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Detailed Summary of Act 1, Scene 5

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And Servingmen come forth with napkins. Musicians waiting:
The transition between the previous scene and this one demonstrates the advantages of not having scenery. At the end of the previous scene Benvolio led his friends around the stage; at the same time two of Capulet's servants came in, and now we hear them complaining about another one: "Where's Potpan, that he helps not to take away?" (1.5.1). They are hurriedly taking away the supper things while the Musicians come in and tune up. Thus we move effortlessly from the outside of Capulet's house to the inside, and we know that Benvolio, Romeo, Mercutio, and their friends have entered just after the supper is over and the dancing is about to begin.

The servant's bustle also picks up the pace of the play. They are in a hurry, and there's a sense that everything is speeding up. The First Servant reminds the second that the stools, the sideboard, and the dishes all need to be removed, then adds, "Good thou, save me a piece of marchpane [almond candy]; and, as thou lovest me, let the porter let in Susan Grindstone and Nell" (1.5.7-9). He wants to be done quickly, because he has a little party of his own planned. He again calls for help, and Antony and Potpan appear. Then they all leave to finish up their work. Potpan has the exit line: "Cheerly, boys; be brisk awhile, and the longer liver take all" (1.5.14-15). "The longer liver takes all" is a proverb meaning that you ought to enjoy life while it lasts. Potpan is reminding the rest that there's not much more cleaning-up to do; if they're brisk they'll have it done and then they'll have a good time.

Enter Capulet, all the Guests and Gentlewomen to the Maskers:
While the servants are still bustling about, the man of the house appears, followed by his kin and guests. The stage direction says that they come "to the Maskers," which lets us know that Capulet is speaking to Romeo's company when he says, "Welcome, gentlemen! ladies that have their toes / Unplagued with corns will walk a bout with you" (1.5.16-17). To "walk a bout" is to dance a turn, and Capulet is making sure that these strangers in masks feel welcome. He urges the ladies on by joking that if any of them hang back he will swear that they have corns. Apparently the sight of the maskers summons up fond memories for Capulet. He says, "I have seen the day / That I have worn a visor and could tell / A whispering tale in a fair lady's ear, / Such as would please: 'tis gone, 'tis gone, 'tis gone" (1.5.21-24). Capulet, when he was young, also put on a mask, crashed a party, danced a turn, and flirted. Now that time is gone, but he's happy to see these young men doing as he did in his youth. He orders the musicians to play, and the dancing begins.

As his friends dance, Romeo watches, and we watch for the moment when he and Juliet will meet. Meanwhile, Capulet gives some orders to the servants and talks with Second Capulet, a cousin of his, saying, "Ah, sirrah, this unlook'd-for sport comes well" (1.5.29). The "unlook'd-for sport" is the arrival of Romeo and his companions. The two old men then sit and talk about how old they are. Capulet asks his cousin how long it's been since the two of them were maskers. The cousin says it's thirty years, but Capulet says he can't believe it because they wore masks at a wedding twenty-five years ago, but the cousin answers that the son of that man who got married is now thirty years old. Capulet says no, that's not possible, because the son was a minor just two years ago. This is the sort of conversation that can go on for a long time, but luckily we don't have to hear any more of it. Instead, we now hear Romeo ask a servant about Juliet.

(By the way . . . Where's Rosaline? And where's Paris? Not at the feast. Benvolio challenged Romeo to go to the feast and compare Rosaline with the other beautiful ladies. And Lady Capulet told Juliet to go to the feast, look at Paris, and see what a wonderful husband he would be for her. So both Romeo and Juliet go to the feast looking for someone to love and find each other. It's love at first sight for both of them, and Shakespeare doesn't confuse the issue by giving them a chance to make comparisons.)
"What lady is that, which doth enrich the hand / Of yonder knight?" (1.5.41-42), Romeo asks, and the servant says he doesn't know. (It may seem a little odd that a Capulet servant couldn't identify Juliet, but perhaps the servant has his mind on other things, such as Susan Grindstone.) It doesn't really matter who she is, because Romeo is already in love. "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!" (1.5.44), he says, meaning both that her beauty is brighter than the blaze of any torch and that her presence makes the whole room light up. He says a few more things about how beautiful she is, then makes his plan. When the dance is over, he will note where she is, then make his way to her and touch her hand. This plan is very bold, and he has put aside all of his melancholy ideas about always being a loser in the game of love. He says, "Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight! / For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night" (1.5.52-53).

Now Shakespeare's camera angle shifts, and we see Tybalt as he overhears Romeo. Tybalt says,

This, by his voice, should be a Montague.
Fetch me my rapier, boy. What dares the slave
Come hither, cover'd with an antic face,
To fleer and scorn at our solemnity?
Now, by the stock and honor of my kin,
To strike him dead, I hold it not a sin.   (1.5.54-59)
This speech raises a question that probably can't be answered: How can Tybalt tell that Romeo is a Montague "by his voice"? Do the Montagues all talk funny? Maybe Shakespeare just threw that in because at this moment Romeo is wearing a mask, which is what "cover'd with an antic face" must refer to. As for the rest of the speech, it shows us Tybalt's arrogance. As soon as he identifies a Montague he sends his "boy" for his sword and justifies his intended murder by the "honor of my kin."

Tybalt's arrogance quickly meets its match. Capulet sees the anger on Tybalt's face and sees (but probably does not hear) him talking. He asks Tybalt, "Why, how now, kinsman! wherefore storm you so?" (1.5.60). Tybalt points to Romeo and tells Capulet that he is a Montague who has "come in spite, / To scorn at our solemnity this night" (1.5.62-63). Capulet looks where Tybalt is pointing and calmly asks if it's Romeo. Tybalt says it is, and that he's a villain. (Apparently Romeo has now removed his mask.) Capulet then politely tries to talk some sense into Tybalt, saying, "Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone; / He bears him like a portly gentleman" (1.5.65-66). "Portly" does not mean "fat," but well-mannered, deserving of respect. And when Capulet calls Tybalt "gentle coz" he's asking Tybalt to be well-mannered, too. "Gentle" has the meaning that it retains in the word "gentleman," and "coz" is short and friendly for "cousin." ("Cousin" was a word that covered a lot of ground, including "nephew," which is what Tybalt is to Lady Capulet.)

Despite Capulet's friendly words of wisdom, Tybalt is still angry, so Capulet makes a personal appeal, saying that Romeo has a good reputation throughout Verona, so that "I would not for the wealth of all the town / Here in my house do him disparagement" (1.5.70). What happens "Here in my house" is very important to Capulet; he doesn't want Tybalt to make any embarrassing trouble.

However, Tybalt doesn't seem to be responding, so Capulet turns up the heat. He tells Tybalt that even if he can't stand Romeo, he needs to wipe the frown off his face, out of respect for Capulet: "It is my will, the which if thou respect, / Show a fair presence and put off these frowns, / An ill-beseeming semblance for a feast" (1.5.72-74). Tybalt responds, "It fits, when such a villain is a guest: I'll not endure him" (1.5.75-76). Tybalt's "It fits" is his response to Capulet's statement that Tybalt's frowns make "An ill-beseeming semblance for a feast." Tybalt means that his frowns fit the occasion because Romeo is a villain.

Tybalt is so arrogant and self-centered that he's forgotten whom he's dealing with and where he is. He's contradicting the master of the house and saying "I'll not endure him" just as though he owned the place. This earns him a humiliating tongue-lashing from Capulet, starting with "He shall be endured: / What, goodman boy! I say, he shall: go to; / Am I the master here, or you? go to" (1.5.76-78). "Go to" is a phrase that was as common as "go on" is now, and, like "go on," it could mean everything from "I don't believe it" to "get out of my face." Capulet has given up on giving friendly advice and is now sputtering with anger. He calls Tybalt "boy" and mocks him and sneers "you'll be the man!" (1.5.81). Tybalt is apparently surprised by Capulet's anger, and says, "Why, uncle, 'tis a shame" (1.5.82), but now it's too late to say anything to the old man, who makes threats and takes the whole thing very personally, growling, "This trick may chance to scathe you. I know what: / You must contrary me!" (1.5.84-85).

Not only is Capulet very angry, but he tries to cover the embarrassment of the moment by calling out to his guests, "What, cheerly, my hearts!" (1.5.88), as though he were perfectly happy. Tybalt's only choice is to shut up and leave, which he does, but not before making a promise to himself that Romeo will pay. He says, "I will withdraw, but this intrusion shall / Now seeming sweet convert to bitter gall" (1.5.91-92).

Exit Tybalt:
With Tybalt's threat still echoing in our ears, we now see Romeo holding Juliet's hand and wittily offering to kiss it. He says, 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" (1.5.93-96). To us, Romeo may sound impossibly sappy, but he's not. The popular love poetry of the time (before MTV) often portrayed the lover as one who worshipped his beloved with religious devotion. Romeo is having fun with that idea by offering to pay the penalty ("fine") for touching Juliet's hand ("this holy shrine") by kissing it.

Juliet willingly joins in Romeo's game. Showing her own wit, she tells him that there's nothing wrong with his hand and that he's showing proper devotion by holding her hand—a kiss is not required. She adds, For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch, / And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss" (1.5.99-100), meaning that it's allowed to touch the hand of a saint, and that the touch of pilgrims' ("palmers'") hands is in itself holy kissing.

Not discouraged by this (and who would be?), Romeo asks if it's true that both saints and pilgrims have lips. Juliet replies, "Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer." (1.5.102). This means that saints and pilgrims must use their lips to pray, which sounds like a no-kissing statement, but "pray" also meant "ask for," which is a hint that if Romeo wants a kiss, he's going to have to actually ask for it.

Romeo catches the hint and makes his prayer: "O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do; / They pray -- grant thou, lest faith turn to despair"(1.5.103-104). He's asking for permission to let his lips pray and kiss. He's also saying that if she doesn't grant his prayer, she won't be fulfilling her duties as a saint, because saints are supposed to make faith stronger, not make it turn into despair.

Juliet, playing her role as saint in this love-game, points out that "Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake" (1.5.105). In other words, saints don't make requests ("move"), but they do grant requests when they are prayed to. In other other words: "Come and get it."

They kiss, and Romeo expresses his happiness: "Thus from my lips, by yours, my sin is purged" (1.5.107), meaning that the kiss of his saint has cleansed him of sin. This gives Juliet an opportunity to tease him into another kiss. She says that if her lips have taken away his sin then her lips must now have his sin. Romeo knows that that couldn't be right, so he takes his sin back with another kiss.

Juliet, probably laughing, says, "You kiss by the book" (1.5.110). To do something "by the book," is to do it according to the rules, and she is suggesting that Romeo is very good at interpreting the rules in a way which results in a kiss.

This whole love-game, including the kisses, takes only about a minute, and then the young lovers are parted. The Nurse appears with the news that Juliet's mother wants to speak with her. Juliet obediently turns away, and Romeo asks the Nurse who Juliet's mother is. The Nurse informs him that her mother is the lady of the house, and that she herself is Juliet's nurse, and that "he that can lay hold of her / Shall have the chinks" (1.5.116-117). "The chinks" are coins that make a chinking sound, so the Nurse means that the husband of Juliet, only heir to a rich man, will make her husband rich. (In addition, to "have the chinks" is to be in that state of wheezing and gasping that comes when you are laughing so hard that you need to stop, but can't, so the Nurse, in her bawdy way, may also be suggesting that Juliet's husband will have a really good time with her in bed.) However, upon learning that Juliet is a Capulet, Romeo shows that he doesn't care about Juliet's money. He exclaims, "O dear account! my life is my foe's debt" (1.5.118). Because he is in love, he now owes his very life to Juliet, and she (as a Capulet) is his foe.

Suddenly Benvolio comes to tell Romeo that it's time for them to go. On the their way out, Capulet tries to get the strangers to stay by offering them some food, but in a moment they're gone, so Capulet heads for bed, leaving Juliet and the Nurse alone as the last guests go out. Juliet asks the Nurse who the various guests are; she wants to know who her new love is, but to hide her intentions from the Nurse, she asks about two others first. The Nurse knows who the first two are, but not the third, so Juliet sends her to learn his name. As the Nurse chases after Romeo, Juliet says, "If he be married. / My grave is like to be my wedding bed" (1.5.134-135) . She means that if Romeo is married, she will die unmarried, because she will never marry another, but she is also unkowningly foreshadowing her fate, in which her grave does become her wedding bed.

The Nurse quickly returns with the news that the one who Juliet asked about is Romeo and a Montague. Juliet exclaims, "My only love sprung from my only hate! / Too early seen unknown, and known too late! / Prodigious [ominous] birth of love it is to me, / That I must love a loathed enemy" (1.5.138-141). "Too early seen unkown, and known too late" suggests that if Juliet had known Romeo to be a Montague she wouldn't have fallen in love with him, but now it's "too late." She feels, like Romeo does, that love is once and forever, and they both fear the consequences of their love, but without any thought of changing their minds or hearts.

The Nurse asks Juliet what she's saying, and Juliet lies, saying it's just a rhyme she heard from a dance partner. Then someone calls for Juliet, and she and the Nurse hurry away, ending the scene.