Romeo comes out of hiding just as a light in a nearby window flicks on and Juliet exits onto her balcony. “It is the east,” Romeo says, regarding Juliet, “and Juliet is the sun.” He urges the sun to rise and “kill the envious moon.” He urges Juliet to take her “vestal livery” and “cast it off.” He continues observing Juliet as she looks up at the stars, waxing poetic about her beauty and wishing he could hold and touch her.
Though the word balcony is never technically mentioned in the play, this is the iconic “balcony scene” that has been so heavily referenced in art and popular culture since Romeo and Juliet was first performed. Romeo’s speech about Juliet here is poetic—but there is also a deeper sexual connotation, as “envious moon” is a reference to Diana, the Roman goddess of the moon and protectress of virgins. He wishes aloud for Juliet to surrender her virginity to him and “kill the envious moon,” or erase her connection to the goddess of purity and virginity.
Juliet speaks, sighing “Ay me!” and Romeo, hearing her, remains hidden, but quietly says he wishes she would speak again. Juliet sighs again, wondering aloud why Romeo has to be who he is. She says he wishes he would “refuse [his] name.” If he won’t change his name, though, she says she would change hers if it meant they could be together. Romeo wonders aloud if he should speak up and let Juliet know he’s below her window, or whether he should listen some more. Juliet continues speaking, meditating on the nature of names and how they define the things they describe. She wishes that Romeo could be called something else—he would be the same person he is if he were, just as “a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.”
Juliet’s love for Romeo is making her existential. She wants to be with him desperately—and if he simply had another name, there would be no impediment to their courtship. Juliet is wondering why fate, family, and duty seem to be conspiring against her, and wishes that Romeo would abandon his name, his allegiances, and his identity in order to be with her. The reader can see, then, that there is an unstable and subtly violent undertone to Romeo and Juliet’s love, as Juliet is perfectly fine with the obliteration of Romeo’s entire sense of self if it means she can be with him.
Romeo speaks up and says he’ll take Juliet’s advice and allow her to “baptize” him anew—if she wants, he says, he’ll cease being Romeo. Juliet asks who is hiding in the darkness, and Romeo replies that he’s loath to use his own name, which is now “hateful” to him “because it is an enemy to [her.]” Juliet asks if it is Romeo hiding in the garden, and he says that if she dislikes his name, he’ll be anything she wants. Juliet warns Romeo that if any of her kinsmen find him, they’ll kill him, but Romeo says that the things “love can do” make him invincible to harm. Juliet again warns Romeo of the danger he’s put himself in, but he says he'd rather have his life ended abruptly by her kinsmen’s hatred than go through life without her.
Though Romeo and Juliet have only just met, they are already making grand promises and demands of each another. Juliet wishes Romeo would sever his allegiances to his own family, and he happily complies—even adding that he’d rather perish than face another day without her love. This further portrays love as a chaotic state of being that is deeply entwined with self-destruction and violence.
Juliet tells Romeo that normally she’d be embarrassed about all the things he’s overheard her saying tonight—but now that he’s heard them, she refuses to “dwell on form” or manners. Juliet asks Romeo outright if he loves her truly and urges him to “pronounce it faithfully” if he does. Romeo begins to tell Juliet about his feelings, swearing to them by the “blessed moon,” but Juliet urges him not to swear by the changeable, “inconstant” moon and instead swear by himself, as he is “the god of [her] idolatry.”
As Romeo begins to swear his love again, however, Juliet cuts him off, telling him that they are being “too rash.” She tries to bid Romeo goodnight, but he claims that Juliet is leaving him “unsatisfied.” Juliet asks Romeo what satisfaction he could have tonight, and Romeo replies that what he wants is the exchange of Juliet’s vows of love for his. Juliet says that she gave it to him before he even asked for it, but now wishes she could take it back just so she could give it to him again. The more love Juliet gives to Romeo, she says, the more she has.
When Juliet asks Romeo what satisfaction he wants from her, she’s perhaps expecting him to make a suggestive joke, given the tenor of their conversations so far. But he surprises her by insisting that all he wants is for her to profess her love, something she’s all too happy to do.
Juliet’s nurse calls for her, and Juliet tells Romeo that she has to go inside but will come right back. She hurries in, and Romeo says that he can hardly believe what’s happening to him tonight—it must be a dream, because it’s too “sweet” to be real. Juliet returns to the window and tells Romeo that if he truly loves her and wants to marry her, he should send for her tomorrow. If she hears from him, she says, she’ll send a messenger back to him to arrange the time and place of the marriage. Juliet’s nurse continues calling for her and Juliet assures her that she’ll be in soon, while begging Romeo not to call upon her tomorrow unless his intentions are truly honorable. As Juliet heads inside again, Romeo laments how hard it is to say goodbye to one’s lover.
Juliet really wants to believe that Romeo truly loves her, and that their vows of love have not been rash or false. She keeps setting up situations in which Romeo gets an out, or a chance to escape his vows—but he insists he’s ready to commit to her no matter what. This passage highlights the tension between choice and fate—it’s almost as if Romeo nor Juliet really has any say in what happens next.
Romeo turns to leave, but Juliet comes out to the balcony yet again and calls down to him, asking what time she should send a messenger to Romeo tomorrow. Romeo says 9:00. Juliet laments that time will drag between then and now as if “twenty year[s]” are passing. Juliet tells Romeo that he should probably leave—even though she wants him to stay, as if he is a small bird a child keeps in a cage. Romeo says he wishes he could be Juliet’s bird. Juliet says if Romeo were truly her pet, she would “kill [him] with too much cherishing.”
This instance is yet another in which Romeo and Juliet’s speech turns violent as they attempt to express the depths of their love for each other. Here, Juliet suggests that if Romeo really were her pet bird, she’d love him to death or crush him with her hands from trying to “cherish” him too closely. Juliet’s love is overwhelming and intense, and she doesn’t know how to express it other than to render it as a violent, unpredictable force.
Juliet bids Romeo goodnight, and he says he hopes she sleeps peacefully. Juliet hurries inside, and Romeo says how badly he wishes he could stay and sleep with Juliet. He resolves to head to see his priest and seek the man’s help in arranging the marriage.