Themes and Motifs in Romeo and Juliet:


In the first prologue the Chorus twice tells us that Romeo and Juliet will fall in love, die, and so bring about the end of the feud between the Capulets and Montagues. And all this will be shown in "two hours' traffic [business] of our stage" (Prologue 12). [Scene Summary]

After the first street brawl, Benvolio explains to Montague and Lady Montague what happened:

Here were the servants of your adversary,
And yours, close fighting ere I did approach:
I drew to part them: in the instant came
The fiery Tybalt, with his sword prepared,
Which, as he breathed defiance to my ears,
He swung about his head and cut the winds,
Who nothing hurt withal hiss'd him in scorn.
While we were interchanging thrusts and blows,
Came more and more and fought on part and part,
Till the prince came, who parted either part.   (1.1.106-115)
Benvolio tried to stop a fight and suddenly found himself in the middle of a riot. [Scene Summary]

Immediately after Lady Capulet urges Juliet to marry Paris, a servant rushes in with an urgent message: Madam, the guests are come, supper served up, you called, my young lady asked for, the nurse cursed in the pantry, and every thing in extremity. I must hence to wait; I beseech you, follow straight" (1.3.100-103). Lady Capulet promises that they will all come right away, and tells her daughter that Paris is waiting for her. The Nurse also urges Juliet on, saying, "Go, girl, seek happy nights to happy days" (1.3.105). The Nurse and Lady Capulet both expect Juliet to make the most important decision of her life in the next few minutes. [Scene Summary]

At Capulet's door, Romeo suddenly becomes reluctant to enter, and his friends urge him to quit delaying. Benvolio says, "Supper is done, and we shall come too late"(1.4.105). Romeo answers, "I fear, too early: for my mind misgives / Some consequence yet hanging in the stars" (1.4.106-107). In other words, Romeo feels he is rushing into danger. Nevertheless, he goes in with his friends. [Scene Summary]

Moments before Romeo and his friends make their entrance at Capulet's party, we see the servants bustling about to get things cleared away. One says impatiently of another, "Where's Potpan, that he helps not to take away?" (1.5.1). Another issues orders to take away the stools and the sideboard, then asks that someone save him a bit of dessert and let in his girlfriends. As far as the servant is concerned, once his chores are done, Capulet's party is over and he's out of there. Later in the scene, Romeo and Juliet have just exchanged eighteen lines of dialogue when the Nurse tells Juliet that her mother wants to speak with her, and then comes Benvolio to tell Romeo "Away, begone; the sport is at the best" (1.5.119). All the guests start leaving, and Romeo is almost out the door before Juliet is able to get his name from the Nurse. [Scene Summary]

In Capulet's garden, after Romeo has overheard Juliet say she loves him, and after he has sworn his love for her, Juliet says, "Although I joy in thee, / I have no joy of this contract to-night: / It is too rash, too unadvised, too sudden; / Too like the lightning, which doth cease to be / Ere one can say 'It lightens.' Sweet, good night!" (2.2.116-120). But her "good night" does not send Romeo away; he stays a few minutes more, until they have agreed that Romeo will make the arrangements for their wedding and let her know of them by nine o'clock the next morning. [Scene Summary]

When Romeo tells Friar Laurence that he is in love with Juliet and wants to marry her, the Friar comments on the suddeness of his change of affections:

The sun not yet thy sighs from heaven clears,
Thy old groans ring yet in my ancient ears;
Lo, here upon thy cheek the stain doth sit
Of an old tear that is not wash'd off yet:
If e'er thou wast thyself and these woes thine,
Thou and these woes were all for Rosaline:
And art thou changed?   (2.3.73-79)
This doesn't faze Romeo, who wants Friar Laurence to perform the ceremony that very day. Once Friar Laurence agrees, Romeo is in a hurry to get on with it; he says, "O, let us hence; I stand on [i.e., require] sudden haste" (2.3.93), and pays no attention to Friar Laurence's wisdom: "Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast" (2.3.94). [Scene Summary]

Waiting for the Nurse to return with the news of when and where Romeo will marry her, Juliet impatiently declares, "she is lame!" (2.5.4). Juliet doesn't mean that the Nurse is crippled, just stiff and slow. But, Juliet says, "Love's heralds should be thoughts, / Which ten times faster glide than the sun's beams" (2.5.4-5). In Shakespeare's time heralds, galloping along on horses and blowing trumpets, announced arrival of some important person. Juliet believes the heralds of Love should be as swift as thought. She wants Love to come to her now, even as she is thinking about it, and she believes that what she wants is what ought to be: "Therefore do nimble-pinion'd doves draw love, / And therefore hath the wind-swift Cupid wings" (2.5.7-8). Juliet is referring to paintings, common at the time, of doves pulling the chariot of Venus and of Cupid flying through the sky with his bow, ready to shoot the arrow of love. Juliet's thought is that because Love is painted as swift, it ought to be swift. Instead, she is still waiting for the slow Nurse, who "Had she affections and warm youthful blood, / She would be as swift in motion as a ball; / My words would bandy her to my sweet love, / And his to me" (2.5.12-15). The "ball" in Juliet's metaphor is a tennis ball, bandied back and forth between the lovers.

At the end of the same scene, the Nurse urges Juliet to go speedily to Friar Laurence's cell for her marriage to Romeo. The Nurse says, "hie [hasten] you to the cell" (2.5.77), and Juliet rushes out, saying, "Hie to high fortune!" (2.5.78). [Scene Summary]

While Friar Laurence and Romeo are waiting for Juliet to come and marry Romeo, the Friar advises Romeo to "love moderately; long love doth so; / Too swift arrives as tardy as too slow" (2.6.14-15), but just then Juliet appears, running as swiftly as she can to her love. She is running so lightly that her feet hardly touch ground, and the Friar comments, "A lover may bestride [walk upon] the gossamer [floating strands of spider web] / That idles in the wanton summer air, / And yet not fall; so light is vanity" (2.6.18-20). By "vanity" the Friar means earthly joy, which--because it is earthly, not heavenly--is "vain" in the sense it must pass away. [Scene Summary]

After Tybalt kills Mercutio, and Romeo kills Tybalt, Benvolio stays behind to explain everything to Prince Escalus. His narrative emphasizes that everything happened very quickly:

Romeo he cries aloud,
"Hold, friends! friends, part!" and, swifter than his tongue,
His agile arm beats down their fatal points,
And 'twixt them rushes; underneath whose arm
An envious thrust from Tybalt hit the life
Of stout Mercutio, and then Tybalt fled;
But by and by comes back to Romeo,
Who had but newly entertain'd revenge,
And to 't they go like lightning, for, ere I
Could draw to part them, was stout Tybalt slain.   (3.1.164-173)
[Scene Summary]

With the sun low in the sky Juliet waits for Romeo to come to her. She says, "Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds, / Towards Phoebus' lodging: such a wagoner / As Phaëthon would whip you to the west, / And bring in cloudy night immediately" (3.2.1-4). The "steeds" are the horses that pull the chariot of the sun-god Phoebus, whose "lodging" is in the west, below the horizon. Phaëthon is the sun-god's son, who in myth could not control the steeds of the sun. In the myth, the sun-chariot, with Phaëthon at the reins, races wildly across the sky. Juliet's blood is racing just as wildly, and she wants night and Romeo to come to her now. [Scene Summary]

When Friar Laurence tells Romeo to go to Juliet, he also tells the Nurse to have Juliet "hasten all the house to bed" because "Romeo is coming" (3.3.156-158). The Nurse then give Romeo a ring from Juliet and says, "Hie you, make haste, for it grows very late" (3.3.164). Romeo says a hasty farewell to the Friar and hurries away. [Scene Summary]

The evening of the day that Romeo kills Tybalt, Paris once again comes to Capulet to ask for Juliet's hand in marriage. Capulet tells Paris that it's very late and that Juliet is mourning the death of Tybalt, but then suddenly tells Paris that Juliet will marry him. Capulet is a hasty man. As soon as he has decided that Juliet will marry Paris he starts making the arrangements. He says, "Wife, go you to her ere you go to bed; / Acquaint her here of my son Paris' love" (3.4.15-16). Apparently Lady Capulet doesn't go to Juliet immediately, but very early the next morning, just after Juliet has said farewell to Romeo, her mother comes with the news that she is to be married to Paris. [Scene Summary]

As dawn ends Romeo and Juliet's one night of married happiness, Romeo is getting ready to leave and Juliet says, "Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day: / It was the nightingale, and not the lark, / That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear" (3.5.1-3). If it is the nightingale that is singing, "it is not yet near day" and they still have time to be together. But Juliet is wrong. Day is dawning and soon the Nurse rushes in to say to Juliet, "Your lady mother is coming to your chamber: / The day is broke; be wary, look about" (3.5.39-40). "Look about" means "watch out"; the Nurse is acting as though Lady Capulet is right on her heels, and of course it would be disastrous if Romeo were still there. Romeo jumps out of the window, and Juliet, looking down upon him, asks if he thinks they will ever see each other again. Romeo replies, "I doubt it not; and all these woes shall serve / For sweet discourses in our time to come" (3.5.52-53). But Romeo is wrong. There will be no "time to come" when they can reminisce about all this. We know Juliet's father has already promised her hand in marriage to Paris, and as soon as Romeo is gone, Juliet hears her mother call to her and wonders "Is she not down so late, or up so early?" (3.5.66). In other words, Lady Capulet is up so early that Juliet wonders if she's been up all night. Juliet's mother is up so early to bring the news of Juliet's marriage to Paris. [Scene Summary]

Paris tells Friar Laurence that he wants him to perform the wedding ceremony between himself and Juliet. Of course, knowing Juliet is already married, the Friar tries to raise objections. The first thing we hear him say is "On Thursday, sir? the time is very short" (4.1.1). Paris replies, "My father Capulet will have it so, / And I am nothing slow to slack his haste" (4.1.2-3). Paris uses the word "father" because he already considers Capulet to be his father-in-law, and "I am nothing slow to slack his haste" means "I don't have any reluctance that would make me try to slow down Capulet." This dialogue reminds us of the suddenness of Capulet's decision to marry off Juliet as soon as possible. [Scene Summary]

When Juliet pretends she will obey her father and marry Paris, her new attitude makes Capulet so happy he decides to get things rolling right away. He says--to no one in particular--"Send for the County; go tell him of this: / I'll have this knot knit up to-morrow morning" (4.2.23-24). To us, this is an alarming turn change of plans. Friar Laurence had planned on having more than 60 hours to get Romeo back to Verona; now suddenly 24 of those hours are gone because Capulet has suddenly moved up the wedding date from Thursday to Wednesday. [Scene Summary]

In Mantua Romeo is happily awaiting some joyful news concerning Juliet, but his reverie is interrupted by the sudden appearance of his servant, Balthasar, who usually enters wearing boots, as a way of indicating that he has just dismounted from his horse after the ride from Verona. (The stage direction in the earliest printed version of the play is "Enter Balthasar his man booted.") Very quickly Balthasar delivers the news, and Romeo's response is swift and simple: "Is it even so? then I defy you, stars!" (5.1.24).

Romeo asks no whys or wherefores of Balthasar or himself. He has decided he will go and commit suicide at Juliet's side, and the rest of the scene shows him making the arrangements. He orders Balthasar to fetch him ink and paper, and to hire horses for the return journey to Verona, which he will make that very night. (The ink and paper, as it turns out, is for a letter to Romeo's father, telling all. Romeo will make sure that letter is delivered only when it is too late for Montague to do anything to stop him.) As soon as Balthasar is gone about his errand, Romeo says to himself, "Well, Juliet, I will lie with thee to-night. / Let's see for means: O mischief, thou art swift / To enter in the thoughts of desperate men! / I do remember an apothecary,--" (5.1.34-37). [Scene Summary]