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Romeo and Juliet Commentary - Act I.

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Romeo and Juliet Commentary provides a comprehensive description of every act with explanations and translations for all important quotes.


We learn that this play will be a tragedy and that the children (Romeo and Juliet) of two feuding families both alike in virtue, will both love and die...

Setting the scene, we learn by choir of "Two households, both alike in dignity," (two households or families of equal status), (Line 1) in the fair city of Verona. The "ancient grudge" (feud) between these two families has now developed to "new mutiny," involving "civil blood", a reference to increasing violence between the two families on Verona's streets.

The Prologue outlines the life of the play. We learn that, "From forth the fatal loins of these two foes" (from the loins of these two opposed families / from their children), a reference to the heads of the two families, "A pair of star-cross'd lovers [Romeo and Juliet] take their life; / Whose misadventur'd piteous overthrows" results in the burial of these two lovers and "their parents' strife" (their parent's grief), (Line 8).

The Prologue explains that the audience will follow "The fearful passage of their death-mark'd love," (the sad events of their death marked love), the ongoing rage of their parents and ultimately their tragic death. In the Prologue, we are told to be patient; "What here shall miss, our toil shall strive to mend" (Line 13).

Act I. Scene I. - Verona. A Public place.

Romeo: "she'll not be hit / With Cupid's arrow; she hath Dian's wit...."

Sampson and Gregory, servants to the Capulets and Abraham and Balthasar, servants to the Montague family start a street fight, which is joined by Benvolio (Montague) and Tybalt (Capulet). Escalus, Prince of Verona declares a death penalty for further fighting. We learn Romeo is lovesick; Rosaline will not requite (return) his love. His friend Benvolio tells Romeo to look at other girls...

Sampson and Gregory, servants of the Capulet family discuss their hatred of the Montague family. Gregory mocks Sam's heroism. Abraham and Balthasar, servants of the Montague family arrive. Both sides wish to fight, but neither wishes to be responsible for starting the ensuing brawl.

When Sam (Capulet) says he serves a man better than Abraham (Montague), a fight follows. Benvolio enters, telling both parties to stop fighting: "Part, fools!" (Line 68). Tybalt arrives, challenging Benvolio to fight. He refuses and now the fighting turns into a major brawl. Capulet and wife and Montague and wife arrive at the scene.

The Prince arrives, stating that he has had enough of these "civil brawls," (public brawls), (Line 95), adding that any further fighting (it has happened three times already) which disturbs the peace will result in death: "Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace" he darkly warns (Line 103).

Montague asks Benvolio what happened and Lady Montague asks of Romeo's whereabouts. Benvolio answers that Romeo is much troubled and Montague explains how, "Many a morning hath he there been seen, / With tears augmenting [adding to] the fresh morning's dew, / Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs:" (Line 136).

Romeo meets up with Benvolio.

Benvolio asks what is troubling Romeo. We learn that Romeo is saddened by the rejection of his love (Rosaline, mentioned later) adding that "she'll not be hit / With Cupid's arrow; she hath Dian's wit;" (she will not be hit by Cupid's arrow or fall in love with me; she has the wit and elusiveness of Diana, the goddess of hunting) and that she will remain chaste (pure), (Line 214).

Benvolio advises Romeo to forget this girl, telling him to "Examine other beauties" (look at other beauties / girls), (Line 233). Romeo dismisses this as impossible, telling Benvolio "thou [you] canst [can] not teach me to forget [Rosaline]" (Line 243).

Act I. Scene II. - The Same. A Street.

Capulet reveals that the elder members of the Capulet and the Montague families can easily keep the peace; the difficulty lies with the young. Capulet is keen for Paris to marry his daughter Juliet and plans a party later that night. Romeo and friends decide to turn up uninvited, Romeo hoping to see Rosaline, the object of his affection...

Capulet explains to his guest, Paris that both he and Montague are bound by the same penalty not to fight. As such, he reasons it is easy "For men so old as we to keep the peace" (for men as old as Montague and I to keep the peace), (Line 3). Paris asks Capulet on whether he will be accepted to marry Capulet's daughter Juliet (Line 6). Capulet initially says no, his daughter has "not seen the change of fourteen years; [is not yet fourteen]" (Line 9) but eventually agrees so long as Paris can win Juliet's "heart," and then her consent, advising the young Paris to woo (court) his daughter gently (Line 14-36).

Speaking to a servant, we learn that Capulet plans a party to be held that very night. The Servant, now sent by Capulet to send out invitations in Verona cannot read and so cannot match the names on his list with the people he has been sent to invite to the party. The Servant happens upon (finds) Romeo and Benvolio. Romeo, pretending he is not a Montague, reads the invitation given freely by the Servant.

Benvolio mentions that the fair Rosaline will be there (Line 88). This gets Romeo's attention; Rosaline is the girl who would not requite or return Romeo's love. Benvolio again tells Romeo that he will soon forget her, such will be the beauty of the many guests at the party. Romeo decides to attend the Capulet's party.

Act I. Scene III. - The Same. A Room in Capulet's House.

Juliet: "I'll look to like, if looking liking move...."

Lady Capulet discusses the idea of marriage to the young Paris with Juliet. Juliet keeps her options open. The Nurse wishes Juliet every possible happiness...

Lady Capulet calls for her daughter Juliet. Lady Capulet asks Juliet's nurse to leave them to discuss matters in private. The Nurse recalls her fond memories of Juliet as a child (Lines 16-54). The Nurse recalls that once when her husband crassly asked if Juliet would "fall backward" (lie on her back, a crude reference to intercourse), when she had more wit or was older (Line 42) Juliet replied "'Ay'" (yes), (Lines 48-57).

Now alone with her daughter, Lady Capulet discusses the idea of marriage and specifically with the young Paris.

Juliet will consider it, "I'll look to like, if looking liking move; / But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly" by which Juliet means she will consider it if she likes Paris but ultimately will only marry him if her family approves or gives her the strength to make this idea fly (Lines 97-102).

A Servant arrives, requiring Lady Capulet's attention for the upcoming party.

The Nurse now famously wishes her young charge (Juliet) well, saying, "Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days" (go girl, seek happy nights to follow happy days / be happy), (Line 106).

Act I. Scene IV. - The Same. A Street.

Mercutio: "If love be rough with you, be rough with love; / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down."

Mercutio attempts to cheer a lovesick Romeo up, telling him to be rough with love if need be.

Accompanied by "five or six Masquers," or masked friends, Mercutio tries to cheer Romeo up, encouraging him to dance at Capulet's party (a masked ball). Politely declined, Mercutio makes an observation of his good friend's character: "You are a lover; borrow Cupid's wings, / And soar with them above a common bound" (Line 17). Mercutio and Romeo trade viewpoints on the nature of love (Lines 23-29).

When Mercutio implies that love is tender, Romeo disagrees, asking, "Is love a tender thing? it is too rough, / Too rude, too boisterous; and it pricks like thorn" (Line 25).

Mercutio advises Romeo then to fight fire with fire:"If love be rough with you, be rough with love; / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down" (Line 28). The two now don masks to conceal their identities. Romeo is enthusiastic about this part, saying "I dream'd a dream to-night" (Line 50). Mercutio now tortures Romeo with a completely meaningless anecdote about Queen Mab (Lines 55-95).

Act I. Scene V. - The Same. A Hall in Capulet's House.

Romeo: "Did my heart love till now?"

At the Capulet's party, Romeo disguised by a masque (mask), falls in love with Juliet on sight. Capulet stops Tybalt from attacking Romeo at his party, telling him there will be other opportunities. Both Romeo and Juliet learn that they are each enemies to the other's family...

Capulet welcomes his guests (Lines 20-36). Romeo now sees the fair Juliet. "What lady is that which doth enrich the hand / Of yonder knight?" (Who is the lady that enriches the hand of that knight?) Romeo asks (Line 45). The Servant he asks says he does not know.

Romeo is in love:

O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright. It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night / Like a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear; / Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear! So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows, / As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows. The measure done, I'll watch her place of stand, / And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand. (Lines 48-55)

Gazing upon Juliet, Romeo wonders if he has ever truly loved as he does now: "Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! For I ne'er [never] saw true beauty till this night" (Line 57).

Meanwhile Tybalt has noticed Romeo's presence at the party; "This, by his voice, should be a Montague. Fetch me my rapier, boy" (this by his voice, must be a Montague. Fetch me my rapier boy), (Line 58).

Capulet however, will not have a fight involving a man (Romeo) who is well respected and considered "well-govern'd" (well-controlled/ self disciplined) at his party (Line 72).

Warning Tybalt not to ignore his wishes, Capulet tells Tybalt to bide his time, "be patient, take no note of him [Romeo]: / It is my will; the which if thou [you] respect, / Show a fair presence and put off these frowns, / An ill-beseeming semblance [a bad look] for a feast" (Line 75). Tybalt resists this wish but angrily does as he is told (Lines 78-96).

Romeo now before Juliet, makes his introduction: "If I profane with my unworthiest hand / This holy shrine [Juliet], the gentle sin is this; / My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand / To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss" (Line 97).

Juliet replies to her humble pilgrim, "Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much, / Which mannerly devotion shows in this; / For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, / And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss" (Line 101).

Continuing this saint and sinning theme, Romeo kisses Juliet (Lines 106-111). Romeo then asks for his sin again so that he might once more kiss his fair Juliet. Juliet tells Romeo that "You kiss by the book" (Line 114).

Presently Juliet's nurse tells her charge that her presence is required by her mother. Romeo learns from the Nurse that Juliet is from the Capulet family. "O dear account! my life is my foe's [enemy's] debt" he exclaims (Line 123).

Capulet finishes his party. Juliet now asks the identity of her pilgrim from the Nurse (Line 132). The Nurse tells him it is Romeo, "The only son of your great enemy" (the Montagues), (Line 141). Juliet now remarks that "I must love a loathed enemy" (Line 145).

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