This scene, with its dancing, gaiety, and colorful costumes, presents a cheerful and happy atmosphere. It is filled with music and lovemaking. Lord Capulet welcomes the maskers and invites them to dance. He is nostalgic about his good old days, when he himself had danced in a mask. He laments that his dancing days are over. In the meantime, Paris has made Juliet his partner in the dance. Unable to secure Rosaline, Romeo stands aloof, watching the dancers. His eye suddenly catches sight of Juliet and he is a changed man. He asks a servant who she is, but the servant does not know. Then, Romeo breaking out in lyrical poetry, remarks aloud to some of the bystanders that she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen, and that other ladies are “crows” in comparison with such a “snowy dove”. He adds that as soon as Paris releases her, he will seek her out.
Tybalt overhears Romeo and recognizes his voice. He angrily calls for his rapier to kill Romeo. His uncle inquires as to the cause of his excitement. Tybalt tells him that Romeo has purposely joined the party to insult them. Capulet defends Romeo, commenting on his gentlemanly bearing. He orders Tybalt to control himself and act like a gentleman. He would not like Romeo to be insulted in his house. When Tybalt ignores the request, Capulet threatens to disinherit him. The guests gather around them. Capulet, in broken speech, urges them to carry on with the dance and orders Tybalt to leave the party. Tybalt goes out grumbling and vows that he will avenge his insult.
While the quarrel between Capulet and Tybalt goes on, Romeo approaches Juliet. In a formal sonnet, each courteously and graciously accepts the devotion of the other. In the first quartet, Romeo, taking Juliet’s hand, declares himself a “pilgrim from the holy land, seeking to kiss the hand of his saint in adoration.” Juliet reminds him that pilgrims are content to clasp the hand instead of kissing it. The third quartet expresses Romeo’s desire to kiss her lips and her objection to it. In the closing couplet, he accepts her decision not to return his kiss and kisses her instead. Lady Capulet and the Nurse have been watching this incident with alarm. The Nurse is sent to summon Juliet to her mother. Juliet leaves, and Romeo asks the Nurse who Juliet’s mother is. When he learns she is a Capulet, he is shocked at the thought that he owes his life’s happiness to an enemy family.
Benvolio now instructs the maskers to leave. Capulet begs them to wait for
the refreshments, but they will not stay any longer. Capulet bids them
good night and retires to his room. The stage is left almost empty. Only
the Nurse and Juliet are left. Juliet is eager to know who her admirer
is. The Nurse is startled when Juliet tells her that she will die unwed
if she does not marry him. The Nurse reveals Romeo’s name and the fact
that he is a Montague. Juliet laments that this is an ominous indication
of what lies before her.
This is a spectacular scene filled with irony and contrast and begins the love story of Romeo and Juliet. The attention of the audience is divided during the party between the reminiscences of the two old Capulets and the youthful and rapt figure of Romeo, who is watching Juliet. Romeo’s first appraisal of Juliet’s beauty is rich in images. Hers is a “beauty rich for use, for earth too dear!” These words contain dramatic irony since Juliet’s beauty is too rich for use in the sense that it will be laid in the tomb too early.
Romeo moves towards his new love against the discordant hate and rage of her cousin, Tybalt. When he sees Romeo, Tybalt rushes from the room, threatening to convert seeming sweet to bitter gall. The lovers meet and salute each other in a sonnet full of conceits and quibbles on the religion of love. Both are drawn to each other, but in public they must disguise their feelings. The real strength of their feelings and the irony of their backgrounds is later expressed when Romeo says, “O dear account! my life is my foe’s debt”, and in Juliet’s paradox, “My only love, sprung from my only hate.” Both young people realize the seriousness of their love and the problems it can cause.
The ball scene shows Capulet as a gracious and thoughtful host, doing everything in his power to make his party a success. He is solicitous of his guests, personally welcomes the maskers, jests with the ladies, and suppresses the antagonism of Tybalt. He gossips with his relative over old times and reveals that he was a happy youth, fond of masquerading and whispering tales into ladies ears to win their favor. He sternly handles Tybalt’s anger, at first trying to calm him, then threatening to disinherit him, and finally ordering him to leave the house. He refuses to have anyone, including a Montague, insulted in his home, and he also remembers the Prince’s warning about keeping the peace. Lord Capulet also notes that Romeo appears to be a gentleman with good behavior and virtue, who is respected throughout Verona. He is obviously not aware of what has transpired between Romeo and Juliet.
Tybalt is introduced as an aggressive, angry young man. Romeo’s presence at the ball rouses him to such anger that he calls for his sword in order to kill him. He thinks that Romeo has crashed the party in order to scorn the Capulets. Instead, Romeo, in dramatic irony, has fallen headlong in the love with Juliet, a supposed enemy of the Capulet family.
The Nurse reveals her impatience when she spies Juliet being kissed by Romeo and orders her to go at once to her mother. She is also horrified to learn that Juliet’s admirer is a Montague and is even more startled when Juliet tells her that she will die unwed if she does not marry this young man.
The scene masterfully contrasts age and experience (the old Capulets) with youth and inexperience (Romeo and Juliet). It also contrasts extreme hatred (Tybalt) with passionate love (Romeo). Finally, it contrasts Romeo’s earlier immature feelings towards Rosaline with his much deeper feelings toward Juliet that he describes in religious terminology (pilgrims, saints, and shrines). The scene is also filled with irony. Benvolio’s plan for Romeo to forget Rosaline works too well, for Romeo ironically falls head over heels in love with Juliet, a member of the enemy family. Juliet attends the party to seek out Paris, and Romeo attends to see Rosaline; ironically, neither Rosaline nor Paris is of interest to the couple after they meet one another. The Nurse also speaks in exquisite irony when she tells Juliet that “the strangers are all gone”. Romeo, however, is no longer a stranger to Juliet.
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