Table of Contents
Act 2, scene 1: Romeo’s Perspective in the Balcony Scene
Romeo expresses these sentiments during the famous balcony scene, where he observes Juliet leaning out of a high window in the Capulet orchard (2.1.44-64). Despite it being late at night, Juliet’s extraordinary beauty leads Romeo to envision her as the sun, magically dispelling darkness and transforming it into daylight. Romeo extends this personification to the moon, describing it as “sick and pale with grief” because it pales in comparison to Juliet’s radiance. He further compares Juliet to the stars, claiming that her brilliance outshines even the brightest of them, just as daylight overwhelms a lamp. In fact, her eyes alone shine so brilliantly that they inspire birds to sing at night as if it were day.
This quote holds significance not only for its exquisite poetic qualities but also because it exemplifies the recurring motif of light and darkness in the play. Numerous scenes in Romeo and Juliet occur either at night or in the early morning, and Shakespeare often employs this stark contrast to explore contrasting choices within a given situation. Here, Romeo envisions Juliet transforming darkness into light. Later, after their wedding night, Juliet momentarily convinces Romeo that it is actually nighttime, allowing him to prolong his time with her before he departs.
Act 2, scene 1: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?”
Juliet utters these famous lines in the balcony scene (2.1.74-78). From her upstairs window, oblivious to Romeo’s presence in the orchard below, she wonders why Romeo must be who he is – a Montague, the son of her family’s arch-enemies. It is essential to note that “wherefore” here means “why,” not “where.” Juliet is not inquiring about Romeo’s whereabouts. Unaware of Romeo’s proximity, she implores him to renounce his family for the sake of their love. However, Juliet also declares her willingness to disown her own family if he confesses his love for her.
A notable theme in Romeo and Juliet revolves around the tension between social and family identity, represented by one’s name, and one’s inner identity. Juliet believes that love emanates from an individual’s inner self, while the bitter feud between the Montagues and the Capulets arises merely from external labels. She perceives Romeo as an individual, and consequently, her love for him supersedes her family’s animosity towards the Montague name. Juliet argues that if Romeo were not called “Romeo” or “Montague,” he would still be the person she loves. She poetically questions, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other word would smell as sweet” (2.1.85-86).
Act 1, scene 4: The Speech about Queen Mab
Mercutio’s renowned Queen Mab speech not only showcases the incredible poetic flair of Shakespeare’s writing but also provides insights into Mercutio’s character (1.4.53-59). Mercutio endeavors to persuade Romeo to set aside his lovesick melancholy over Rosaline and join him at the Capulet feast. When Romeo reveals that he is despondent due to a dream, Mercutio launches into a whimsical and elaborate description of Queen Mab, the fairy who supposedly brings dreams to sleeping humans. The primary message conveyed in this passage is that the dreams Queen Mab brings are directly influenced by the dreamer’s nature; for instance, lovers dream of love, while soldiers dream of war. However, in the midst of conveying this rather straightforward point, Mercutio’s tone takes a bitter turn as he portrays dreams as destructive and delusional.
Prologue, Act 3, and Act 5: The Theme of Fate and Fortune
This trio of quotes delves into the theme of fate as it unfolds throughout the story. The prologue sets the tone as the Chorus declares Romeo and Juliet to be “star-crossed” and destined to “take their li[ves]” (Prologue.5-8). This remark informs the audience that the lovers are predestined to meet a tragic end. When Romeo exclaims, “O, I am fortune’s fool!” after slaying Tybalt, he reveals his perception of himself as at the mercy of fate (3.1.131). Upon discovering Juliet’s apparent death, Romeo defiantly cries out, “Then I defy you, stars!” openly expressing his opposition to the destiny that fills him with grief (5.1.24). However, ironically, by defying fate, Romeo inadvertently brings it upon himself. His suicide triggers Juliet’s own decision to end her life, thus tragically fulfilling their woeful destiny.