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Detailed Summary of Act 2, Scene 1

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Enter Romeo alone:
This is a scene often censored in textbooks. The first six lines give all the information necessary to the plot; the rest is Mercutio's wittily ribald conjuration of Romeo.

First Romeo appears by himself and says, "Can I go forward when my heart is here? / Turn back, dull earth, and find thy centre out." (2.1.1-2). "Here" is Capulet's house, where Juliet is, and the "dull earth" to which Romeo speaks is his own body, which is only stupid dirt without its spiritual "centre" -- Juliet. Acting as quickly as he speaks, Romeo is gone.

As soon as Romeo disappears, we hear, then see, Benvolio and Mercutio. Benvolio is calling for his cousin, and Mercutio says that Romeo must have gone home to bed, but Benvolio says, "He ran this way, and leap'd this orchard wall. / Call, good Mercutio" (2.1.5-6). On Shakespeare's stage, there was no wall to be seen, but in the audience's imagination Benvolio and Mercutio are standing right next to it, and Romeo is on the other side, listening to everything. What Romeo hears is Mercutio's affectionately witty insults.

Mercutio answers Benvolio's appeal to call Romeo by saying, "Nay, I'll conjure too" (2.1.6). Mercutio has no knowledge of Romeo's new-found love for Juliet, and Mercutio's joke is that since Romeo is under the spell of Rosaline, a conjuration is required to make him appear. Mercutio begins by calling out, "Romeo! humours! madman! passion! lover! / Appear thou in the likeness of a sigh!" (2.1.7-8). "Humours" are the swiftly-changing moods of a lover, and Mercutio clearly regards them as silliness. Mercutio continues in the same vein, calling out to Romeo to say a rhyme, or sigh, or "Speak to my gossip Venus one fair word, / One nick-name for her purblind [dim-sighted] son and heir, / Young Abraham Cupid, he that shot so trim, / When King Cophetua loved the beggar-maid!" (2.1.11-14). "My gossip" is a familiar phrase for an old crony, especially one who babbles at random. In the Bible Abraham is old, the father of all the Israelites; Mercutio's phrase for Cupid, "Young Abraham," is an allusion to the fact that in Greek mythology Cupid is both the oldest and youngest of the gods. Mercutio's mockeries of Venus and Cupid are meant to tease Romeo. He's telling Romeo that although the lover may think that his love-longing is whole new experience, it's not. Love is simply a random event, one of many such random events that have been going on for time out of mind. And the mention of "King Cophetua" is an allusion to a popular ballad in which Cupid is called "the blinded boy that shoots so trim"; if Mercutio were speaking in today's language he would be accusing Romeo of getting his ideas about love out of some sappy song from the latest boy-band.

Of course none of this gets a response from Romeo, and Mercutio concludes that he must be dead, so he must be conjured again. Mercurtio invokes Rosaline's eyes, forehead, and lip, then switches to the other end of her body and works his way upwards. He conjures Romeo, "By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh / And the demesnes that there adjacent lie, / That in thy likeness thou appear to us!" (2.1.19-21). "Demesnes" are estates, or domains, where a lord has the rights to hunt and plow, and such domains were commonly used as metaphors in the erotic poetry of the time, including Shakespeare's own Venus and Adonis, in which Venus invites Adonis to range freely over her "Sweet bottom grass and high delightful plain, / Round rising hillocks, brakes [thickets] obscure and rough." The "demesnes" adjacent to Rosaline's "quivering thigh" would be the regions of bottom grass and thickets.

Benvolio, who understands that Romeo is being accused of being in lust, tells Mercutio that he's likely to make Romeo angry. Mercutio replies that "This cannot anger him: 'twould anger him / To raise a spirit in his mistress' circle / Of some strange nature, letting it there stand / Till she had laid it and conjured it down" (2.1.23-26). Folk-lore had it that a conjurer could draw a circle on the ground and raise a spirit within that circle. Typically, the spirit would be a devil looking to drive a good bargain for the conjurer's soul, but "spirit" was also slang for semen or the male member, and of course "circle," "stand," and "laid" are all related double-entendres. Describing the spirit as "of some strange nature" is Mercutio's way of making the point that Romeo would get angry only if some stranger had sex with Rosaline before he did.

Mercutio goes on to say that he's not trying to anger Romeo, only make him appear, but Benvolio is ready to give up. He says that Romeo has surely hidden himself among the trees "To be consorted with [keep company with] the humorous [moody] night: / Blind is his love and best befits the dark" (2.1.31-32). Mercutio jokes, "If love be blind, love cannot hit the mark" (2.1.33), and then makes clear exactly what kind of "mark" he's thinking of by saying of Romeo, "Now will he sit under a medlar tree, / And wish his mistress were that kind of fruit / As maids call medlars, when they laugh alone" (2.1.34-36). Maids mention the medlar only when they "laugh alone" (i.e., with each other) because it is such a sexy fruit. It's small, brown-skinned, and round, but has a cleft like an apricot and a deep cup-shaped depression at the stem end. Also, it's only edible when it's half-rotten and starting to split open. Mercutio is saying that Romeo will sit under a medlar tree and wish that Rosaline would open up like a medlar. Just in case Romeo hasn't been paying attention, Mercutio calls out, "O, Romeo, that she were, O, that she were / An open et caetera, thou a pop'rin pear!" (2.1.37-38). A "pop'rin pear" is a Flemish fruit that looks like it would fit nicely in the medlar's cup-shaped depression. To make everything obvious, editors often substitute "open-arse" for "open et caetera"; "open-arse" was an actual slang name for the fruit of the medlar, but Mercutio is being witty, not gross.

Finally, Mercutio stops with the jokes, bids Romeo goodnight, says it's time for bed, and asks Benvolio if he's ready to go. As they leave Benvolio comments that it's useless to look for Romeo, because he doesn't want to be found.