving Juliet to say, __“My only love sprung from my only hate.” __
One Prologue and four-and-a-half scenes later, the two main characters finally speak to each other. The delay in them first meeting builds the anticipation, giving this moment a greater impact. By the end of Act 1, all the groundwork for the story has been laid; the “star-cross’d lovers” meet and that marks the start of their tragic journey together.
Paris is sometimes viewed as a fairly unimportant, secondary character in the play. However, he offers an incredibly important function within it.
It is sometimes said about the genre of a (classical) comedy, that comedy equals tragedy plus time. What this means is that every play has the potential to be a tragedy if the characters aren’t given enough time to resolve their problems.
Paris acts as this timer.
With the impending marriage between himself and Juliet, Romeo and Juliet are forced to act more quickly. Perhaps, if this engagement had not taken place, they could have had a happy ending after all, with the time to deal with things properly. But because of Paris… no such luck.