Romeo and Juliet is Shakespeare’s famous tragedy about ill-fated love and the feuding families; the Montagues and Capulets. The play is set in Verona, Italy and follows two love struck teenagers who are madly in love. Despite their families hating each other, Romeo and Juliet conspire with a Friar and a Nurse to marry in the hope they will unite their households. But tragedy strikes hours after their marriage and a happy ending is thwarted.
Although the timeline for the story is only a few days, the breadth and scope of highs and lows makes this play a powerful ride. Both Romeo and Juliet are tested not only in their love for each other but also their own personal convictions. It is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays and includes multiple, wonderful monologues for young actors.
Romeo and Juliet is a play about love and conflict. As Romeo says soon after meeting Juliet “My only love sprung from my only hate”. And in this monologue, Juliet wrestles with loving a man who has just caused her the deepest of pain.
What has just happened?
Leading up to this monologue, Romeo has killed Juliet’s cousin, Tybalt. Tybalt despised Romeo and challenged him to a duel. But Romeo’s best friend Mercutio stepped in and after some fighting, was killed by Tybalt, who is then, killed by Romeo. With tensions high and fears of more fighting between the two families, the Prince of Verona orders for Romeo to be banished from the city.
Juliet meanwhile has been at home, eagerly awaiting Romeo’s return. The scene opens with Juliet talking to herself about how much she can’t wait to sleep with Romeo; she is giddy and excited about her new life with her new husband. The Nurse enters and informs Juliet of the Tybalt’s death at Romeo’s hand. Juliet, overwhelmed with rage, pain and grief begins this speech.
Thought & Language Breakdown
New paragraph = New beat/idea
, or ; = build on a thought
O serpent heart, hid with a flowering face!
Did ever dragon keep so fair a cave?
Beautiful tyrant! fiend angelical!
Dove-feather’d raven! wolvish-ravening lamb!
Despised substance of divinest show!
Just opposite to what thou justly seem’st,
A damned saint, an honourable villain!
O nature, what hadst thou to do in hell,
When thou didst bower the spirit of a fiend
In moral paradise of such sweet flesh?
Was ever book containing such vile matter
So fairly bound? O that deceit should dwell
In such a gorgeous palace!
Oh like a serpent’s heart, hidden with a beautiful face!
Did a dragon ever keep such a lovely cave?
Beautiful tyrant! A Devil, angel like!
A raven covered in the feathers of a Dove! A lamb who stalks like a wolf!
Horrible inside, with the most divine outward appearance!
You are the opposite to what you seem,
An evil saint, an honourable villain!
Oh nature, what did you create in hell,
When you enclosed the spirit of a monster
In the blissful body of Romeo’s flesh?
Was there ever a book that contained such awful material
That was so beautifully bound? Oh that betrayal should live
In such a gorgeous palace!
Unfamiliar Words & Phrases
Dove feather’d raven: A raven covered in white-dove feathers
Divinest show: Divine outward appearance.
Bower: To enclose, to lodge in a delightful manner
Moral: True and good
Such sweet flesh: Beautiful body
Fairly bound: Beautifully bound. Bound as in a book was bound with a cover.
This monologue uses wonderful imagery and metaphor to express Juliet’s thoughts and emotions. Nearly every line is a version of one repeating idea; that Romeo outside beauty contains a monster within. Shakespeare uses the literary device of oxymorons to show us Juliet’s inner turmoil. An oxymoron is something; an idea or image that is made up of two contradictory elements. For example; “dove feather’d raven”, “fiend angelical”, “beautiful tyrant”.
Juliet is clearly struggling with her love for Romeo and her hatred for what he has just done. There is rage and pain in her words and thoughts towards her husband but the fact that she constantly comes back to his beauty and ‘fair’ state means she has not turned against him completely.
For performance, note the short, sharp sentences at the beginning of the monologue. They, along with the exclamation marks, are deliberate writing devices to accentuate the images.
Do not forget to lean into the open vowel “O” sound; a signal from the writer of the character’s emotional turmoil. Look for the alliteration of sounds and in particular the hard consents ‘t’, ‘d’ and the breathy sounds of ‘h’ ‘f’ and ‘s’. They will help you find the emotion without having to push too hard in performance.