Romeo and Juliet Act One

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Scene I

Romeo and Juliet takes place in an Italian city called Verona. It is loosely based on a true story.

The play opens with the Prologue who introduces the play to the audience. The Prologue actually tells the audience in 14 lines the basic plot of the play and what is about to happen. The Prologue rather optimistically tells the audience that the play will take two hours. 'the two hours' traffic of the stage'. The full play can actually weigh in at around 4 hours. Shakespeare of course, wrote the prologue at the beginning of the play, so he wouldn't really know how long the play would end up being. The prologue has an important role in setting up the opening scene by indicating the feud between the Capulets and the Montagues It is a highly formal introduction to the play.

Sampson and Gregory are servants of the Capulet household armed with sword and bucklers. Bucklers were small shields held by one's fist that was used for defense and attack. Sometimes, these fist-held shilelds had spikes on them to inflict damage.

Sampson is bragging to Gregory about his courage in battle. His companion pokes fun at Sampson. Soon, Sampson drifts into bragging about his sexual prowess. Abraham and Balthasar; servants to the Montagues, enter. They are probably similarly armed. A quarrel breaks out between Samson and Gregory of the Capulets and Abraham and Balthasar of the Montagues and they fight.

Benvolio of the family of Montague enters and draws his sword to beat down their weapons to stop the battle. Benvolio is the one character, who throughout the play, tries to prevent violence between the two families from happening.

Tybalt enters the fray and challenges Benvolio to battle. Benvolio is Romeo's cousin. Tybalt is Juliet's. Tybalt, throughout the play, has barely suppressed rage and cruelty. If this were a story of the Old West, Tybalt would be the gunslinger, the guy with the black hat.

'What, drawn, and talk of peace! I hate the word,
As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee:
Have at thee, coward!'

Benvolio and Tybalt then fight. Citizens of Verona come out armed with various weapons to stop the fighting. The heads of the Capulet and Montague households come out to fight. Though aged, they are eager to battle each other.

The Prince enters with his attendants and eventually the fighting subsides. He tells the feuding families that

'If ever you disturb our streets again,
Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.

Everyone leaves but for Lord Montague, Lady Montague and Benvolio. The Montagues ask Benvolio how the fight started. He tells them what transpired and then the discussion turns to Romeo. Lately, the young man has seemed depressed. Romeo approaches and Benvolio tells his parents that he will try to find out why Romeo is so unhappy.

Romeo tells Benvolio that he is desperately in love with a young woman who is not interested in him. Benvolio advises Romeo to see other girls, to forget about his unrequited love. They exit. That is the end of scene one. Interestingly Sampson, Gregory and Abraham no longer return. Montague does not reappear until the end of the play. Several characters that appear early are no longer seen again. Part of the reason for that lies in the number of actors in Shakespeare's company. His company had 16 make actors. No women. Women weren't allowed on stage in those days. See the movie Shakespeare in Love. These sixteen male actors played all the parts including the women. With about 50 characters, Shakespeare had to do a lot of mixing and matching of parts when he wrote his Romeo and Juliet. Characters would either die or after exiting the stage, they would re-enter as other characters. So, the actors playing Sampson, Gregory and Balthasar would simply come on stage later as other characters.

Scene II

The second scene opens with a young nobleman called Paris asking Lord Capulet for permission to marry his daughter; the thirteen year old Juliet. Capulet does not think Juliet is old enough to marry

But saying o'er what I have said before:
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.

Paris, on the other hand, thinks she is old enough

Younger than she are happy mothers made.

Capulet replies with;

'And too soon marr'd are those so early made.'

No doubt he is speaking of his own wife; Juliet's mother, who we find out later was married to Capulet at about the same age as Juliet is now. Capulet is hinting that not all has gone right with his marriage to Juliet's mother.

Capulet says that Paris needs more than his permission. He must first convince Juliet to agree to the marriage. Capulet is having a feast which will feature many pretty girls and if that Paris still prefers Juliet, then it is implied that he will agree to the marriage. It is not said but it is implied. Capulet then sends out his illiterate servant to invite the guests that are written on the invitation

Capulet and Paris leave the servant on stage where he encounters Romeo and Benvolio. He asks for their help in reading the message. They tease him, but then Romeo obliges the poor fellow and reads the invitation.

As audience members, we learn that Rosaline, the object of Romeo's affections shall be at this party of the Capulets. Benvolio suggests they should go to this party to look at the beautiful women that will be attending. Benvolio tells Romeo that;

'Compare her face with some that I shall show,
And I will make thee think thy swan a crow.'

That is the end of Scene Two

Scene III

In Scene Three, Lady Capulet is looking for Juliet. She is with Juliet's nurse. When Juliet shows up, Lady Capulet is going to send the nurse away but relents. We can infer that as Juliet has a nurse, and that there is an obvious bond between them, a bond which does not seem to exist between Lady Capulet and Juliet, that the mother and daughter have a distant relationship. In this scene we learn a few things. One; that Juliet will not be fourteen until 'On Lammas-eve at night' That is over two weeks away and occurs on July 31st. It is the day of the first wheat harvest. Two: we also learn that the nurse is a very talkative and affectionate person. She would have nursed Julietr as a child. Three; we learn that Lady Capulet was very young when she married Lord Capulet.

'I was your mother much upon these years
That you are now a maid.'

Lady Capulet tells Juliet that a young man; a nobleman named Paris seeks Juliet's hand in marriage. The fourth thing we learn in this scene is that Juliet is content to be obediant to her parent's will. Her parents see it as a good match. At this point Juliet is the perfect daughter. That will soon change. When they exit to go to the party the scene ends

Scene IV

Scene four begins with Romeo, Benvolio and their friend Mercutio heading to the Capulet masked ball. The young men are going to crash their opponents ball for a bit of fun. They assume no one will recognize them because they will be disguised with masks. Romeo has come to see the girl he has a crush on; Rosaline. Mercutio tries to cheer Romeo up. He is older then the others and they look up to him. He has been involved in foreign wars, He might have a scar on his face from his battles.

Give me a case to put my visage in:
A visor for a visor! what care I
What curious eye doth quote deformities?

Romeo and Mercutio get caught up in wordplay, before Mercutio shows the mercurial side of his personality. He starts off his famous Queen Mab Speech talking about dreams in a light-hearted manner, before he suddenly gets aggressive as the speech drifts into a nightmarish theme. Romeo has to stop him.

They exit to go to the Capulet ball. The scene ends.

Scene V

Scene Five opens with the Capulet ball. Shakespeare's theatre; The Globe, had a basic set with two levels. Whatever set changes there were would have been minimal. The scenes in Shakespeare's plays would be in such vastly different places and the scenes would change so frequently, that complex scene changes and sets would slow down the play. The actor's words generally set the scene. I imagine the opening part of the scene where the servants are rushing around, was a way of allowing the party-goers to gradually fill the stage. It likely serves as a transition scene to the ball scene.

Romeo quickly forgets about Rosaline when he sees Juliet dancing, he falls immediately in love with her.

O, 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;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!

The hot-blooded Tybalt discovers it is Romeo and is going to kill him because Romeo is a Montague. Lord Capulet stops him and scolds him for his ourburst. Before Tybalt leaves he vows to exact vengeance on Romeo.

He finds a moment when she has stopped dancing.He takes her hand. Upon seeing him, she too, falls in love. Their first words are the following

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

They kiss and then the Nurse arrives and calls Juliet away. Benvolio then drags Romeo away. Juliet finds out that Romeo is the son of her family's bitterest foe. Romeo, too, finds out that Juliet is a Capulet. They end the scene, thinking, they can never see each other agin. Before leaving the stage, Juliet sums up their personal tragedy.

My only love sprung from my only hate!
Too early seen unknown, and known too late!
Prodigious birth of love it is to me,
That I must love a loathed enemy.

The First Act ends.



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