To what does Romeo compare Juliet in Act 1 Scene 5 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Act I, Scene V of William Shakespeare's tragedy Romeo and Juliet, the young son of the patriarch of the Montague clan has sneaked into the Capulet's formal ball along with his friend and cousin Benvolio and friend Mercutio. Romeo is determined to observe Rosaline, with whom he is more than a little infatuated, but knows that the Capulet estate is forbidden territory for a Montague. While immersed in the scene, Romeo spies a young woman who makes him forget about Rosaline: Juliet. Upon first observing this beautiful young woman, Romeo inquires of a servant, "What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand Of yonder knight?" To the servant's declaration of ignorance, Romeo then makes the following comment regarding the fair Juliet:

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!

It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night

Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’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.

Romeo succeeds in making Juliet's acquaintance and the mutual attraction is immediate and intense, although Juliet plays coy in the beginning. As the scene nears its end, Romeo makes the following comment to Juliet, in which he compares himself to a pilgrim visiting a shrine:

This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

So, in rapid succession, and with Tybalt trying desperately to convince Capulet to expel this intruder, Romeo compares Juliet to a rich jewel and a holy shrine, in addition to making other comments intended to convey the intensity of his feelings for the young woman upon whom he has only just laid eyes for the first time. The intensity of his feelings for Juliet, and her's for him, sets the stage for the fateful chain of events to come.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The previous answer sums up the comparisons Romeo makes in his speech when he sees Juliet for the very first time. A little later in this scene, when he actually approaches her, he goes on:

If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

He has taken her by the hand and compares her hand here to a 'holy shrine', which he contrasts with his own 'unworthiest hand'. However, he also remarks that his lips are 'two blushing pilgrims' who will smooth away the 'rough touch' of his hand with a kiss.

With this metaphor, then, Romeo portrays Juliet as being sacred in her beauty and grace, which he hesitates to defile. At the same time, rather slyly, he is angling to kiss her hand. His hand may be 'rude' but his lips, he says are like 'blushing pilgrims'. This description bolsters the image of Juliet as a sacred shrine to which he has come as a humble devotee. This metaphor neatly encapsulates the sense that already he is worshiping her, although he has only just laid eyes on her. It doesn't take him long to follow up with his promised kiss, either. 

Romeo's passionate protestations of love at first sight may seem rather suspect, when we consider that he was proclaiming his undying love for Rosaline only moments before. However, as the play unfolds, he and Juliet do of course go on to prove their feelings for one another.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Having first laid eyes on Juliet at the feast, Romeo is stunned, obviously struck by her beauty. He first compares her to fire, claiming that "she doth teach the torches to burn bright!" Then he compares her to "a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear." Then, as if to empasize how lovestruck he is, he compares her to a "snowy dove" beside which the rest of the women at the party are simply "crows." It is obviously a case of love at first sight, and Romeo resolves to walk over to her and take her hand. The audience and the reader cannot help being struck by the immediate change in Romeo's demeanor. He has spent most of the first act moping over Rosaline's rejection of his love. Now he has forgotten about her completely. It is also at this fateful moment in the play that Lord Capulet restrains Tybalt, who recognizes Romeo and wants to attack him at the party. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial