Summary: Act 2, prologue

The Chorus delivers another short sonnet describing the new love between Romeo and Juliet: the hatred between the lovers’ families makes it difficult for them to find the time or place to meet and let their passion grow; but the prospect of their love gives each of them the power and determination to elude the obstacles placed in their path.

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Summary: Act 2, scene 1

Having left the feast, Romeo decides that he cannot go home. He must instead try to find Juliet. He climbs a wall bordering the Capulet property and leaps down into the Capulet orchard. Benvolio and Mercutio enter, calling out for Romeo. They are sure he is nearby, but Romeo does not answer. Exasperated and amused, Mercutio mocks Romeo’s feelings for Rosaline in an obscene speech. Mercutio and Benvolio exit under the assumption that Romeo does not want to be found.

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Summary: Act 2, scene 2

But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

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In the orchard, Romeo hears Mercutio’s teasing. He says to himself, “He jests at scars that never felt a wound” (2.2.43).

Juliet suddenly appears at a window above the spot where Romeo is standing. Romeo compares her to the morning sun, far more beautiful than the moon it banishes. He nearly speaks to her, but thinks better of it. Juliet, musing to herself and unaware that Romeo is in her garden, asks why Romeo must be Romeo—a Montague, and therefore an enemy to her family. She says that if he would refuse his Montague name, she would give herself to him; or if he would simply swear that he loved her, she would refuse her Capulet name.

Romeo responds to her plea, surprising Juliet, since she thought she was alone. She wonders how he found her and he tells her that love led him to her. Juliet worries that Romeo will be murdered if he is found in the garden, but Romeo refuses to budge, claiming that Juliet’s love would make him immune to his enemies. Juliet admits she feels as strongly about Romeo as he professes he loves her, but she worries that perhaps Romeo will prove inconstant or false, or will think Juliet too easily won. Romeo begins to swear to her, but she stops him, concerned that everything is happening too quickly. He reassures her, and the two confess their love again.

The Nurse calls for Juliet, and Juliet goes inside for a moment. When she reappears, she tells Romeo that she will send someone to him the next day to see if his love is honorable and if he intends to wed her. The Nurse calls again, and again Juliet withdraws. She appears at the window once more to set a time when her emissary should call on him: they settle on nine in the morning. They exult in their love for another moment before saying good night. Juliet goes back inside her chamber, and Romeo departs in search of a monk to aid him in his cause.

O Romeo, Romeo,
wherefore art thou Romeo?

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Analysis: Act 2, prologue–scene 2

The prologue to the second act reinforces themes that have already appeared. One love has been replaced by another through the enchanting power of the “charm of looks,” and the force of parental influence stands in the way of the lovers’ happiness. This prologue doesn't function so much as the voice of fate as the first one does. Instead, it builds suspense by laying out the problem of the two lovers and hinting that there may be some way to overcome it: “But passion lends them power, time means, to meet, / Temp’ring extremities with extreme sweet” (2.Prologue.13–14).

Read more about the forcefulness of love as a theme.

Act 2 is the happiest and least tragic act in the play. In it, Shakespeare devotes himself to exploring the positive, joyful, and romantic aspects of young love. Scene 2, the balcony scene (so-called because it is often staged with Juliet on a balcony, though the stage directions suggest only that she is at a window above Romeo), is one of the most famous scenes in all of theater, owing to its beautiful and evocative poetry. Shakespeare plumbs the depths of the young lovers’ characters, and captures the subtleties of their interaction, as in Juliet’s struggle between the need for caution and an overpowering desire to be with Romeo.

Many of the most important scenes in Romeo and Juliet, such as the balcony scene, take place either very late at night or very early in the morning, since Shakespeare must use the full length of each day in order to compress the action of the play into just four days. Shakespeare exploits the transition between day and night with a recurring light/dark motif, sometimes drawing a sharp distinction between night and day, at other times blurring the boundaries between them. Romeo’s long, impassioned description of Juliet in the balcony scene is an example of this theme. Romeo imagines that Juliet is the sun, rising from the east to banish the night; in effect, he says that she is transforming night into day.

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Romeo is of course speaking metaphorically here; Juliet is not the sun, and it is still night in the orchard. But Romeo states the comparison with such devotion that it should be clear to the audience that, for him, it is no simple metaphor. For Romeo, Juliet is the sun, and it is no longer night. Here is an example of the power of language to briefly transform the world, in the service of love.

And yet, in the same speech, Romeo and Juliet also question the power of language. Wishing that Romeo were not the son of her father’s enemy, Juliet says:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet.

Here Juliet questions why Romeo must be her enemy. She refuses to believe that Romeo is defined by being a Montague, and therefore implies that the two of them can love each other without fear of the social repercussions. But language as an expression of social institutions such as family, politics, or religion cannot be dismissed so easily because no other character in the play is willing to dismiss them. Juliet loves Romeo because he is Romeo, but the power of her love cannot remove from him his last name of Montague or all that it stands for. In the privacy of the garden the language of love is triumphant. But in the social world, the language of society holds sway. This battle of language, in which Romeo and Juliet try to remake the world so that it would allow for their love, is one to keep an eye on.

Read more about the language of love in the play.