‘Romeo and Juliet’ is the romantic tragedy by Shakespeare telling the story of two young lovers from feuding families who killed themselves rather than be parted. The scene opens with four servants all busily making preparations for the gathering. Romeo and Juliet’s first encounter is in a party at the house of Capulet. Romeo is at the party uninvited, with his friends eager to see Rosaline, the women he thinks he is in love with, and Juliet is meant to be meeting Paris, a possible suitor which her mother requested Juliet to see, although she has no wish to marry at this time. The scene opens with four servants all busily making preparations for the gathering.
The servant’s section of the play is all very quick and leaves the idea of bustle and excitement. They talk in prose. The audience is given the impression of there being a lot more servants on stage than just the four. The visitors then appear on stage and the action changes from the servants to Lord Capulet who speaks in blank verse. Capulet acts as a observer to the action.
“You are welcome gentlemen. Come, musicians play. A hall, a hall, give room! And foot it girls. More light, you knaves, and turn the tables up; and quench the fire, the room is grown too hot…”
He switches hastily between instructions and conversation to different people so that he is the only one talking. The impression of lots of things happening at once is continued as he attempts to get the party started. These lines show Capulet’s good humour and the sense of hospitality and salutation. He then speaks of his age: “for you and I are past our dancing days. How long is’t now since last yourself and I were in a mask?” and we are reminded of the contrast between him and Romeo and Juliet, who are both very youthful. This reference to his being elderly also related back to the ‘ancient grudge’ of which he is a key player and the young lovers are pulled into.
Then Romeo enters, speaking in rhyming verse – another contrast of language. He spots Juliet immediately and time stands still for him and he appears to be in his own world, his sight focused on Juliet, everything else around him an irrelevant haze. It is a large contrast to the hustle and bustle of before. His passionate, courtly language is full of imagery – “it seems she hangs upon the cheek of night as a rich jewel in an Ethiop’s ear” This shows that Romeo sees Juliet as a brilliance contrasted with and standing out from her surroundings as a bright gem stands out against the darkness of a black person’s skin. He makes many comparisons between light and dark; “O she doth teach the torches to burn bright…So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows”. This difference between light and dark arises throughout the play, contrasting with the conflict between the two feuding families and the conflict of love and hate.
Romeo’s poetry when he sees Juliet contrasts to his language when he believes himself to be in love with Rosaline.
This superior language demonstrates to the audience that his feelings for Rosaline were not heartfelt, and it is now he truly loves Juliet. Romeo also shows this with the line “Did my heart love till now?” this shows that his feelings for Rosaline were false but his feelings for Juliet are not.
This talk of love is then contrasted by Tybalt’s hatred for Romeo and all Montagues and his talk of death and killing: “To strike him dead I hold it not a sin.” This language is typical of Tybalt, who is always talking of death, violence and detestation. As soon as Tybalt hears Romeo he says “This, by his voice should be a Montague. Fetch me my rapier, boy.” This shows Tybalt’s character, he is a man of fewer words and more action, which is a contrast to Romeo who does not join in with the feuding of his family but favours talking of love and of sensitive issues. Romeo marvels at Juliet from a distance when he first sees her but as soon as Tybalt discovers Romeo he immediately asks for his sword. Tybalt also speaks in blank verse, another contrast with Romeo.
Tybalt’s anger on discovering a Montague at the party is unexpectedly contrasted to Capulet’s calm manner towards it: ” I would not for the wealth of all this town here in my house do him disparagement; therefore be patient, take no note of him;…” Capulet doesn’t want to ruin the party, but it should be noted that he never says anything wayward about Romeo. “And to say the truth, Verona brags of him to be a virtuous and well-governed youth.” This shows another contrast with the character of Tybalt, who Capulet then goes on to call a ‘saucy boy’. Here Capulet is clearly infuriated and impatient with Tybalt, and this shows contrast to his good humour at the start. Tybalt then says “I withdraw, but this intrusion shall, now seeming sweet, convert to bitt’rest gall.” As Romeo and Juliets love builds up in this scene, Tybalt’s anger and desire for revenge also builds up. This is significant as Tybalt’s need for vengeance outlines the play later on.
Romeo and Juliet’s first exchange is written in the form of a sonnet by both of them. This sonnet is comparable in style to Petrarch who was a well-liked sonnet writer in Elizabethan times. He wrote about love, this was usually unreciprocated. Here, the love Shakespeare writes of is reciprocated.
The language used in this sonnet is of an extremely good quality and because it is shared between them it reinforces the idea of them being inseparable. They use the word ‘pilgrim’ several times; this could be because a pilgrim is someone who goes on a spiritual journey. This shows that Romeo and Juliet’s love is spiritual as well as physical. “For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch, and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.” There is also a play on words here as they talk of holding hands and kissing, but a palmer also means a pilgrim. When this sonnet takes place time for the pair seems to stop and they are completely separate and unaware of their surroundings. But then the moment they kiss they are interrupted by the ‘real world’.
Then they are interrupted by the nurse and time changes again. The nurse informs Romeo that whoever Juliet marries will have ‘the chinks’, meaning they will be a rich bachelor. This talk of having money is contrasted immediately afterwards when Romeo discovers that Juliet is a Capulet and says “my life is my foe’s debt.” Benvolio then leads Romeo away.
Towards the end of the scene when there is just the nurse and Juliet left on stage, Juliet shows how cunning she can be by pointing out and questioning after the names of many men when she is trying to find out who Romeo is. She shows how clever she is by hiding the reality that it is only Romeo she is interested in by not mentioning him first. This contrasts to the former displays of her youth and innocence and supposed naivety. The line “if he be married, by grave is likely to be my wedding bed.” This makes use of dramatic irony as this is near to the truth. It is also a contrast to her previous feelings before the scene when she told the nurse and her mother that she did not wish to marry.
After Juliet finds out that Romeo is a Montague she says “My only love sprung from my only hate!” she recognises that she is in love with Romeo and the feelings of horror and dread is experienced by both Romeo and Juliet on discovering each others names is another contrast to the feelings of happiness and bustle conversed of the feast earlier.