Act One, Scene Four of Romeo and Juliet begins with Romeo and Benvolio heading to the Capulet party with some of their friends, including the Prince’s kinsman Mercutio; they all wear masks (which explains why and how they are able to gain entrance so easily). Romeo begins by immediately asking what should they say as an excuse for crashing the party; Benvolio dismisses the question with a simple statement that such apologetic speeches are no longer in fashion, then continues,
We'll have no Cupid hoodwink'd with a scarf,
Bearing a Tartar's painted bow of lath,
Scaring the ladies like a crow-keeper;
Nor no without-book prologue, faintly spoke
After the prompter, for our entrance:
But let them measure us by what they will;
We'll measure them a measure, and be gone.
This is a rather bold AND purple statement by Benvolio. [is he drunk? or just more rash than we thought before?] Romeo continues to state reservations, bantering with a bawdy Mercutio (“Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down” [I.iv.28]). It’s obvious Romeo no longer wants to go… what happened? We get a clue when Romeo states, “I dreamt a dream tonight” (I.iv.50): was his siesta dream one of foreboding? Well, what this introduction of dreams does is act as a catalyst for one of most famous speeches in all of Shakespeare, the Queen Mab speech:
O, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
She is the fairies' midwife, and she comes
In shape no bigger than an agate-stone
On the fore-finger of an alderman,
Drawn with a team of little atomies
Athwart men's noses as they lie asleep;
Her wagon-spokes made of long spiders' legs,
The cover of the wings of grasshoppers,
The traces of the smallest spider's web,
The collars of the moonshine's watery beams,
Her whip of cricket's bone, the lash of film,
Her wagoner a small grey-coated gnat,
Not so big as a round little worm
Prick'd from the lazy finger of a maid;
Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut
Made by the joiner squirrel or old grub,
Time out o' mind the fairies' coachmakers.
And in this state she gallops night by night
Through lovers' brains, and then they dream of love;
O'er courtiers' knees, that dream on court'sies straight,
O'er lawyers' fingers, who straight dream on fees,
O'er ladies ' lips, who straight on kisses dream,
Which oft the angry Mab with blisters plagues,
Because their breaths with sweetmeats tainted are:
Sometime she gallops o'er a courtier's nose,
And then dreams he of smelling out a suit;
And sometime comes she with a tithe-pig's tail
Tickling a parson's nose as a' lies asleep,
Then dreams, he of another benefice:
Sometime she driveth o'er a soldier's neck,
And then dreams he of cutting foreign throats,
Of breaches, ambuscadoes, Spanish blades,
Of healths five-fathom deep; and then anon
Drums in his ear, at which he starts and wakes,
And being thus frighted swears a prayer or two
And sleeps again. This is that very Mab
That plats the manes of horses in the night,
And bakes the elflocks in foul sluttish hairs,
Which once untangled, much misfortune bodes:
This is the hag, when maids lie on their backs,
That presses them and learns them first to bear,
Making them women of good carriage:
This is she--
Peace, peace, Mercutio, peace!
Thou talk'st of nothing.
True, I talk of dreams,
Which are the children of an idle brain,
Begot of nothing but vain fantasy;
Which is as thin of substance as the air...
It is a killer speech, and one we’ll discuss later in the month to be sure, but for now a little foreshadowing to that discussion: “Her chariot is an empty hazel-nut” … sound familiar? It sounds like the Midsummer fairies who can hide in “acorn-cups” (MND, II.i.31).
We don’t know the contents of his dream, but they were bad enough to give him a mind that
Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars,
Shall bitterly begin his fearful date
With this night's revels and expire the term
Of a despised life closed in my breast
By some vile forfeit of untimely death.
That’s a foreboding dream, but he succumbs to peer pressure and is off to the party.
Act One, Scene Five is the party, and the scene opens with Capulet servants bustling, followed by Lord Capulet himself greeting guests. Within moments of entering the party, Benvolio’s plan works and Romeo is asking the identity of a female party guest who, in Romeo’s words, doth teach the torches to burn bright” (I.v.45). Wow. Just three scenes ago, he was denying the existence of any beauty other than Rosaline’s, and now… And if that wasn’t enough:
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.
Not only is she hot, but he is now more than hot for her: he is in love. These are not Romeo’s thoughts but his words; the knucklehead has been talking out loud. How do we know this? Tybalt, yes the hothead from the opening scene, has overheard him, and he is NOT happy: “This, by his voice, should be a Montague. // Fetch me my rapier, boy” (I.v.55-56). Tybalt is spoiling for a fight, but Capulet intercedes, even after he’s learned that the interloper is a Montague. Capulet tells his nephew,
Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone.
He bears him like a portly gentleman;
And, to say truth, Verona brags of him
To be a virtuous and well-governed youth.
I would not for the wealth of all the town
Here in my house do him disparagement.
So Romeo has the reputation in Verona for being virtuous and well-raised (the townsfolk don’t know him as the horndog that we do). That last couplet is interesting, too: was part of the Prince’s punishment — possibly amended at the meeting in Freetown earlier that afternoon — the threat of a huge fine? Regardless, Capulet orders Tybalt to leave him alone. Tybalt storms off, vowing (to us, at least) revenge.
In the meantime, Romeo and Juliet have met:
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.
Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.
Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?
Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.
O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.
Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.
Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take.
folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this…
Ladies and gentlemen, we have true love as voiced poetically if not in the words themselves: this is a sonnet. Romeo’s first speech: a ABAB rhymed quatrain. Juliet’s response: CDCD. Juliet’s next response, sandwiched between Romeo’s next two speeches: the EFEF third quatrain. And they share the final couplet. All leading to their first kiss.
The Nurse calls Juliet away, Romeo learns her identity, and the party crashers leave with the other party guests. As they leave, Juliet queries and then learns Romeo’s identity. And the scene ends.
Act Two begins with a Chorus speaking in sonnet form again, summing up the situation: Romeo had been in love, but that love is done, replaced by Juliet. But since they come from feuding families, they don’t have access to each other. However, “passion lends them power, time means, to meet” (II.Chorus.13).
Act Two, Scene One begins in the Capulet orchard, with Romeo not wanting to leave the general vicinity of his (new-found lust/) love. He retreats into the shadows as both Benvolio and Mercutio search for him. The two friends call for him, but it’s Mercutio that is more entertaining, cannonballing into that pool of bawdy-ly fluids, as like in no other play thus far, with the possible exception of the shooting scene in Love’s Labor’s Lost. Needless to say, we’ll hit on all the bawdy in this scene (and others) later in the month, but for now a sample: “O, Romeo, that she were, O that she were // An open-arse and though a popp’ring pear!” (II.i.38): the open arse, beyond the obvious, was also the slang term for a medlar apple (medlar also being slang for the vulva); the poperin pear was a variety of the fruit that had a rather phallic shape.
When they retreat and head home, Romeo advances to begin Act Two, Scene Two, the ridiculously famous balcony scene. He spies her on her balcony, and waxes pretty poetical on her being like the sun (as compared to the moon… Rosaline? I think so, especially when he proclaims the moon to be “sick and green” [II.ii.8], a reference to greensickness, an anemia mainly seen in young women [the cure for which, according to physicians of the day, was sex]… the future nun Rosaline was a virgin… she refused Romeo’s cure, thus being “sick and green”). He continues to praise her up to the point where she speaks and he hears her say:
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Now, if you’re reading this blog, you probably know this already, but in case you don’t:
SHE IS NOT ASKING WHERE HE IS!!!
Wherefore meant “why”… she is asking WHY is he Romeo? why couldn’t he be someone — ANYONE — other than the son of her family’s enemy. She then goes on a pretty interesting philosophical discourse: a name is nothing but a word, not the essence of the thing. She rhetorically asks him to “doff (his) name” (II.ii.47)–in much the same way that Romeo earlier rhetorically asked her to “cast (her vestal livery) off” (II.ii.9). [another character parallel!] At this point, he steps forward and scares the bejeezus out of her.
He reveals his love for her, and they play–for the next hundred or so lines–a verbal game of cat-and-mouse, flirtatiously sounding the depths of each other’s feelings. It’s incredibly passionate, so much so that within a hundred lines, Juliet puts forward the ultimate test:
If that thy bent of love be honorable,
Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow,
By one that I'll procure to come to thee,
Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite;
And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay
And follow thee my lord throughout the world.
She demands marriage (after fewer than a half-dozen hours rather than the more modern half-dozen years), and Romeo promises to meet with the Nurse “by the hour of nine” (II.ii.169) to plan the logistics of the wedding. They part just before dawn, and Romeo heads to meet with his “ghostly sire” (II.ii.189), Friar Laurence.