Act I, Scenes 3–5: Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1766
Act I, Scene 3
Lady Capulet and the Nurse enter, followed by Juliet. Lady Capulet says she needs to speak to Juliet in private but almost immediately calls the Nurse back, acknowledging that the Nurse knows all their secrets anyway. Lady Capulet and the Nurse discuss Juliet’s age, and the Nurse goes off on a long-winded tangent about how a young Juliet once unwittingly participated in a sexual joke made by the Nurse’s husband. Juliet and Lady Capulet finally manage to change the subject, and Lady Capulet asks Juliet how she feels about marriage. Juliet responds that it is not something she has given much thought to, and Lady Capulet points out that many women Juliet's age are already married with children (in fact, Lady Capulet also married young). Lady Capulet informs Juliet that she needs to start thinking about marriage soon because Paris has taken an interest in her. Jumping in, the Nurse heaps praise upon Paris, and Lady Capulet stresses that the handsome Paris is the perfect man for Juliet. Obediently, Juliet agrees to consider him. The servant Peter enters. Announcing that the guests have arrived, he requests that the women follow him down to the party.
Act I, Scene 4
Romeo, Benvolio, and their friend Mercutio enter. On their way to the Capulets' masked ball, the three young men discuss how best to explain their presence at the ball (remember that Benvolio and Romeo are Montagues and are not welcome to attend). Benvolio suggests that they keep a low profile and simply dance a bit before leaving. Still feeling melancholy, Romeo declares that he will not dance. The lively Mercutio pokes fun at Romeo, making sexual jokes out of Romeo’s love woes. Romeo brings up a recent dream he had and says he has a bad feeling about attending the party. In response, Mercutio launches into a speech about Queen Mab, a tiny fairy queen who visits people in their dreams. As he describes what Queen Mab does to dreamers, Mercutio gets more and more carried away until Romeo interrupts his speech: “Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace! / Thou talk’st of nothing.” Benvolio brings the conversation back to the matter at hand, and Romeo reiterates his trepidation about the party. After expressing his strange feeling that the events that transpire tonight will somehow lead to his “untimely death,” Romeo declares that his life is in the hands of fate and urges his friends onward.
Act I, Scene 5
Scene 5 opens in the Capulet house as the party begins. Lord Capulet reminisces about his youth and jokingly encourages everyone to dance. As the party goes on around him, Romeo spies Juliet from across the room and is instantly entranced by her beauty. As Romeo comments on Juliet’s loveliness aloud, Tybalt overhears and recognizes Romeo’s voice as the voice of a Montague. Incensed, Tybalt prepares to fight Romeo, but Capulet notices his rage and orders him to leave Romeo alone, noting that Romeo has a good reputation in Verona. Tybalt obeys but secretly vows to get revenge on Romeo. Meanwhile, Romeo approaches Juliet and grabs her hand. Their brief conversation is filled with references to religion as Romeo compares himself to a pilgrim and Juliet to a saint. After they exchange two kisses, Juliet is called away. From the Nurse, Romeo discovers that Juliet is a Capulet. Devastated by this revelation, Romeo allows Benvolio to lead him away from the party. As she sees him leaving, Juliet asks the Nurse to find out who he is and declares that she will feel like dying if it turns out that he is already married. The Nurse returns and reports that the young man is Romeo Montague, the only son of her family’s greatest enemy. Distraught, Juliet leaves the party with the Nurse.
Scene 3 introduces the characters of Juliet, the Nurse, and Lady Capulet. While Lady Capulet is Juliet’s actual mother, the Nurse is the more maternal figure in Juliet’s life. The Nurse’s inappropriate and rambling story about young Juliet not only injects humor into the scene but also demonstrates the intimate and comfortable relationship between herself and Juliet. It is suggested that the Nurse may have lost her own daughter, Susan, which would explain her maternal attitude toward Juliet, whom she helped raise. By contrast, Lady Capulet is quite formal with her daughter, and her decision to initially send the Nurse away before immediately calling her back suggests that she may be somewhat unused to interacting with Juliet alone. When both Lady Capulet and Juliet attempt to stop the Nurse from continuing with her embarrassing story, she only stops at Juliet’s command, a fact which further demonstrates their close bond.
Both Lady Capulet and the Nurse stress Paris’s desirability as a suitor, aware that Juliet’s marriage is closely tied to the Capulet family’s social status. Indeed, Lady Capulet tells Juliet that “younger than you, / Here in Verona, ladies of esteem, / Are made already mothers” and points out that Paris is considered handsome by many people. Interestingly, Lady Capulet does not seem to share her husband’s concerns about Juliet marrying too young, mentioning that she was about Juliet’s age when she became a mother. The fact that no one except Lord Capulet objects to Juliet’s youth ultimately makes it less startling when Capulet later changes his mind about Juliet’s readiness for marriage.
Juliet comes across as rather meek and obedient in this scene. Her claim that she has not even thought about marriage (“It is an honor that I dream not of”) emphasizes her youth and inexperience with love. Despite her apparent disinterest in marriage, Juliet dutifully agrees to consider Paris’s suit: “I’ll look to like if looking liking move.” However, Juliet’s next lines (“But no more deep will I endart mine eye / Than your consent gives strength to make it fly”) may be interpreted in a variety of ways. On one level, Juliet appears to be expressing total submission to her parents’ will (as would have been expected) by vowing not to become more invested in Paris than her parents will allow. However, these lines can also be read as a subtle form of defiance, as if Juliet is saying she will show no more interest in Paris than is absolutely necessary in order to comply with her parents’ wishes. Either way, Juliet’s response shows that she is fully aware of her position within the family and understands that her parents fully expect her passive capitulation to their demands. Over the course of the play, Juliet’s relationship with her parents will transform as her newfound love for Romeo pushes her to be more bold and assertive.
Scene 4 introduces Romeo’s wild friend Mercutio. A relative of Prince Escalus, Mercutio is neither a Capulet nor a Montague, and though he is not a party to the bitter feud between the families, he certainly does not lack passion. Mercutio is a master of wordplay, quickly transforming Romeo’s romantic laments into sexual jokes: “If love be rough with you, be rough with love. / Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.” Mercutio’s famous “Queen Mab” speech perfectly exemplifies his mercurial and intense personality. What starts as a seemingly innocent story about “Queen Mab,” a tiny fairy who visits people in their dreams, quickly turns violent and sexual. Mercutio eventually gets so worked up that Romeo is forced to interrupt and calm him down. Romeo easily dismisses his friend’s words as nonsense (“Thou talk’st of nothing”), but the unexpectedly dark turn of Mercutio’s speech in many ways parallels the dark and tragic turn that Romeo and Juliet’s seemingly enchanting love story will take. Unfazed, Mercutio agrees that he is talking about nothing and declares that dreams are “begot of nothing but vain fantasy, / Which is as thin of substance as the air / And more inconstant than the wind.” Mercutio’s take on dreams is interesting and calls into question the worth and validity of Romeo’s own dreams of love. Is Romeo’s love for Rosaline (and soon Juliet) real? Or is it like a dream—unpredictable, changeable, and insubstantial?
Scene 4 ends with a clear example of foreshadowing as Romeo reiterates his feeling that the events of the night will somehow lead to his demise. From the prologue, the audience knows that Romeo will indeed die, and this announcement not only builds suspense for the moment when he and Juliet will finally meet, but also serves as a reminder that fate is shaping the events of the play.
Romeo and Juliet’s long-anticipated meeting initially takes the form of a Shakespearean sonnet (fourteen lines of iambic pentameter with an alternating rhyme scheme that ends in a couplet). Form is important in this scene, as sonnets have long been associated with romantic poetry. That Romeo and Juliet’s first words to one another form a perfect sonnet illustrates their immediate romantic connection and overall compatibility. Romeo and Juliet’s exchange also functions as an extended religious metaphor in which Romeo compares himself to a pilgrim who worships Juliet, a saint. Their use of Christian metaphor elevates their mutual attraction, indicating that their love is pure and holy. Though Romeo and Juliet have not yet learned one another’s true identity, these references to religion also serve to clearly situate their love in the realm of the divine, suggesting it cannot be diminished by worldly concerns such as the feud.
In scene 4, Juliet’s inexperience with love was clear, but here, she cleverly keeps up with Romeo’s flirtatious advances. Romeo is undoubtedly the initiator of their romantic interaction, yet after passively receiving his kiss, Juliet appears to become more assertive, archly hinting that Romeo should kiss her once more: “Then have my lips the sin that they have took.” After they kiss for the second time, Juliet comments “You kiss by th’ book.” By this, Juliet may be referring to the Bible, once again characterizing their romantic connection as sacred. However, another interpretation is that Juliet is means Romeo’s kisses feel studied or forced; indeed, Romeo’s awkward poetry about Rosaline in scene 1 suggests that Romeo focuses more on the formal conventions of romance than the passionate emotions behind it. Despite her youth, Juliet is the more emotionally mature of the two lovers, and it will often be up to her to rein in Romeo's tendency to get carried away with the idea of love and refocus him on the actual experience of love.