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In Act I, Scene IV of William Shakespeare’s tragedy Romeo and Juliet, Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio are discussing their plan to attend the ball at the Capulets’ estate, a proposition for which Romeo holds serious reservations. Shakespeare’s play opens with a confrontation between the Capulets and Montagues in the streets of Verona, and tensions remain high. Romeo’s infatuation with Rosaline, a Capulet, and the cousin of the girl for whom he would subsequently fall, provides the motivation for this foolhardy act, but Mercutio and Benvolio in particular are keen to proceed with their plan. Mercutio technically has little to fear, as, despite being Romeo’s closest friend, he is not a blood relative of any Montague and is related to Prince Escalus, thereby inoculating him against the worst impulses of the Capulets. In any event, the three sneak into the costume ball, wearing masks to disguise their identities. While Romeo’s focus is on spying Rosaline, it is at the Capulet Ball where he spots Juliet for the first time. The 13-year-old girl is intent on wedding Count Paris, a prominent figure in Verona and a relative of Prince Escalus, but Romeo is smitten, inquiring of a servant, “What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand Of yonder knight?” Romeo’s voice is correctly identified by a Capulet, Tybalt, a particularly hateful figure with respect to the feud between the two families: “’Tis he, that villain Romeo.” Capulet intervenes, however, and Tybalt is left angered by the unwelcome intrusion of a Montague. Juliet, in the meantime, plays to Count Paris, but is as smitten by Romeo’s introduction as Romeo is by her. Juliet’s nurse, however, knowing of Romeo’s identity, warns Juliet of the perils of falling for this young man: “His name is Romeo, and a Montague; The only son of your great enemy,” prompting Juliet’s observation:
“My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love it is to me,
That I must love a loathed enemy”
The scene ends, the two protagonists having met and fallen immediately in love with each other.
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