This play begins with a sonnet, a form of prose usually reserved for a lover addressing his beloved. The sonnet is a very structured form of prose, lending itself to order. Shakespeare cleverly contrasts this orderly sonnet with the immediate disorder of the first scene. Thus, the scene quickly degenerates into a bunch of quarreling servants who soon provoke a fight between the houses of Montegue and Capulet. This scene is wrought with sexual overtones, with the various servants speaking of raping the enemy’s women. The sexual wordplay will continue throughout the play, becoming extremely bawdy and at times offensive, yet also underlying the love affair between Romeo and Juliet. The disorder within the play is evidenced by inverted circumstances. Servants start the quarrel, but soon draw the noblemen into the brawl. The young men enter the fight, but soon the old men try to deny their age and fight as well. The fact that this whole scene takes place in broad daylight undermines the security that is supposed to exist during the day. Thus the play deals with conflicting images: servants leading noblemen, old age pretending to be young, day overtaking night.
The Nurse speaks of Juliet falling as a child when she relates a story to Lady Capulet. This story indirectly pertains to the rise and fall of the characters. Since this is a tragedy, the influence of wheel’s fortune cannot be overlooked. Indeed, Juliet’s role in the play does parallel the wheel of fortune, with her rise to the balcony and her fall to the vault. The Nurse also foreshadows, “An I might live to see thee married once” (1.3.63). Naturally she does not expect this to be realized in so short a time, but indeed she does live to only see Juliet married once. Romeo compares Juliet to, “a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear” (1.5.43) when he first sees her. This play on the comparison of dark and light shows up frequently in subsequent scenes. It is a central part of their love that important love scenes take place in the dark, away from the disorder of the day. Thus Romeo loves Juliet at night, but kills Tybalt during the day. It especially shows up in the first act in the way Romeo shuts out the daylight while he is pining for Rosaline. In the fifth scene the lover’s share a sonnet which uses imagery of saints and pilgrims. This relates to the fact that Romeo means Pilgrim in Italian.
It is also a sacriligeous sonnet, for Juliet becomes a saint to be kissed and Romeo a holy traveler. The foreshadowing so common in all of Shakespeare’s plays comes from Juliet near the end of the first act. She states, “If he be married, / My grave is like to be my wedding bed.” (1.5.132). This will be related over and over again, from her Nurse and later even from Lady Capulet. One of the remarkable aspects of the play is the transformation of both Romeo and Juliet after they fall in love. Juliet first comes across as a young, innocent girl who obeys her parents’ commands. However, by the last scene she is devious and highly focused. Thus, she asks her nurse about three separate men at the party, saving Romeo for last so as not to arouse suspicion. Romeo will undergo a similar transformation in the second act, resulting in Mercutio commenting that he has become sociable. There is a strange biblical reference which comes from Benvolio in the very first scene, when he attempts to halt the fight. He remarks, “Put up your swords. You know not what you do” (1.1.56). This is the same phrase used by Jesus when he stops his apostles from fighting the Roman guards during his arrest. It seems to preordain Juliet’s demise, namely her three day “death” followed by a resurrection which still ultimately ends in death.