How Shakespeare portrays Romeo and Juliet in Act 2 Scene 2

Topics: Plays

Act 2 Scene 2 is a particularly famous scene in William Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet. Often called the balcony scene, it is where the two lovers first meet to proclaim their love for each other. The balcony scene takes place after the ball in the Capulet Mansion, in Juliet’s orchard. The characters are presented in an unusual way, illustrating many recurring themes of identity, life and death, nature and love.

The thoughts and feelings of Romeo and Juliet are conveyed through metaphors, enriching the reading or performance of the play.

The actions and responses of others emphasize the division that is supposed to be between Romeo and Juliet and what makes it so moving is that we, the audience, knows what this division will bring about at the end of the play. The film by Baz Luhrmann of Romeo and Juliet enhances the visual experience and brings to life the metaphors used in a way that Shakespeare would have never been able to show visually.

Shakespeare’s play contrasts with the societal views and expectations of young people and goes against the social norms expected in Elizabethan times.

At the start of Act 2 Scene 2 Romeo, in a monologue, reveals his love and desire for Juliet as she appears at a window above him oblivious that Romeo is just beneath. The use of celestial imagery and mythological references are common throughout the play to present and convey the feeling and views that one has of another. It was common for past cultures to explain the celestial objects with myths as there was very little understanding about them.

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‘It is the east and Juliet is the sun!

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief,

That thou her maid art more fair than she:

Be not her maid since she is envious;

Her vestal livery is but sick and green

And none but fools do wear it; cast it off.’

In this passage Romeo’s language is an example that is rich in celestial imagery and mythological references. Romeo uses a metaphor to convey his emotions about her, saying ‘Juliet is the sun’. The sun connotes light, radiance, warmth and power. Through his metaphor he attributes these connotations to her. Romeo uses an imperative, arise, as he wishes her to arise and lean out of the window so he can see her or maybe so she can see him. In the metaphorical context of arising to kill to the moon, the verb ‘arise’ signifies the rising of the sun in the morning. The sun, Juliet, will outshine the moon so therefore ‘kill the moon’. The ‘envious moon’ is a mythological reference; referring to Diana the virgin Roman goddess of hunting, women and the moon. Romeo uses an intricate conceit to express a simple desire of taking Juliet’s virginity. He begins by saying that Diana is jealous of, Juliet, her maid’s beauty and radiance, as a result of this Diana is ‘sick and pale’ in comparison with Juliet. Juliet is a maid of Diana as Diana is the patron of virgins so all virgins remain Diana’s maid until they have lost their virginity. Romeo then begs for Juliet to be Diana’s maid no longer for the virginal uniform, ‘vestal livery’, is a sickly green, and not to cast it off, therefore lose her virginity, would be foolish. In the film by Baz Luhrmann the metaphors used by Romeo are visually displayed in a magical way. Fairy lights are laid out across the walls of the Capulet Mansion, effectively bringing the stars in the sky down to earth to dramatically show the comparison between Juliet’s brilliant radiance and their own dim light.

Romeo not only uses celestial imagery and mythological references to present Juliet as the most beautiful girl he has ever laid his eyes upon but also religious is used to convey this.

‘O, speak again, bright angel! For thou art

As glorious to this night, being o’er my head

As a winged messenger of heaven’

Here, Romeo refers to Juliet as a ‘bright angel’, alluding to the fact that she is so beautiful she supersedes any mortal beauty. This also indicates that Juliet’s beauty is so unreal in Romeo’s eyes that she can’t be from this planet but from heaven so Juliet must be an angel. Shakespeare has used this effect to show that Juliet is very important as angels were important holy beings in Elizabethan times. A metaphor is then used as Romeo says ‘as a glorious night, being o’er my head’. This connotes that Romeo considers Juliet to be awe inspiring and prodigious as an angel is to a mortal’s eyes who is gazing in wonder at her beauty. It seems that in comparison to Juliet, everything lacks energy and charisma as her beauty outshines them. Romeo’s language can be interpreted as largely hyperbolic and lacks sincerity; perhaps Romeo is feeling struck by lustful desires and this explains his impulsive and sensationalized language.

The use of religious imagery emphasizes the purity of Romeo and Juliet’s love; it was not forced upon them by their families but through natural love. Shakespeare would have used religious imagery as religion was a part of everyday life in Elizabethan times, without religious imagery it would be strange for a play in Elizabethan times.

The performed version visually enhances the term ‘bright angel’ in the choice of Juliet’s fancy dress costume. This could carry implications that the two lovers are part of an ‘act’ alluding to the fact that they met in a trivial and jovial manner at a fancy dress party.

Through the scene, Romeo has often been metaphorically presented as a bird. A bird connotes many things including power and nobility, as of an eagle, and peace and love, as of a dove.

Juliet has just asked Romeo how he came over the orchard walls even when the walls are high and hard to climb. Romeo’s response begins with:

‘With love’s wings did I o’er perch these walls’

This can be interpreted as his love for Juliet made him do amazing things and in this case he ‘flies over the wall’. ‘Love’s wings’ connotes angels and divinity and birds as well, it is like saying that god gave him the power to climb or ‘fly’ over the wall to try and get him to meet Juliet.

‘Perch’ connotes birds; after he ‘flew’ or climbed over the wall he perched on the top so metaphorically he is a bird. His ‘bird instincts’ are then telling him to try and find and attract a mate and here Romeo is doing just that. Everything Romeo says is in iambic pentameter, giving a song-like feeling to it, just like a bird singing to impress his mate.

There are further examples through the play. This example is expressed by Juliet this time, not Romeo:

‘Hist! Romeo, hist! O, for a falconer’s voice,

To lure this tassel-gentle back again!’

Here, Juliet portrays Romeo as a bird. She is the falconer that can command Romeo at any time she wants. Romeo is described as a ‘tassel-gentle’ which is male hawk; this connotes and attributes power, nobility and mightiness to him. Juliet’s dominance is shown by the fact that she can call out to her Romeo at any time and he will come.

‘‘Tis almost morning; I would have thee gone:

And yet no further than a wanton’s bird;

Who lets it hop a little from her hand,

Like a poor prisoner in his twisted gyves,

And with a silk thread plucks it back again,

So loving-jealous of his liberty.’

In this passage, Juliet is saying to Romeo that it is almost morning so she would have him go however let him only go as far as a spoilt child would let his pet bird go, letting the bird hop a little then pulling it back with a string. This passage shows Juliet’s desire to be with Romeo however she knows the dangers associated with it. She is torn between what she should do with what she wants to do.

Shakespeare may have used metaphors of birds because the characters are held back and held down by their situations. Their relationships to either family keep them wrapped up in the ‘ancient grudge’, and the decisions of every character are inextricably influenced by that grudge. Romeo and Juliet themselves are trying to break free of these earthly concerns. They are caught up in a more divine concern, a concern of love and soul and spirit. They are trying to “fly away” from what their life has been. Bird imagery helps to reinforce this.

In the film there is little bird imagery displayed. The parts when Juliet presents Romeo as a falcon and also when she presents Romeo as a wanton’s bird are omitted. The scene setting could be seen as a fitting place for a bird, there are many trees and the occasional bird bath. The difficulty for Baz Luhrmann to incorporate bird imagery into this scene could be that the scene wasn’t set in an orchard but in a swimming pool.

Here Romeo is presented as a pilot:

‘I am no pilot; yet, wert thou as far

As that vast sea shore wash’d with the farthest sea,

I would adventure for such merchandise.’

Juliet has asked again how Romeo found his way to her room and Romeo answers in an eluding way, not wanting to reveal how he actually found his way there or just being playful and giving indirect responses. Romeo says in this passage that he isn’t a pilot, yet if Juliet were across the furthest sea, he would risk everything to get to her. Romeo may have presented himself as a pilot because being a captain of a ship was a much respected job. Explorers such as Sir Francis Drake were well known for their efforts discovering new lands; Britain was in competition with countries such as Spain and Portugal to find new sources of wealth and ships were great assets during the Elizabethan times.

The Nurse appearing in Act 2 Scene 2 really changes the scene, from the language used to the character hierarchy. As Juliet is giving her vows to Romeo, the Nurse calls from within the Capulet Mansion, interrupting the vow Juliet is giving to Romeo. The Nurse is interference from outside the ‘dream world’ Romeo and Juliet have created in the orchard; her presence pierces the protective bubble around Romeo and Juliet and completely changes the mood. Before the Nurse appeared in the scene, Juliet was magnetised by Romeo. This was shown by her extremely romantic language and said in iambic pentameter, giving her speech a song-like feel to it. After the Nurse appears in the scene Juliet’s speech is more rushed, mature and isn’t in iambic pentameter. This change, however, is not sudden but gradual change as conveyed by the text. The change is like someone waking up; changing from asleep to half-asleep then fully awake. Even when Juliet says to Romeo:

‘I hear some noise within; dear love, adieu!’

she says it in iambic pentameter, emphasizing that she is waking up from a dream. Her choice of words also emphasizes this; she says she hears some noise within, being in a half asleep state she only hears noise and not the exact words the Nurse was saying. This could also be interpreted as Juliet is so transfixed by Romeo that the rest of the world is just going by and Romeo is the reality her. When the Nurse appears in the scene Juliet is slowly pulled back in the real reality.

The film contrasts with the play, instead of being a gradual change it is a sudden change. Romeo and Juliet have just fallen back into the swimming pool then the Nurse calls out to Juliet. Juliet then leaps out of the water. As the audience we heard clearly what the Nurse shouted to Juliet, however in Juliet’s place she may have only heard noise as the water, perhaps, has distorted the sound of her name.

This slow reaction to the Nurse perhaps shows her innocence and naivety. She is like a naughty teenager caught by her parents meeting another boy and she is so passionate about him that she doesn’t notice her parents watching. This is portrayed better in the film by the sudden change in the atmosphere of the scene as Juliet suddenly hears the Nurse calling to her.

Distortion is a theme conveyed throughout the Act 2 Scene 2; in fact the whole play could be viewed as a distortion. Juliet’s world being distorted to make her hate the Montagues, Romeo and Juliet’s world compared to the places beyond the orchard wall and the views of the two families on the love between Romeo and Juliet.

The distortion is emphasized when the Nurse interjects perhaps to illustrate and reinforce Juliet’s challenge to stereotype. Referring back to the previous paragraph, bubble around Juliet distorts her view on Romeo, the view she was forced to accept by her family; now Romeo is in the same bubble so she can see clearly; the nurse then comes and pierces this bubble revealing this act of rebellion. Later in the play and the film when she refuses to marry Paris and her father’s temper grows, it is the nurse who supports Juliet.

In the film this distortion is portrayed visually in different ways. When the nurse appears, shots get further away, reminding us that there are things around Romeo and Juliet; however the things around Romeo and Juliet are out of focus, emphasizing the half asleep state mentioned in the previous paragraph. Furthermore, when Romeo and Juliet are standing in the swimming pool, the light being refracted by the water makes their legs shorter compared to the rest of their bodies.

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How Shakespeare portrays Romeo and Juliet in Act 2 Scene 2. (2017, Oct 23). Retrieved from

How Shakespeare portrays Romeo and Juliet in Act 2 Scene 2
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