Romeo and Juliet Act 1 Scene 1 to 5 Summary

Antonia Blankenberg
Note by , created almost 2 years ago

"From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life." Learn all about Romeo and Juliet Act 1 with this study note that contains scene overviews, analysis and important quotes.

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Antonia Blankenberg
Created by Antonia Blankenberg almost 2 years ago
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Page 1

Act 1 - Prologue

The Chorus opens Romeo and Juliet with a brief summary of what's to come on stage.    The scene is set by presenting his two young protagonists as the victims of fate whose lives are marred from the outset by the feud between their families: "From forth the fatal loins of these two foes / A pair of star-cross'd lovers take their life." These lovers will mend the quarrel between their families by dying.    Analysis: The prologue of this play takes the form of a sonnet, a form of 16th century poetry that typically discussed the themes of love and conflict.   We are provided with information about where the play takes place, and given some background information about its principal characters.   The prologue talks about "star-cross'd" lovers, saying that they are connected by fate. However, the prologue itself creates this sense of fate by providing the audience with the knowledge that Romeo and Juliet will die even before the play has begun. The structure of the play itself is the fate from which Romeo and Juliet cannot escape.   Important Quotes: "Two households, both alike in dignity (In fair Verona, where we lay our scene), From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean."

Page 2

Act 1 - Scene 1

Sampson and Gregory, two servants of the house of Capulet, stroll through the streets of Verona. The two exchange punning remarks about physically conquering Montague men and sexually conquering Montague women. They see two servants from the house of Montague approaching and discuss the best way to provoke them without breaking the law.   Sampson bites his thumb at the Montagues, a highly insulting gesture at this time. This soon escalates into a physical fight.    Benvolio, from the house of Montague, draws his sword and is promptly joined by Tybalt, from the Capulet family. Lord Montague and Lord Capulet enter, and only their wives prevent them from attacking one another.    The Prince arrives and stops the fighting. He says the violence between the two families has gone on for long enough, and proclaims a death sentence upon anyone who breaks the civil peace again. Capulet exits with the Prince, the brawlers disperse, and Benvolio is left alone with his uncle and aunt, Lord Montague and Lady Montague.   Montague and his wife discuss Romeo's recent melancholy behavior with Benvolio and ask him to discover its cause.    Benvolio finds Romeo and asks him about his behaviour. He tells Benvolio that his love for Rosaline is unrequited. Benvolio advises him to forget Rosaline by looking for another, but Romeo insists that this would be impossible.   Analysis: The play opens with a scene of tension and action.    Shakespeare cleverly sets up this scene, he provides good characterization of Benvolio as thoughtful and fearful of the law, Tybalt as a hothead, and Romeo as distracted and lovelorn, while showing the deep and long-standing hatred between the Montagues and Capulets.   The origin of the brawl, rife as it is with sexual and physical bravado, introduces the important theme of masculine honor.    The second half of the scene switches its focus from the theme of feuding and violence to the play's other key theme, love. Romeo's feelings of love have not been reciprocated by Rosaline, and this predicament causes him to dwell on his emotional torment. This love is compared to the feud at the beginning of the scene. A stark contrast is formed between this view of love and the views of love that are shown further on in the play.    Important Quotes: " I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it." - Sampson   "What, art thou drawn among these heartless hinds? Turn thee, Benvolio. Look upon thy death." - Tybalt   "If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace."- Prince   "She’ll not be hit With Cupid’s arrow. She hath Dian’s wit. And, in strong proof of chastity well armed From love’s weak childish bow, she lives uncharmed." - Romeo

Page 3

Act 1 - Scene 2

The scene opens with Lord Capulet and one of his relatives, Paris. The two discuss Paris’ desire to marry Capulet’s daughter, Juliet.   Lord Capulet is happy at his desires, but feels that his daughter is too young to be married. He asks Paris to wait two years instead. Finally, however, he agrees to the match if Paris can gain Juliet's consent.   Lord Capulet announces that he will be holding a masquerade ball that night. He dispatches a servant to send invitations but as it turns out, the servant is illiterate and has trouble sending the invitations.   The servant meets Romeo and Benvolio and asks for their help in reading the list. Romeo discovers that Rosaline has an invite and decides that he wants to go also. The servant invites the two men, unaware that they are Montagues.   Analysis: Paris and Capulet's discussion of Juliet's age in the beginning of this scene continues another of the play's resounding themes: youth versus old age. In the feud, the older generation's conflicts control the destinies of their children without much apparent thought for their children's ultimate welfare.   Juliet's parents, like Romeo's, seem to look out for their child's best interests. However, in the discussion of her marriage, Juliet is primarily a commodity. Paris wants her mainly because of her social status and beauty.   The servant, who cannot read, offers a touch of humor to this scene, especially in the way his illiteracy leads him to invite two Montagues to the party while expressly stating that no Montagues are invited. But his poor education is also part of the entrenched social structures, he has no power because he is a lowly servant and therefore cannot read.   In his concluding speech, Romeo is only able to describe his feelings for Rosaline through figurative language that he has learned from poetry books. His borrowed images of love as a religious quest suggest that his idealism has separated him from reality; he is in love with an ideal, not a real person.   Important Quotes: "My child is yet a stranger in the world. She hath not seen the change of fourteen years. Let two more summers wither in their pride Ere we may think her ripe to be a bride." - Lord Capulet

Page 4

Act 1 - Scene 3

Lady Capulet talks to Juliet about her feelings regarding marriage and then informs Juliet of Paris' proposal.    Lady Capulet observes that she gave birth to Juliet when she was almost Juliet’s current age.    When her mother mentions that Paris will attend the feast that evening, Juliet reacts with dutiful reserve, whereas her nurse, recalling incidents from Juliet's childhood, volunteers a more excited response.   A servant enters to announce the beginning of the feast.   Analysis: Juliet's attitude forewarns her rebellion against her parents later in the play. Juliet's view of love points to the spiritual quality of her love for Romeo, which is not tainted by economic and sexual concerns.   Juliet herself is revealed in this scene as a rather naïve young girl who is obedient to her mother and the Nurse. There are also glimpses of a strength and intelligence in Juliet that are absent in her mother. Where Lady Capulet can't get the Nurse to stop telling her story, Juliet stops it without a problem.   The Nurse’s anecdote about Juliet as a baby also helps to portray the inevitability of Juliet’s situation. Her husband’s comment about Juliet falling on her back when she comes of age is a reference to Juliet one day engaging in sex. This shows that Juliet has been viewed as a potential object of sexuality and marriage since she was born, Juliet’s fate to someday be given away in marriage has been set since birth. Nobody in the scene addresses the romantic concept of love. Lady Capulet and the Nurse are symbols for social and physical female oppression.    Important Quotes: "Younger than you Here in Verona, ladies of esteem Are made already mothers. By my count, I was your mother much upon these years That you are now a maid. Thus then in brief: The valiant Paris seeks you for his love." - Lady Capulet   "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." - Juliet

Page 5

Act 1 - Scene 4

Romeo, Benvolio, Mercutio, and others from the Montague household make their way to the Capulet feast, all wearing masks to conceal their identity.   Romeo continues to be lovesick for Rosaline, so Mercutio teases him for being such a stereotypical lover. Mercutio then delivers his speech about Queen Mab, in which he describes how the fairy delivers dreams to humans as they sleep. He becomes distracted in his speech and Romeo has to calm him down.   Romeo voices one last concern before they enter the feast: he has a feeling that the night’s activities will set in motion the action of fate, resulting in untimely death. Despite this, they all enter.   Analysis: Mercutio acts in contrast to the lovestruck Romeo and the peaceful Benvolio; he is a witty and quick-tempered skeptic. Mercutio teases Romeo for his upsetting mood by sarcastically using conventional images of infatuation to underscore Romeo's naive view of love. Mercutio is down-to-earth, whereas Romeo continues to indulge in idealistic, lovelorn daydreaming.   It is no accident that Mercutio is the one making all of the puns in Romeo and Juliet. A pun represents a twist in the meaning of a word. That word, which previously meant one thing, now suddenly is revealed to have more interpretations, and therefore becomes ambiguous. Just as Mercutio can see through words to other meanings, he can also understand that the ideals held by those around him originate from less high-minded desires than anyone would care to admit.   Romeo's final lines anticipate his meeting with Juliet and create an atmosphere of impending doom. The heavy tone of this premonition is far more serious than the shallow melancholy Romeo we have seen until now. The line "some consequence hanging in the stars" echoes the prologue in which Romeo and Juliet are presented as "star-cross'd" lovers.   Important Quotes: "She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes In shape no bigger than an agate stone On the forefinger of an alderman, Drawn with a team of little atomi Over men’s noses as they lie asleep." - Mercutio   "I fear too early, for my mind misgives Some consequence yet hanging in the stars Shall bitterly begin his fearful date With this night’s revels, and expire the term Of a despisèd life closed in my breast By some vile forfeit of untimely death." - Romeo

Page 6

Act 1 - Scene 5

Romeo and his fellow attendees arrive at the Capulet feast where Capulet makes his rounds through groups of guests, joking with them and encouraging all to dance.   Romeo sees Juliet across the room and falls in love with her instantly. He claims that torches have never shone as bright as her and that he has never experienced love until this moment.    Tybalt hears and recognizes Romeo’s voice while moving through the crowd, asking for his rapier so that he can kill him. Capulet overhears Tybalt and tells him that Romeo is well regarded in Verona, and that he will not have him harmed at his feast. Tybalt protests, but Capulet scolds him until he agrees to keep the peace. As Capulet moves on, Tybalt vows that he will not let this indignity pass.   Romeo approaches Juliet, kissing her on the hand.  He tries to convince her to kiss him by using  religious metaphors that figure Juliet as a saint and Romeo as a pilgrim who wishes to erase his sin, since it is only through her kiss that he might be absolved. Continuing the metaphor, Juliet says that his sin is now on her lips and they must kiss again.   The Nurse arrives, breaking them up and telling Juliet that her mother is calling her. Romeo asks the Nurse who Juliet’s mother is. The Nurse replies that Lady Capulet is her mother and Romeo is devastated. In order to find out Romeo’s identity without raising any suspicions, Juliet asks the Nurse to identify a series of young men. The Nurse goes off and returns with the news that the man’s name is Romeo, and that he is a Montague.    Analysis: The theme of youth versus old age is again evident in this scene through Capulet's interaction with his guests and relatives, particularly Tybalt. His entrance in the middle of this scene reminds the audience of the violent time in which the play is set. Conflict is seen not only between the families, but also across generations, as shown by Tybalt's conversation with Lord Capulet.   When Romeo first sees Juliet, he breaks into a sonnet, signifying his instant love for her. The first conversation between Romeo and Juliet is an extended Christian metaphor. Using this metaphor, Romeo ingeniously manages to convince Juliet to let him kiss her. The religious overtones of the conversation clearly imply that their love can be described only through the vocabulary of religion. In this way, their love becomes associated with purity.   Romeo speaks to Juliet as if she is a source of light, this carries on throughout the play; "Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!". The lovers are repeatedly associated with the dark, an association that points to the secret nature of their love because they can only meet safely at night. At the same time, the light that surrounds the lovers in each other's eyes grows brighter to the very end, when Juliet's beauty illuminates the dark of the tomb.    Juliet expresses the connection between love and hate and marriage and death: "My only love sprung from my only hate". She declares that she would die if she can't marry Romeo: "If he be married. / My grave is like to be my wedding bed". The image of death as a bridegroom for Juliet is repeated throughout the play to maintain an atmosphere of impending tragedy.   Important Quotes: "Oh, 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, . . .  Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight! For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night." - Romeo   "Patience perforce with willful choler meeting Makes my flesh tremble in their different greeting. I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall Now seeming sweet, convert to bitterest gall." - Tybalt