Let’s talk Romeo and Juliet, a tale as old as time. There’s not an actor out there who doesn’t yearn to play one of these characters – but today we’ll be unpacking Romeo’s monologue in Act 2, Scene 1. Let’s dig in.
Romeo Montague, a sworn enemy of the Capulets has attended a masked ball at the house of Capulet where he meets and shares a first kiss with Juliet Capulet. I would argue that Romeo falls in love with Juliet, instantly upon seeing her.
“Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight, for I ne’er saw true beauty till this night”.
After the party, Romeo steals away from his friends, Mercutio and Benvolio, to seek out Juliet.
The monologue takes place beneath the balcony of Juliet’s Bedroom, inside the walls of the Capulet grounds. This is an incredibly dangerous place for Romeo to be. If caught, he could be killed.
So we know what has just happened and where we are in the story. So now let’s break down Romeo’s thoughts.
When approaching a monologue, I break it into ‘bite size’ pieces. These are based on the thoughts of the character. I find it useful to break a monologue down in this way to help myself find indications into what the character’s state of mind might be. Here we see Romeo using descriptive metaphor and imagery to help him describe the wonder that is Juliet.
Beat Change: Space
Thought Change: /
Here is the original text. I have added spaces at what I consider the major beat changes and a / where I see a clear thought change. This is somewhat subjective, but I believe if you can clearly understand these shifts you will be well on your way.
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? /
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 far 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! /
It is my lady; O, it is my love!
O that she knew she were! /
She speaks, yet she says nothing. What of that? /
Her eye discourses; I will answer it. /
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. /
What if her eyes were there, they in her head? /
The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As daylight doth a lamp; / her eyes in heaven
Would through the airy region stream so bright
That birds would sing and think it were not night. /
See how she leans her cheek upon her hand! /
O that I were a glove upon that hand,
That I might touch that cheek! /
Looking at a modern translation of the speech helps me to understand some of the imagery that Romeo is using. I make note of any recurring images that stand out. Here I notice that Romeo is really urging Juliet to be like the sun and less like the moon. This light and dark metaphor is carried on throughout the whole play. Before meeting Juliet, Romeo is described, locking himself inside his room and ‘shutting fair daylight’ out. After Romeo meets Juliet, this all changes. Now everything is about light, specifically, Juliet’s light; represented by the sun. The sun is hot and passionate whereas the moon is cold, sick and pale (representing chastity).
But quiet! What is that light coming through the window over there?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise beautiful sun and kill the jealous moon,
Who looks sickly and pale being upset,
Because you, her servant are so much more beautiful than she is.
Don’t be her maiden-servant, since the moon is jealous:
Her virginal clothing is nothing but sick and green,
And only fools wear virginal clothes, throw them off!
It is my lady, Oh, it is my love!
O I wish she knew she was!
She’s speaking and yet saying nothing. So what?
Her eye is speaking, I will answer it!
I am too reckless. She’s not speaking to me.
Two of the most beautiful stars in all the heavens,
For some reason, urge her eyes,
To twinkle in the space they left in the universe, until they get back.
What if her eyes were in the universe, those stars in her head?
Her cheek is so bright that is would put those stars to shame,
The way the sun does with a torch, her eye in heaven
Would through space shine so brightly,
That birds would sing and think it wasn’t night time.
Look at how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
I wish I were a glove on that hand, so that I could touch that cheek!
Breaks: Appears through.
Moon: Symbol of chastity.
Maid: A Nun – someone devout and chaste.
Vestel Livery: The clothing of a virgin. Relating to the Roman Goddess Vesta.
Spheres: Orbits. Stars were believed to be contained within spheres that rotated around the earth.
Lamp: A torch.
Romeo is young, passionate and impulsive – even comical. Not necessarily a buffoon but his naive, young love can be funny. Deep love brings out the best and the worst in people and this is the very beginnings of two stars colliding – two bright candles that will burn out long before their time.
Being in enemy territory, Romeo shows great courage in the face of death and fearless in his pursuit of Juliet. Having said that, there is also great opportunity for comedy during the monologue. The audience and Romeo are in on a game that Juliet is not. She does not discover his presence until later in the scene. This dramatic irony allows for a million possibilities on how you might play out the monologue and the scene that follows.
In the context of the play this is only the second time we encounter the two lovers on stage together. Considering they only share five scenes (including the tomb scene where they both perish) there is no time to waste! I feel that there is an urgency about the monologue and with the language and imagery, the audience can get a glimpse of what it might be like to experience Romeo’s intense love and passionate love for Juliet.
This monologue is a wonderful opportunity for an actor to showcase their ability to handle heightened language and imagery and more over… to have fun!