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Detailed Summary of Act 2, Scene 2

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Enter Romeo:
Romeo doesn't really enter at the beginning of this scene -- he's been there all along, on the other side of Capulet's garden wall. However, there is no actual wall, and the earliest texts of the play provide no stage directions to indicate what Romeo does, so later editors have added them, according to how they have imagined the scene. In the previous scene, most editors write "Romeo retires" or "Romeo withdraws" after he declares that he must return to Juliet. Similarly, most editors put "Romeo advances" or "Romeo comes forward" at the beginning of this scene. The general idea of these stage directions is that Romeo stands or sits in some inconspicuous place while Mercutio delivers his mockeries of Romeo's love-longing for Rosaline. It might be a lot more interesting if Romeo placed himself where the audience could see his reactions to Mercutio's mockeries. Does he smile or chuckle? Or does he take himself too seriously for anything of that sort?

In any case, it's obvious that Romeo has been listening to Mercutio, because his first words are about Mercutio: "He jests at scars that never felt a wound" (2.2.1). Romeo's point is that Mercutio can make jokes about the pain of love only because he has never felt any such pain. Also, Mercutio's final remarks set up the situation in this scene. Mercutio has said that Romeo will sit under a medlar tree and wish that Rosaline would drop into his lap like the over-ripe fruit of the medlar, and he's half-right. Romeo is in an orchard, probably under a tree, hoping to catch sight of his love. Only now his love is Juliet, not the super-sexy Rosaline of Mercutio's mockeries, and Juliet doesn't drop, she arises. Romeo looks up at Capulet's house, sees Juliet come to the window, and says, "But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? / It is the east, and Juliet is the sun" (2.2.2-3).

The rest of Romeo's speech is an ecstatic expression of Juliet's shining beauty, and of the longing it arouses in him. Continuing his comparison of Juliet and the sun, Romeo says, "Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon, / Who is already sick and pale with grief, / That thou her maid art far more fair than she" (2.2.4-6). Juliet is a "maid" of the moon because the moon-goddess Diana is the patroness of chastity, and Juliet is a chaste maid. But Romeo sees in her the promise of bright warm love, far more beautiful than the pale, chaste light of the moon. He goes on to urge Juliet (who can't hear anything he says) to stop being a maid to the moon, because "Her vestal livery is but sick and green / And none but fools do wear it; cast it off" (2.2.8-9). A "livery" is a uniform worn by the servants of a nobleman, "vestal" means "chaste," and "green-sickness" is an anemia that was supposed to occur in unmarried girls, because they were unmarried. Romeo wants Juliet as a woman, not as distant object of adoration, as Rosaline was for him.

Perhaps, at this moment, Juliet leans out of the window or Romeo steps out from under an imaginary tree, so that he gets a clearer view of her. This might explain his sudden change of tone. He drops his poetic metaphors and says simply, "It is my lady, O, it is my love! / O, that she knew she were!" (2.2.10-11). He then sees that she is saying something, but can't hear what it is, and says to himself, "what of that? / Her eye discourses; I will answer it" (2.2.12-13). It seems that he is about to step into her view, but holds himself back at the last second, saying, "I am too bold, 'tis not to me she speaks / Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven, / Having some business, do entreat her eyes / To twinkle in their spheres till they return" (2.2.14-17). This is a beautiful way of saying that Juliet's eyes are like stars. He had thought that her eyes spoke, and he is now saying that they are speaking to the stars, and that the stars are speaking to them. According to the astronomy of the time, each of the planets and all of the stars were embedded in transparent spheres which revolved around the earth. It seems to Romeo that two of the brightest stars have decided that they need to leave their spheres for a while, and that they are asking her eyes to twinkle in their places while they are gone.

Still comparing Juliet's eyes to stars, Romeo asks himself what would happen if the two stars traded places with Juliet's eyes. He decides that the brightness of her cheek would outshine the stars, and that "her eyes in heaven / Would through the airy region stream [shine] so bright / That birds would sing and think it were not night" (2.2.20-22). Then Juliet leans her cheek on her hand, and Romeo simply wishes that he were a glove on her hand, so that he, too, could touch her cheek.

Pensively, Juliet sighs, "Ay me!" (2.2.20-25). To Romeo, these simple words are divine. He says,

                                                   She speaks!
O, speak again, bright angel! for thou art
As glorious to this night, being o'er my head
As is a winged messenger of heaven
Unto the white-upturned wondering eyes
Of mortals that fall back to gaze on him
When he bestrides the lazy puffing clouds
And sails upon the bosom of the air.   (2.2.25-32)
Comparing a beautiful woman to an angel was, and still is, a common thing, but Romeo -- who at this moment is whispering to himself -- really believes that Juliet is angelic. An angel is "glorious to the night" because it appears in a "glory," a halo surrounding and emanating from its body. When the angel appears, people "fall back," arching their backs, turning their faces to the sky, and casting their eyes upward so that the whites of their eyes show. The angel moves with effortless ease, lighter than the clouds, more graceful than a ship sailing on the swelling bosom of the ocean. And Romeo speaks of all this as though he has actually seen an angel and is now gazing upon another one.

Now we hear Juliet's famous words, "O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore [why] art thou Romeo?" (2.2.33). Of course she's not actually speaking to Romeo (she has no idea that he is there), but she is so much in love with him that she's asking why he must be "Romeo," a Montague. She asks him to "Deny thy father and refuse thy name"(2.2.34), so that he will no longer be a Montague, or -- if he won't do that -- if he will just swear he loves her, she will give up the name of "Capulet." Hearing this, Romeo asks himself if he should speak now, or listen some more. Before he can quite make up his mind, Juliet says more about his name. It is only his name that is her enemy, she says to her imagined Romeo, and if he would change his name, "Thou art thyself, though not a Montague" (2.2.39). In other words, if he changed his name, he would still be himself. And "Montague" isn't a hand, foot, arm, or face. There's actually nothing in a name, she says, because "That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet" 2.2.43-44), and "So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, / Retain that dear perfection which he owes [has] / Without that title [name]" (2.2.45-47). Once again, she asks Romeo (still without knowing that he's there) to give up his name, " And for that name which is no part of thee / Take all myself" (2.2.48-49).

Hearing this, Romeo speaks so Juliet can hear him and says, "I take thee at thy word. / Call me but love, and I'll be new baptized; / Henceforth I never will be Romeo" (2.2.49-51). Thus begins a dialogue so much at cross-purposes that it verges on the comical. Juliet is all realism; Romeo is all love. She hasn't seen Romeo, only heard him, and asks, "What man art thou that thus bescreen'd in night / So stumblest on my counsel [private thoughts] ?" (2.2.52-53). Addressing her as "saint," he answers that he doesn't know what to call himself, and that he hates his name because it is her enemy. (Calling her a "saint," however, should be a heavy hint, because that's what he called her at Capulet's feast.) He declares that if he had the name written on a piece of paper, he would tear the paper into bits. She recognizes his voice and asks if he isn't Romeo, a Montague. He replies that if either name is offensive to her, he isn't. She asks how he came into the orchard, and why, and she seems amazed that he would come at all, since the orchard walls are hard to climb and since he will die if any of her kinsmen find him there. He replies that "With love's light wings did I o'er-perch [soar over] these walls" (2.2.66) , and boasts, "what love can do, that dares love attempt; / Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me" (2.2.68-69). He doesn't mean that her kinsmen can't harm him, but that love will do anything for love -- even die -- and he is love.

As though she doesn't even hear Romeo's talk of love, Juliet repeats that if her kinsmen see him, they'll murder him. He answers, "Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye / Than twenty of their swords! Look thou but sweet, / And I am proof against their enmity" (2.2.71-73) . He means what was often said in the love poetry of the time, that an unfriendly glance from the eye of a lady could kill the man who was in love with her. On the other hand, a sweet look from Juliet is all he needs to protect him from her kinsmen. But she can't stop worrying, and says, "I would not for the world they saw thee here" (2.2.74). He points out (in his one practical statement) that he is hidden by the night, and then says that if she loves him, it's ok if her kinsmen find him, because his "life were better ended by their hate, / Than death prorogued [postponed], wanting of [lacking] thy love" (2.2.77-78). In other words, he'd much rather have her love and die on the spot, than not have her love and die later.

Juliet then asks another practical question: "By whose direction found'st thou out this place?" (2.2.79). For this he has another passionate answer: "By love, who first did prompt me to inquire; / He lent me counsel and I lent him eyes" (2.2.81). In plain language, it was love who made him ask himself where Juliet might be and who told him that he should find her; in return for love's good advice, Romeo gave love (who is blind) eyes to find her. Romeo goes on to say that he's not a ship's pilot, but that if Juliet were as far away "As that vast shore wash'd with the farthest sea, / I would adventure for such merchandise" (2.2.83-84). The verb "adventure" doesn't mean "have fun"; it means "take a huge chance." [In Shakespeare's time there were many adventurers who risked their lives (and often lost them) looking for the mythical Northwest Passage to China.] And "merchandise," as Romeo uses it, means not "saleable goods," but "rich treasure."

After hearing Romeo say over and over that he loves her, Juliet -- who has ardently wished for his love -- still can't quite believe that her wish has suddenly come true. She tells him that if it weren't night he would be able to see she is blushing from embarrassment. Then she says, "Fain [gladly] would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny / What I have spoke, but farewell compliment! / Dost thou love me?" (2.2.88-90). To "dwell on form" is to spend much time on the usual formalities, what she calls "compliment." In the case of a woman who is being wooed, those formalities give her a chance to decide whether she likes the man and whether he is sincere. Juliet very much wishes that she could have such a chance, but since it's too late for "form" and "compliment," she says what is in her heart, "Dost thou love me?"

As soon as Juliet asks the question she realizes that she already knows what the answer will be, and that worries her, too. Without giving Romeo a chance to answer, she says, "I know thou wilt say 'Ay,' / And I will take thy word; yet if thou swear'st, / Thou mayst prove false; at lovers' perjuries / They say, Jove laughs" (2.2.91-93). "Jove laughs" at the lies of lovers because people lie for love all the time; it's just something we have to learn to expect and accept. So if Romeo swears that he loves her, he may be committing perjury. Thus Juliet knows Romeo will say "Ay" if he's just messing with her, and she knows he will say "Ay" if he really does love her, and she knows she will believe him, no matter what.

Caught between her desire for Romeo's love and her fear that he could be lying, Juliet pleads with him to be truthful, saying, "O gentle Romeo, / If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully" (2.2.93-94), but again she doesn't give him a chance to say what she wants to hear. She's afraid that he will think she's easy and offers to "frown and be perverse, and say thee nay, / So thou wilt woo; but else, not for the world" (2.2.96-97). In other words, she'll play hard-to-get as long as it will make Romeo woo her, but for no other reason in the world. Rushing on with the same thought, she says, "In truth, fair Montague, I am too fond [loving, foolish], / And therefore thou mayst think my behavior light" (2.2.98-99), then promises that she will "prove more true / Than those that have more coying [cunning] to be strange [standoffish]" (2.2.100-101). She adds that she would have been more standoffish if he had not overheard her, and ends by asking him to "not impute this yielding to light love, / Which the dark night hath so discovered" (2.2.105-106).

Juliet has promised truth in love and asked for truth in love. Romeo, to prove his truth, begins to swear his by the moon which shines down upon them, but Juliet interrupts him and tells him not to swear by the moon, because it is changeable. He asks what he shall swear by, and she tells him to swear by himself. He begins again, but only gets as far as "If my heart's dear love -- " (2.2.115) before she interrupts again, and tells him not to swear at all. Apparently she feels that for him to swear his love would make everything just too good to be true. She says,

Well, do not swear. 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."    (2.2.116-120)
The word "contract" shows that she feels they have committed themselves to one another, but the contract has been made in a way that has always been considered dangerous. Society says that before such a commitment is made, a person should think things over, ask the advice of others, and take plenty of time; the contract between Romeo and Juliet has been just the opposite -- "rash," "unadvised," and "sudden." And because everything has happened so quickly, Juliet is afraid that the joy which has come as suddenly as lightening may disappear just as suddenly.

Torn between the impluse to run from her fears and the desire to stay with Romeo, Juliet tries to say goodnight to him. She tells him she hopes that their love, now only a bud, will bloom the next time they meet, and she wishes him the happiness that he has given her: "Good night, good night! as sweet repose and rest / Come to thy heart as that within my breast!" (2.2.123-124). It looks as if she's about to go, but Romeo exclaims, "O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied?" (2.2.125), and she asks, "What satisfaction canst thou have to-night?" (2.2.126). He answers, "The exchange of thy love's faithful vow for mine" (2.2.127). Romeo's answer seems to be deeply reassuring to Juliet, because after this she says hardly another word about her fears, and she starts making wedding plans. Perhaps the explanation for her change in attitude is that she thought Romeo was "unsatisfied" because he wanted sex, which would have confirmed her lingering fear that he might be the wrong kind of lover.

When Romeo asks only for a vow of pure love, Juliet is more than willing to give it. She says that she has already given her vow, but wishes that "it were to give again" (2.2.129). He asks if that means she wants to take back her vow, and why she would want to do that. She answers "But to be frank, and give it thee again / And yet I wish but for the thing I have" (2.2.131-132). "Frank" (i.e., "free," "generous") is Juliet's word for the deep satisfaction that comes with giving a gift that is truly appreciated. Juliet wants to feel that sense of generosity that comes from giving the gift of love, but finds that she already has it, because the more she gives, the more she has to give. This is how she describes the miracle of love in herself: "My bounty [generosity] is as boundless as the sea, / My love as deep; the more I give to thee, / The more I have, for both are infinite" (2.2.133-135).

Nurse calls within:
Just as Juliet is telling Romeo how much she loves him, the Nurse calls from inside the house. Juliet calls out that she'll be right there, asks Romeo to wait for her, and disappears into the house. In the moment that he is alone, Romeo blesses the night and is so filled with happiness that he feels as though it might all be a dream. When Juliet reappears, she's in a great hurry. (We can guess that she doesn't want to arouse the Nurse's suspicions.) She says, "Three words, dear Romeo, and good night indeed" (2.2.142). Using a few more than "three words," but getting right to the point, Juliet tells Romeo that if he wants to marry her he should send word, by a messenger that she will send, of the time and place. When they are married, she promises, "all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay / And follow thee my lord throughout the world" (2.2.147-148). "Fortunes" doesn't mean money, but the rest of her life, her destiny.

Just as Juliet makes this promise, the Nurse calls again, and then again. Juliet is now in even more of a hurry. She asks Romeo to leave her alone if he doesn't mean well, but she doesn't seem to think this is a real possibility, as she finishes by telling him that she will send her messenger tomorrow. Romeo starts to reply, but "A thousand times good night!" (2.2.154) she says, and she's gone. "A thousand times the worse, to want thy light" (2.2.155), he says. He means that the "good night" is now a thousand times worse, without the light of Juliet's presence. He then starts to leave, commenting that he is going away from his love as reluctantly as a boy goes to school.

As soon as Romeo is back in the shadows of the garden, Juliet reappears. Apparently she has gotten rid of the Nurse, but she still needs to be quiet, and calls out, "Hist! Romeo, hist! O, for a falconer's voice, / To lure this tassel-gentle back again!" (2.2.158-159). A "tassel-gentle" is a male falcon which can be owned only by a prince, and "hist" is a falconer's call, but a falconer would use a loud voice, which Juliet can't do. She's calling "hist" in that hoarse whisper which we use when we want to be heard, but only by the right person. She says, "Bondage is hoarse, and may not speak aloud; / Else would I tear the cave where Echo lies, / And make her airy tongue more hoarse than mine, / With repetition of my Romeo's name" (2.2.161-163). She is in "bondage" because she is in her father Capulet's house; if she weren't in bondage she would call so loud that her cry would tear through the walls of the nymph Echo's cave and make Echo hoarse with calling Romeo's name over and over.

Juliet tries again, calling out, "Romeo." Hearing her hoarse whisper, Romeo thinks it is the sweetest sound he has ever heard. He says, "It is my soul that calls upon my name: / How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night, / Like softest music to attending [listening] ears!" (2.2.164-166). Quickly, Juliet asks what time the next day she should send her messenger. Romeo says to send him by nine. Juliet answers, "I will not fail" (2.2.169). Then follows a kind of sweet lull. After the wonder and surprise of finding each other -- and love -- in the dark garden, and after hurriedly making plans for their marriage while Juliet dodged in and out of the house, the lovers now have a moment to just be together. Juliet says to Romeo, "I have forgot why I did call thee back" (2.2.170), and Romeo promises to stand right where he is until she remembers. She answers, "I shall forget, to have thee still stand there, / Remembering how I love thy company" (2.2.173-174). In other words, in order to have him keep on standing there, she will forget to remember why she called him back because the only thing that she will be able to remember is how much she loves his company.

Romeo says that he's willing to stand there forever and forget that he has any other home, but it's almost dawn, and Juliet tells him that she wants him to go. But not too far: "And yet no further than a wanton's [spoiled child's] bird; / Who lets it hop a little from her hand, / Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves [shackles] , / And with a silk thread plucks it back again" (2.2.178-180) . Romeo wishes that he were her bird, and Juliet answers, "Sweet, so would [wish] I: / Yet I should kill thee with much cherishing" (2.2.182-183). "Cherishing" is not only "loving," but the petting and playing that we lavish on beloved pets. If Romeo were Juliet's bird on a string, she would never let him go, but now it's almost tomorrow and Juliet tears herself away, saying, "Good night, good night! parting is such sweet sorrow, / That I shall say good night till it be morrow" (2.2.184-85). His farewell is, "Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast!" (2.2.186), and then he wishes to himself that he were sleep and peace, so that he would find his rest with her.

Juliet is out of sight, and the scene is over, except for two lines from Romeo, in which he says that he will go to Friar Laurence to tell him what has happened and get his help.