Act Two


Due to the fame of the first prologue, it is often forgotten that there is a second one at the start of Act 2. It is worth noting that this is the last one which appears; from that point it is as if the action takes over, the pace increasing to the untimely demise of the lovers.

It recounts and clarifies what has occurred: Romeo has seemingly forgotten his__ “old desire”, Rosaline, and is now fixated on Juliet, who is equally besotted. They are __“alike bewitched” by the other’s looks; the word “bewitched” reminds the audience of the danger of their union. However, for now time is on their side, their passion gives them power, and the “extremity” of their danger is balanced out by the__ “extreme sweet”__ of the feelings they have for each other. Also, the word__ “love” appears seven times in these fourteen lines__ (in various forms: “beloved”, “lovers”, “love”).

It’s fair to say, Shakespeare makes it very clear what is going down…

Romeo’s Escape

At the start of Scene 1, Romeo is debating whether he can go home given that his “heart is here.”

Again, we have a moment where the course of the story hinges on a decision.

In some modern versions of the script, there is a stage direction here, saying that he “_climbs the wall, and leaps down within it.”_In reality it is highly unlikely that this would have been possible at the time; they wouldn’t have been able to build a free-standing wall which could bear the weight of someone climbing it. Though a nice visual image for Romeo to overcome an obstacle, it is perhaps more interesting to keep him in the scene, overhearing the words of his friends, and having to make a decision.

He hides himself as Benvolio and Mercutio appears, searching for him.

They try to coax him out, urging him to speak “but one rhyme” and goading him with talk of Rosaline.

However, before they leave without him, Shakespeare gives each a line, which are joined together with a rhyming couplet.

The use of a couplet is a clue that Shakespeare wants them to have some__significance__.

Benvolio says, __“Blind is his love and best befits the dark” __to which Mercutio replies, __“If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark.” __There is definitely something a little ominous about those lines.

Love Declared

Scene 2 begins helpfully with an idea of staging. In modern plays, it is common to see substantial set changes between scenes, but here the opposite is implied.

__Romeo’s first line of the new scene rhymes with Benvolio’s last line, __showing that it follows on immediately.

There would not have been a set change for practical purposes; however, Shakespeare is also looking to build the __pace and tension __of the piece here.

Romeo has another of Shakespeare’s more famous speeches (“But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?”) where he speaks of Juliet’s beauty.

Even though both characters are onstage, for around the first fifty lines both talk about, but not TO, the other.

When they do speak, Romeo is forthcoming with his declarations of love but Juliet challenges him to speak it “faithfully.” What is clear throughout is that Juliet is more tentative initially, and therefore more sensible, about their situation. Romeo is more impulsive.

By the end, both have declared that they love the other. Interestingly, having been called inside, Juliet returns and tells Romeo to arrange their marriage.

This is a sharp turn from when she told her mother she had no interest in marriage a few scenes earlier. In this single interaction, the story begins to gather speed and, as a result, starts to lose control. Juliet leaves Romeo with the foreboding line “I should kill thee with much cherishing.” If only she knew.

Wedding Blessings

In Scene 3, the audience sees the first of a number of interactions between Romeo and Friar Laurence.

Each one marks a significant moment in the play.

The Friar is collecting herbs at the start, a little nod to the drugs to come later on.

Romeo appears in an excited mood and the Friar asks if he has been with Rosaline, another reminder of how quickly Romeo’s head was turned.

Romeo admits directly that he is in love with Capulet’s daughter and wants the Friar to marry them today. No mucking about then.

The Friar rightly points out, once again, that he was in love with Rosaline a moment ago, noting that “young men’s love then lies/Not truly in their hearts, but in their eyes.” Though not entirely convinced, the Friar agrees to help them, hoping that this union of Romeo and Juliet might help unite the two families.

He warns Romeo in the final line, “wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast,” another reminder of speed and pace within the play, and the danger it creates.

Confirmed Plans

Scene 4 sees Mercutio and Benvolio back together, discussing where Romeo is.

In contrast to Romeo’s romantic declarations the night before, Mercutio speaks of Romeo as __“dead” __due to love, __“the very pin of his heart cleft with the blind bow-boy’s butt-shaft” __implying that Cupid has killed Romeo with love.

Romeo does not tell them what has happened, and there follows some playful joking between them, with Mercutio demonstrating his skill with language.

However, what the audience sees next is the other side of Mercutio. The Nurse appears to give Romeo information and Mercutio is incredibly rude to her. He calls her old, ugly and a prostitute. It is easy to forget, with the charming version of Mercutio in Baz Luhrmann’s film, that he has a vicious, misogynistic side.

Mercutio and Benvolio leave, and the Nurse is enraged at her treatment. She warns Romeo that he better treat Juliet well. He assures her that he will and they confirm the plan for Romeo to marry Juliet this afternoon.

Some guy called Peter is also there. Probably just for comedy. He only gets two lines.

Nurse Winds Up Juliet

In Scene 5, the Nurse returns and spends about 70 lines winding Juliet up. Juliet is desperate to know what Romeo said, but the Nurse keeps finding excuses to delay, saying she is out of breath, her head and back hurts, and her bones ache.

Eventually, the Nurse reveals all, telling her to go to Friar Laurence’s cell this afternoon to be married.

And Juliet departs.

Though fairly minor, it is another reminder of the haste that the young lovers shows. Neither is patient and willing to wait for anything, meaning that action is the driving force ahead of thought.

It continues to develop the theme of youthful love as uncontrolled and, therefore, dangerous. But there is also something else: despite the known danger, both the Nurse and Friar are contriving to help them achieve it. They might have some questions to answer by the end.

Marriage Confirmed

Interestingly, Scene 6, when the marriage takes place, is one of the shortest scenes in the play, and no marriage actually occurs.

There is once again a warning from Friar Laurence to Romeo, that __“these violent delights have violent ends” __and that he should __“love moderately; long love doth so.” __The knowledge of what is going to happen in the play, makes this a conflicting moment for the audience.

They are torn between the joy of these two young people who are enamoured of one another and the fear that their marriage essentially seals their fate.

Juliet enters and notably refers to Friar Laurence as “ghostly,” something which Romeo has also done previously. It could be read by the audience that _the Friar is like a ghost haunting them __and, like in _Hamlet, leading them to a tragic end. The two lovers speak briefly of their happiness to one another, before the scene ends with the Friar taking them off to be married.