How does one analyze quotes or passages in Act 4 of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?  

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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When analyzing quotes or passages, it is important to look for literary devices, such as tone, diction, mood, irony, and even rhetorical schemes. Once one has discovered the literary devices, one can then use the analysis to draw a deeper meaning from the lines. Below is a passage in which both irony and rhetorical schemes are used well.

One example of a passage with strong literary devices can be found in Act 4, Scene 1. Friar Laurence uses a rhetorical scheme called chiasmus to build his argument to persuade Juliet to drink the potion in order to escape having to marry Paris. Chiasmus is a type of parallelism that first builds an argument and then inverts the word order. A good example is the phrase, "I lead the life I love; I love the life I lead" ("Schemes," web.cn.edu). If we were to assign "lead" the letter "A" and "love" the letter "B," we would see that the construction of this argument is A, B; B, A, which shows us that there is an inversion of word order.

In Act 4, Scene 1, Friar Laurence tells Juliet,

Thou hast the strength of will to slay thyself,
Then is it likely thou wilt undertake
A thing like death to chide away this shame.... (Iv.i.72-74)

First let me point out the irony in this passage, then the chiasmus construction will be more clear. In the first line of this passage, Friar Laurence refers to Juliet's desire to kill herself as "strength of will." The irony is that the Church actually considers suicide to be one of the greatest sins. Therefore, Juliet's will to commit suicide is ironically not so much a strength as it is shameful. If we were to reinterpret the phrase "strength of will" as "shame," we would have: "Thou hast the shame to slay thyself...." We can then assign the word "shame" with the letter "A" and the word "slay" with the letter "B." Then, in line 74, we have: "A thing like death to chide away this shame." So, again, we can assign "death," which is similar to "slay," with the letter "B" and assign "shame," again, with the letter "A." Hence we have shame, death; death, shame, or A, B; B, A, which is a chiasmus parallel structure.

The use of irony helps us to further see Friar Laurence's characterization. Even though he does some seemingly incongruous things, such as hastily agreeing to a youthful marriage he disapproves of and planning Juliet's faked death, Friar Laurence is a representative of the Church. He feels very strongly about murder and suicide and will stop at nothing to prevent both.

His use of a rhetorical device to convince Juliet to do such a scary thing as fake her own death and lie asleep in a tomb shows us just how desperate he feels about Juliet's situation. As a representative of the Church, he certainly cannot ethically or legally marry a woman to two men. He will do anything he can think of to keep both Juliet and himself from committing a sin.

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