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The language in Act IV, scenes 4 and 5 of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is crucial to creating the moods of both scenes. In scene 4, for instance, the very brevity of some of the speeches adds to the sense of energy and speed, as does the interaction of many different speakers. Earlier in the play, characters often delivered long, poetic speeches; here the dialogue is much more rapid and colloquial. The focus is on practical preparations, and the language is highly practical, too. The emphasis is on giving and following orders. The main characters feel competent and in control, although also under the pressure of time. It is no accident that the words “make haste” are frequently repeated here.
In scene 4, the mood is initially comic and joyous, as when the nurse affectionately says to Juliet,
Why, lamb! why, lady! fie, you slug-a-bed!
Why, love, I say! madam! sweet-heart! why, bride!
The phrasing is also jokingly bawdy at first, as when the nurse refers to Paris’s erotic plans for Juliet on their honeymoon night. The tone dramatically changes, however, when it suddenly appears that Juliet is dead. Suddenly the nurse, so often a figure of humor and fun in the play, becomes emotionally distraught. Similarly, Lady Capulet, a powerful and self-assured figure earlier, now feels overwhelmed:
O me, O me! My child, my only life,
Revive, look up, or I will die with thee!
Help, help! Call help.
Likewise, Capulet, Juliet’s father, who had earlier been so enraged with his daughter when she seemed to disobey him, now becomes suddenly tender and poetic:
Death lies on her like an untimely frost
Upon the sweetest flower of all the field.
Some of the speeches in this scene are very brief (as they had been in scene 4), but now the brevity often communicates distress and shock rather than hurried, practical preparations. In the previous scene, people were preparing for a major event and knew what to do. Now, no one seems prepared for Juliet’s death or sure of what to say or how to act. Capulet, normally so capable of expressing himself vigorously, now falls briefly silent. He soon recovers his powers of speech, however, and speaks with great eloquence about his daughter’s death, even using an extended metaphor (or “conceit”) in which he calls Death Juliet’s husband and his own son-in-law.
The joyful, happy mood of the preceding scene has now changed utterly to one of grief and sorrow.
These two scenes, like many adjacent scenes in the play, are juxtaposed in order to create a sense of sharp emotional contrast. Shakespeare knew that one of his most powerful techniques as a dramatist was the technique of comparing and contrasting, and he uses that method to great effect here.
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