This scene is one of the most important in the play. It is the first time Romeo and Juliet meet, and one of the few scenes which they are both in together. It is also significant because it is when Tybalt becomes angry with Romeo, which later causes a fight between them (when Tybalt and Mercutio are killed). This is the scene that begins many events later on in the play.
The scene opens with a light-hearted conversation between the servants.
The speech is in prose, not verse. This is building up to the grand entrance of the Capulets, which begins the excitement of the scene, and prepares for all of the events that are about to happen.
A good indication that something big is about to happen is in the previous scene. Romeo is talking to Mercutio and Benvolio about going to the party. Then, Romeo talks to himself, saying he fears that something bad will happen later that night;
“I fear, too early; for my mind misgives, some consequence, yet hanging in the stars.
In this scene, we also begin to see another side to Capulet. He appears to be cheerful and friendly on the surface, but when he argues with Tybalt, he becomes violent and threatening. He obviously does not like people not listening to his orders, and this is clear when he says to Tybalt, “Am I the master here, or you?”
Capulet is putting on a cheerful face, but whispers quietly in Tybalt’s ear, “Be quiet, or I’ll make you quiet; what!” and then, “Cheerly, my hearts!” to the guests nearby.
We get the feeling that, underneath their smiling, relaxed faces, the Capulets are actually quite impatient, strict people. In a later scene, we see Capulet losing his temper again, with Juliet.
Two scenes before this, Lady Capulet is talking to her daughter. She mentions marriage for the first time, because Paris is interested in her. So, when Romeo and Juliet meet in this scene, we already know that it will begin many problems.
Another thing that we (the audience) know about Romeo and Juliet that they don’t is where they both come from. Juliet is a Capulet, and Romeo is a Montague – the two families that are arguing with each other. But, by the time the two lovers find out (at the end of this scene), they have already fallen for each other, and it is too late. Read about az Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet film techniques
The way the play is acted out on stage is important, because it is essential to understand how the play would be acted out on stage if you have only read the script, not seen a live performance. Costume would be important, especially in this scene. It is a party, so many people would be wearing elaborate, fancy clothes. The servants at the start of the scene would probably be wearing simple, plain clothes, to show their status, and that they were the 16th Century equivalent to ‘working class’ people. This is a sharp contrast to the expensive clothes that all the guests would be wearing. In those days, there was a big difference between classes, especially among the wealthy noblemen, who would usually have servants.
In Shakespeare’s time, females were not allowed to act in the theatre; men therefore played all the roles. This means that the part of the scene where Romeo and Juliet kiss would probably be acted out differently, perhaps with the two actors holding each other closely, but not actually kissing.
The language plays a large part in the whole of the play, but particularly in this scene. Because it is the first time the two lovers’ meet, it is very romantic. All the characters, especially Romeo, speak in poetry. The servants at the beginning of this scene are the only exception.
The language that Romeo uses has a big effect on the drama and appeal of the scene. He often uses metaphors and similes when describing Juliet, and her beauty. A lot of his speeches are soliloquies.
When he first sees her, he says,
“O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!”
Here, he is using a metaphor to describe how bright and amazing she is, suggesting that she is brighter than the torches (at the ball, there were possibly torches on the walls lighting the room, as it was night-time). He also compares her to ‘a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear’. Again, this is describing Juliet’s beauty, by saying that she stands out as much as a bright jewel would in the ear of a dark-skinned person.
Romeo then describes her as ‘a snowy dove trooping with crows.’ By this, he means that she stands out among all the other women. In an earlier scene, when Romeo is talking about Rosaline (his ‘crush’ before meeting Juliet), Benvolio tells Romeo to come to the Capulets party and he will ‘make thee think thy swan a crow’. Romeo believes that he is in love with Rosaline, and replies that he could never see anyone more beautiful than her. So, when Romeo sees Juliet and uses this comparison himself, we see that he was never really in love with Rosaline, more in love with the idea of being in love. It is clear that Benvolio was right, and saw all along that Rosaline was just another of Romeo’s crushes (we get the feeling that Romeo is a romantic, fantasising character, and is often quick to believe he is in love with someone).
Romeo also sees this, when he says,
“Did my heart love till now?” He is questioning whether he ever really loved Rosaline or not. Then, he says he ‘never saw true beauty till this night’. He realises that real love is different to how he was feeling about Rosaline. It is obviously love at first sight.
When Romeo and Juliet meet for the first time, they begin speaking in a sonnet. This was a popular type of poetry in Elizabethan times.
They also use many biblical phrases and ideas. Romeo describes his lips as ‘two blushing pilgrims’, and his hand as ‘unworthy’. He asks Juliet to kiss him, to purge the sins from him. Juliet kisses him, then says that her lips now have his sin. He asks her to give him his sin again, and so they kiss for a second time.
There are many contrasts used in the play – mainly light and dark, and love and hate. Juliet uses one of these contrasts at the end of the scene, when the nurse tells her that Romeo is a Montague. She says,
“My only love, sprung from my only hate!” She has also fallen in love with Romeo straight away. She then becomes sad that she must love a ‘loathed enemy’.
Romeo also uses contrasts when describing Juliet, but he uses light and dark to describe the way she stands out. The use of contrasts helps to emphasise things more, like beauty.
It is interesting to compare the two films made of Romeo and Juliet (Franco Zeffirelli, 1968 and Baz Luhrmann, 1996). The directors both stick to the original script for most of the play, but have very different interpretations of it.
Zeffirelli has a more traditional approach. The film was made in 1968, so this could be why (it was made more than twenty five years before Luhrmann’s, and Zeffirelli would have had more ‘old-fashioned’ ideas about the play). I think that a lot of Zeffirelli’s film was the way Shakespeare would have intended it to be acted out. He tried to stick closely to the fashions and costumes of the time, whereas Luhrmann put many modern ideas into the play.
This scene is a good example of the two directors’ different versions of the play.
The costumes worn at the ball in Zeffirelli’s film are typical of the 16th Century. Mostly, the guests are wearing dark clothes. The exception to this is Juliet. She wears a brighter red-orange dress. This is a clever technique to make her stand out. There are so many people at the party, and so many women for Romeo to look at, but we instantly see that his attention is drawn to Juliet.
The costumes used in Baz Luhrmann’s film serve a similar purpose – drawing attention to a particular character – but each costume represents that person’s personality (it is a fancy dress party – again, this is an idea used to modernize the play). For example, Paris is wearing an astronaut’s costume. This is to symbolize bravery and nobility, representing Neil Armstrong, who is considered an American hero.
Tybalt is wearing a devil’s costume. This represents his fiery, temperamental character. We are not supposed to particularly like Tybalt, and this costume shows the ‘evil’ in his character.
Romeo is wearing a knight’s costume, armour. This is depicting Romeo as the ‘knight in shining armour’ of the play, coming to save Juliet.
Juliet is wearing an angel’s costume. This signifies the innocent, sweet child in her, reminding us of how young and naï¿½ve she still is (although she often appears to be more innocent than she really is, often deceiving her family to be with Romeo).
Mercutio is dressed as a drag queen. This is an amusing touch to the film (it also modernizes it again), which shows Mercutio’s good, carefree nature – when the two families are feuding, he tries to avoid getting involved.
I think that Luhrmann’s idea to use costumes in this way was clever; it gives us an insight to each character, and how he wants us to see them.
In Zeffirelli’s version, the singer who performs a love song after all the lively dancing continues to sing whilst Romeo and Juliet talk for the first time (and kiss). However, in Luhrmann’s film, the slow singing is gradually replaced with fast tempo music, as Romeo desperately chases after Juliet.
In Luhrmann’s version, Romeo has just taken some kind of mind-expanding drug. This adds more of a modern touch, as do the guns that are used instead of swords (but manufactured by a company called Sword).
Romeo goes to the bathroom. It is on his way back that he meets Juliet. They are facing each other on either side of a large, grand fish tank. They follow each other, but are prevented from touching by the glass. This is different from the original way the play would be performed. Zeffirelli just uses the old idea that they meet across the room while dancing.
I think that both films get the idea across well, although in very different ways. Luhrmann’s version is good for younger people, and helps them to understand Shakespeare and relate to the play more. Zeffirelli’s film is more for older people, and a different generation, because it is a more classic version, which is similar to how it would be performed in the theatre.