The following resources will be valuable as you examine the lyric form and conventions in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.
The Text Analyzed
With your study group, answer the following questions about Act I, scene v. Then prepare a staging of the first meeting of Romeo and Juliet. Use the questions below to guide your reading and staging.
- Look at Romeo and Juliet's first meeting. Explain Romeo's conceit of pilgrimage. What is a pilgrimage? Who is the pilgrim here? Who is the holy saint? How does the conceit characterize the relationship between the two soon-to-be-lovers?
- How does the wittiness and word-play with which they develop the conceit play off against their metaphoric roles? To what extent is Romeo really the unworthy suitor of the sonnet tradition? To what extent is Juliet really the idealized paragon of virtue?
- Notice the balanced division of lines between them in their sonnet. How does this contrast with the poetic tradition of a lover addressing his unresponsive lady? Whose sonnet is this, in the end?
- Look at the "extra" quatrain that follows Romeo and Juliet's sonnet. How does the playful exchange of "sins" here look forward to the tragic outcome of the play? How does Juliet's closing, "You kiss by the book," reflect on this episode? What does she mean? Is Romeo following the sonneteers' recipe for courtship too diligently? Is he taking her words too literally? Are his kisses somehow make-believe, like sonnet conceits?
- How does Juliet's stepping out of their conceit with her line characterize her role in their relationship? How does it look forward to her actions later in the play?
- Now explain your interpretation of their first meeting. For example, what is Romeo doing as he speaks his first four lines? What is Juliet doing? How does Romeo catch and hold her attention? How does she react? What is the exchange of gestures in this first moment of their relationship? Explain how you would play Romeo's first lines to set the stage for Juliet to enter into the conceit and extend it with her answering quatrain.
- Now picture how their meeting would be staged. Experiment with various deliveries and stagings of the lines. Are the lovers caught up in their conceit, or do they speak with a tone of self-awareness, using the conceit as a way of signaling their intentions to one another? Focus especially on the two kisses in the episode. How are they different? How should they be staged differently? How far has the relationship moved between these two moments? How does this "extra" kiss reflect on the elaborate build-up to the first one? How does it look forward to the impulsiveness that will lead to tragedy later in the play?
- Clearly, Juliet's last line, "You kiss by the book," is the clincher to this meeting. Experiment with a variety of ways Juliet might deliver the line to indicate her relationship with and her attitude toward Romeo. What are some different ways to say the line, and what do those ways suggest about Juliet's attitude toward Romeo?
- By giving Juliet the last line, Shakespeare has effectively given her control over the episode with a final comment. What does this suggest about her character as compared to Romeo's? What does it suggest about the tone and manner in which she should deliver the line?
The Text in Context
To gauge the full dramatic effect of the sonnet Shakespeare created for the first meeting between Romeo and Juliet, it is necessary to see it in the context of the action surrounding it at the Capulet ball.
- The opening of the scene sets the tone of the preparations for the ball. What is the subject of the servants' conversation and their concerns while preparing for the ball? How does the style of language used enhance the overall tone of their conversation?
- Juliet's father begins the festivities of the ball. What is the subject of his opening monologue and what does it indicate about Capulet and his frame of mind at the ball? How does his conversation with the Second Capulet help in setting the tone as well?
- How does Romeo's initial description of Juliet contrast with the previous conversations? Examine his word choice and "style" of speaking and compare them to Capulet's and the servants.
- Tybalt's discovery of Romeo's presence immediately after Romeo's remarks about Juliet provides a vivid view of Tybalt's feelings. How does his word choice contrast with Romeo's? Why do his remarks suggest that Romeo's description of Juliet is an aside?
- In Tybalt's conversation with Capulet, what are the different concerns that each has about Romeo and about the ball? How does Shakespeare intensify the disagreement over Romeo? Cite several examples to prove your point. What is the outcome?
- Tybalt's final remark is made up of two couplets. How does his remark and style of speaking not only set up but impact on the first words of Romeo as speaks to Juliet?
- With the Nurse's comment, the meeting ends. What gives the Nurse's short speech and dialogue an informal, chatty, prose-like tone? Explain the irony of her remarks in terms of Romeo's response.
- Capulet's final remarks also contrast in tone with those of the young lovers. Explain the irony of his words and attitude about the banquet.
- Explain the effect of the shifts in tone that Shakespeare has built into the scene. How do the formal verse forms of Tybalt and the lovers stand out against the more naturalistic verse of Capulet and the Nurse? How do the verse forms of these younger characters in the scene stand out from one another?
- In what sense are the characters who speak in formal poetry spotlighted by their words? To what degree does the extended formality of Romeo and Juliet's meeting—and their action within that formality—deepen the poetic lighting of their moment together?
- With your study group, develop a stage interpretation of the lovers' meeting in Romeo and Juliet, based on the dramatic effects Shakespeare creates through poetic style and verse form. Begin the scene with Tybalt's final remark and exit, and end with the nurse's first comment to Juliet. Imagine in detail how this stretch of action might be performed. Act out various stagings and interpretations, discussing the merits of each and deciding on the most successful. When you have finished, we will share the groups' stagings and then debate as a class which ideas seem to capture best that first meeting of Romeo and Juliet onstage.