One and only (1.5.135-143)

NURSE            His name is Romeo, and a Montague,

The only son of your great enemy.

JULIET                        My only love sprung from my only hate!

Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

Prodigious birth of love it is to me,

That I must love a loathèd enemy.

NURSE            What’s tis? what’s tis?

JULIET                                                            A rhyme I learnt even now

Of one I danced withal.

One calls within, ‘Juliet!’

NURSE                                                            Anon, anon!

Come, let’s away, the strangers all are gone.


So Romeo is named, unambiguously and in full, as if the Nurse is naming the bogeyman of Juliet’s childhood: Montague. The depth and longstanding nature of the feud is reinforced: here is a household servant unquestioningly describing someone whom Juliet, a child, is unlikely ever to have met, old Montague, as your great enemy. In terms of scansion, Romeo could be described in exactly the same way as the son and heir of old Tiberio a few lines earlier; he too must be the son and heir, but his attractiveness as a marriage prospect, as an heir, can’t be invoked here, because such an alliance is completely out of the question. The repetition of only, and its mobility, is striking through here. It’s a reminder, in this moment of crisis for the plot, that both Juliet and Romeo are only children; this will sharpen the play’s tragedy. And only love and only hate seem also to suggest first in temporal terms, as much as singularity. Only can be superlative, meaning unparalleled, best: so it also attests to overwhelming nature of both emotions, a love as suddenly all-consuming as a life-long, carefully-taught hatred.

As far as Juliet is concerned, there is no going back. She has seen – and fallen in love with – Romeo too early, and now that she knows who he is, that cannot be undone. (Compare the length at which Lady Capulet has praised Paris to Juliet before the ball, not just naming but commending him as a lover and asking Juliet if she can love him when she hasn’t even seen him. That passage partly sets up this one.) There’s that lovely almost-chiasmus, too early / too late, unknown / known, its assonance resonating with the only in the previous line (and indeed with Romeo). The birth is prodigious, monstrous, because it’s this hybrid of love and hate; it’s also the birth of love to Juliet because it’s the first time she’s fallen in love. Yet she must love; there is no choice. And although, as editors point out, there’s no way that Juliet could have learned this rhyme from Romeo, because Romeo is explicitly identified as not having danced, there’s still a glance back at the sonnet and its rhymes – which included two quatrains rhyming on kiss and two actual kisses. This is the rhyme that Juliet has actually learned, and helped to write, and embodied.

Around them, the party has wound down. The guests have left and Capulet’s gone off to bed. All that bustle and energy has gone away; it’s late, it’s time for bed. There’s a moment of hiatus for the audience. Finally, it’s the end of act 1.



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