The Balcony Scene

Act 2 Scene 2 – Key Scene

At the start of this scene, Romeo hides beneath Juliet’s balcony and overhears her talking about him. He eventually comes out and they talk to each other. They declare their love for each other and arrange to meet the next day when Romeo has promised to marry Juliet. The Nurse calls to Juliet from inside so the scene ends with an urgency as the lovers try to say goodbye.

You can take a look at the whole scene and watch it in performance here. Using the following steps, remember to look at it line by line and if you’re looking at the scene for the first time, don’t worry if you don’t understand everything at once.

  • Look
    Take a look at the scene. Are they using prose or verse? Are there shared lines or couplets? Actors at the RSC often put the language into their own words to help them understand what they are saying. We’ve added some notes and questions to help with this.
    Romeo
    He jests at scars that never felt a wound.
    Enter JULIET above
    Romeo
    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.
    See how she leans her cheek upon her hand!
    O, that I were a glove upon that hand,
    That I might touch that cheek!

    Wait, quiet! What is it I can see in the window? It must be towards the east because I can see Juliet there and she is the sun.

    Why do you think Shakespeare uses images of the sun and moon in Romeo’s speech?

    In this line there are only 6 syllables rather than 10 and it is not written in iambic pentameter. Why do you think Shakespeare does this on this line and not others?

    How many times does Romeo, and then Juliet, use the word ‘O’? How do you imagine they sound? What effect does this have on the way they speak?

    Juliet
    Ay me!
    Romeo
    She speaks:
    O, speak again, bright angel, for thou art
    As glorious to this night, being o’er my head
    As is a wingèd messenger of heaven
    Unto the white upturnèd wond’ring 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.

    Showing the whites of your eyes by looking upwards

    Juliet
    O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
    Deny thy father and refuse thy name,
    Or if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
    And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.

    Oh, Romeo, Romeo! Why are you Romeo? Give up your heritage and stop being a Montague; or, if you won’t do that, make me a promise of your love and I will stop being a Capulet.

    Aside
    Juliet
    ’Tis but thy name that is my enemy,
    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,

    So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,
    Retain that dear perfection which he owes
    Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
    And for thy name, which is no part of thee,
    Take all myself.

    Oh, be called something else! What’s so important about a name? Even if we called a rose a different name it would still smell beautiful.

    To her.
    Juliet
    What man art thou that thus bescreened in night
    So stumblest on my counsel?

    Hidden by the darkness of the night

    Romeo
    By a name
    I know not how to tell thee who I am:
    My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself,
    Because it is an enemy to thee.
    Had I it written, I would tear the word.

    This is the first of the shared lines between Romeo and Juliet. Why do you think Shakespeare includes shared lines between these characters? Here, it is Romeo that finishes the line. Why do you think that might be?

    Juliet
    My ears have yet not drunk a hundred words
    Of that tongue’s uttering, yet I know the sound:
    Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?

    I have barely heard you speak a hundred words, yet I know your voice: aren’t you Romeo, and a Montague?

    Romeo
    Neither, fair maid, if either thee dislike.
    Juliet
    How cam’st thou hither, tell me, and wherefore?
    The orchard walls are high and hard to climb,
    And the place death, considering who thou art,
    If any of my kinsmen find thee here.

    Notice who speaks the most in this conversation and who asks the most questions. Who do you think has most control in this meeting?

    Romeo
    With love’s light wings did I o’er-perch these walls,
    For stony limits cannot hold love out,
    And what love can do that dares love attempt:
    Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me.

    Fly over

    Juliet
    If they do see thee, they will murder thee.
    Romeo
    Alack, there lies more peril in thine eye
    Than twenty of their swords: look thou but sweet,
    And I am proof against their enmity.
    Juliet
    I would not for the world they saw thee here.
    Romeo
    I have night’s cloak to hide me from their eyes,
    And but thou love me, let them find me here.
    Juliet
    By whose direction found’st thou out this place?
    Romeo
    By love, that first did prompt me to inquire:
    He lent me counsel and I lent him eyes.
    I am no pilot, yet wert thou as far
    As that vast shore washed with the farthest sea,
    I should adventure for such merchandise.
    Juliet
    Thou know’st the mask of night is on my face,
    Else would a maiden blush bepaint my cheek
    For that which thou hast heard me speak tonight
    Fain would I dwell on form, fain, fain deny
    What I have spoke: but farewell compliment!
    Dost thou love me? I know thou wilt say ‘Ay’,
    And I will take thy word. Yet if thou swear’st,
    Thou mayst prove false:
    at lovers’ perjuries
    The say Jove laughs. O gentle Romeo,
    If thou dost love, pronounce it faithfully

    This is the first time Juliet suggests that what Romeo says and what he might do are different, asking him to swear his love. Why do you think she does this? What concerns her?

    Romeo responds to this by swearing on the moon, which Juliet claims is inconstant and always changing. Why do you think his promise means so much to her?

    Trials

    (Text edited for rehearsals by Erica Whyman)
  • Listen
    Read the scene aloud, then watch the actors trying it in different ways. Which way feels right? What in the language makes you think that? Are there any words or lines that really stand out?
  • Watch
    Take a look at the actors performing this scene. How do the characters come across in this version?
    Play Scene in performance
  • Imagine
    Explore some images from past versions of Romeo and Juliet at the RSC. Notice the different heights of the balconies. Can Romeo and Juliet touch each other? Which sets and staging choices for the balcony scene feel right to you?