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Act 1, Scene 5
If Capulet recognized Mercutio’s friends he concealed it well, even welcoming them with hearty handshakes. He was in high spirits as the hall filled up: he hopped about like a bird and greeted his guests with smiles, backslaps and jokes.
Come in. come in,’ he said as each group of masked youths arrived at the doorway. ‘Don’t stand there, come in. Look at all the girls. Go in, go in. And I want to see you dancing. Only those girls with corns on their feet will say no.’
‘I’m a doctor tonight.’ he told a group of girls, beaming. ‘I can tell which of you have corns – those who don’t get up and dance right away.’ And when all except one rushed off, giggling, to find partners, he winked at the shy one left standing on her own. ‘Have I hit the nail on the head?’ he said. making her blush even more. He turned away to greet some new arrivals.
The hard work he had put into the preparations was paying off. The great hall was festooned with colourful banners and flowers and the tables were spread with enticing food. He looked this way and that, missing nothing. With the saddest expression on his face he told some young men not to waste time – there were plenty of girls. It would be tragic for them not to take advantage of opportunities like this because before they knew it they would be old men like him and then it would be too late. Was it only yesterday that he was whispering sweet nothings in the ears of young ladies? He shook his head. ‘Those were the days. All gone now.’ He looked as though he was going to cry but made an immediate recovery, gesturing with waving arms to the musicians to get on with it. Why had they stopped? Were they taking a holiday? He shouted at the servants, telling them to bring more light, to move the tables so that the guests could dance, and he told them to put the fire out: where were their brains? If he was sweating so badly what would it be like for the dancers?
Before long the hall was brightly lit. A space had been cleared and music was playing again. Guests began taking to the floor.
Once they were in the hall Mercutio and his friends put their masks on and went their separate ways. Each one had his own idea of how he was going to enjoy himself.
Romeo had made up his mind that he wouldn’t dance. He would find Rosaline and declare himself to her again. He wandered about, picking at snacks and watching out for her. He was also keeping one eye on Tybalt, staying as far away from him as possible. Tybalt was dancing with a pretty girl, smiling and being charming, but you never knew what he was going to do. What the Prince had said made no difference: Tybalt was always looking for a fight. It was best to give him a wide berth.
Mercutio was in a corner, entertaining some girls who laughed at every word he uttered. There was nothing new in that. Benvolio was dancing and Horatio was nowhere to be seen.
A serving man with a jug approached the table where Romeo was standing and poured some wine into a glass. He lifted the glass and handed it to Romeo but just as Romeo was about to take it a girl he had never seen before passed in front of him, dancing with a rather formal looking stranger.
Romeo drew his breath in sharply. The serving man, thinking Romeo had taken the glass, let go and it crashed on the floor. It made Romeo snap out of his trance. He looked down to see his shoes splashed with wine and the serving man trying to wipe it off with his apron. He didn’t take it in, though – his mind was completely preoccupied with the heavenly image before him, moving so gracefully to the music.