Romeo and Juliet Act II Prologue by William Shakespeare

The ‘Act II Prologue’ is the third of three sonnets that appear within Shakespeare’s best-known play, Romeo and Juliet. The first is the prologue  Act I and the second is the scene where Romeo and Juliet meet in Act I Scene 5. These lines are read by the “chorus”. This person is less of an actor than they are a narrator. They provide the audience with information that the playwright thought was important to understand in relation to what is about to happen when the actors take the stage again. 

 

Summary of Act II Prologue 

In the ‘Act II Prologue’ by William Shakespeare the chorus speaks on the growing love between Romeo and Juliet and how difficult it is for them to meet.

The first lines speak to the change that is coming over Romeo as he forgets about Rosaline and instead turns all his attention to Juliet. The speaker also describes the difficulty that they have spent time with one another as they are meant to be foes. Despite this, they continue to love one another and the danger only makes their passions sweeter. 

 

Structure of Act II Prologue

The ‘Act II Prologue’ takes the form of a traditional Shakespearean sonnet. This form, which became known due to Shakespeare’s mastery of it and fondness for it, is made up of three quatrains, or sets of four lines, and one concluding couplet, or set of two rhyming lines. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme that conforms to the pattern of ABAB CDCD EFEF GG and it is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, known as metrical feet. The first is unstressed and the second stressed. It sounds something like da-DUM, da-DUM.

The last two lines of this poem, as noted in the rhyme scheme, are a rhyming pair known as a couplet. In Shakespearean sonnets, they bring with them a turn or “volta” in the poem. They’re sometimes used to answer a question posed in the previous twelve lines, shift the perspective, or even change speakers. In this case, the final two lines negate all the difficulties that the two experience in loving one another. The passion is worth it in the end. 

 

Literary Devices in Act II Prologue 

Shakespeare makes use of several literary devices in the ‘Act II Prologue’ of Romeo and Juliet. These include but are not limited to allusion, personification, and enjambment. The first of these, allusion, is an expression that’s meant to call something specific to mind without directly stating it. In this case, the “extremities” mentioned in the last lines of the prologue suggest that there are many more dangers ahead. Those familiar with the story (which was outlined in the prologue to Act I) will know what these dangers are. 

Personification occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. There is a good example in the first lines of the poem when Shaksepare compares the old love that Romeo used to carry for Rosaline as dying in its death bed. There are more examples at the end of the poem when he describes the power that passion and time have. 

Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transitions between lines nine and ten and eleven and twelve. 

 

Analysis of Act II Prologue 

Lines 1-4 

Now old desire doth in his deathbed lie,

And young affection gapes to be his heir.

That fair for which love groaned for and would die

With tender Juliet matched, is now not fair.

In the first four lines of the ‘Act II Prologue’ the speaker, who is the “Chorus” begins by describing the blossoming love that exists between Romeo and Juliet as well as the larger family dynamics at play. The chorus acknowledges that Romeo used to harbor a great passion for Rosaline but that now things are changing. That “old desire” is dying in its “deathbed” and a new one is taking its place. A reader should take note of the very clever and evocative use of personification in this first line. 

There is a “young affection” that’s becoming more important, it is freshly born and ready to be the “heir” to the older, dying affection. When Romeo thinks back on his love for Rosaline, and on Rosaline herself, she is nothing compared to Juliet. Her fairness, which he once thought was most remarkable, now doesn’t seem fair at all. 

 

Lines 5-8 

Now Romeo is beloved and loves again,

Alike bewitchèd by the charm of looks,

But to his foe supposed he must complain,

And she steal love’s sweet bait from fearful hooks.

In the second quatrain of the sonnet, the speaker goes on to say that there is someone, Juliet clearly, who is in love with Romeo. He is to her “beloved”. He loves again as well and they are “Alike bewitchèd by the charm of” the other’s “looks”. It is like a spell they’ve cast over one another from which they can’t escape. 

The whole relationship is plagued by the fact that Juliet is supposed to be his enemy. She is “his foe,” someone he is unposed to detest. On her side, she has been hooked into love by someone that she’s supposed to fear. She’s taken “love’s sweet bait”. 

 

Lines 9-14

Being held a foe, he may not have access

To breathe such vows as lovers use to swear.

And she as much in love, her means much less

To meet her new beloved anywhere.

But passion lends them power, time means, to meet,

Tempering extremities with extreme sweet.

In the third and final quatrain the speaker adds that because Romeo is “held a foe,” or considered to be a foe, he does not have easy access to Juliet. It is difficult for him to spend time with her and say all the things that a lover would normally say. The “vows” they would normally “swear”. In the same way, she cannot meet her lover, it is even more difficult for her to get away from her family. 

In the concluding couplet of this introductory sonnet to Act II, the chorus says that despite all the difficulties between them, “passion lends them power”. Time continues to exist and perhaps supply them with the opportunity for meeting again. The “extremities” or dangers of their love are tempered by the “extreme sweet,” or pleasure they can take from one another when they do meet. 

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