Let’s take the balcony scene, Act II, Scene 2, as an example for examining contemporary audience reactions to Romeo and Juliet. This scene is one of the most famous scenes in all of Shakespeare. There is no mention of an actual balcony, but it is traditionally portrayed that way to give Juliet more room to move around. She could just as easily be at a window. Either way, Juliet is up high and Romeo is down below in the Capulet's orchard.
On the one hand, a modern audience might like the scene because people know what to expect. Even people who don’t know much Shakespeare know some of the lines, and everyone knows the story of Romeo and Juliet. This could be a good or bad thing. Either way, this scene is definitely iconic.
Act II, Scene 2 takes place after Romeo and Juliet have seen each other and spoken briefly at the ball. They fell in love at first sight. In this scene, Romeo and Juliet speak to each other without speaking directly to each other, as neither knows the other is there.
Juliet is frustrated that she has fallen in love with a Montague, the sworn enemies of the Capulets.
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet (Act II, Scene 2).
One of the reasons this scene is so powerful is the contemplation of the meaning of name and family. In the famous line about the importance of a name, Juliet reminds us that our names are not a fundamental part of who we are. Romeo, likewise, is unconcerned with his name.
Name is also metaphorical for family. These two young people are willing to cut ties with their families to be together. It’s powerful and dramatic. This scene is about the transformative nature of love, aa well as its tendency to blind us to practicality, and perhaps reality.
This scene might also stand out to a contemporary audience because two young people agree to get married before they really know each other. In Shakespeare’s day, that may have seemed romantic. Today, modern audiences might just say Juliet is too young and she and Romeo are getting married too quickly.
O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?
What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?
The exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine.
I gave thee mine before thou didst request it:
And yet I would it were to give again (Act II, Scene 2).
Modern audiences know how Romeo and Juliet's relationship ends. It is hard to watch this scene and not think about how the two young people will end up dead in a matter of days due to a combination of fate, poor judgement, and hasty decision making.
Modern audiences will likely still enjoy Romeo and Juliet’s story, as it is considered a love for the ages. Romeo and Juliet meet and have a whirlwind romance, never really getting to know one another before their deaths. The balcony scene exemplifies the challenges of their relationship.