What does getting married in Friar Laurence's cell symbolize about their coming marriage?

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msbirdie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Romeo and Juliet's marrying in the friar's cell is symbolic of the secret nature of their union. The term "cell" refers to a small, private living space, sparse in decor. The marriage takes place as quickly and quietly as possible, so secretive, in fact, that Shakespeare does not even stage the wedding. Act II ends with Friar Lawrence's urgent words: 

"Come, come with me, and we will make short work.

For, by your leaves, you shall not stay alone

Till holy church incorporate two in one."

When Act III begins, the sun has risen, and we find Mercutiio and Tybalt arguing in the street. Romeo enters and wants to make peace, but he dare not confess that he and Tybalt are now related, so closeted is the marriage.

"I do protest I never injured thee,

But love thee better than thou canst devise,

Till thou shalt know the reason of my love.

And so, good Capulet—which name I tender

As dearly as my own—be satisfied."

In contrast, were the couple to have a public wedding, sanctioned by their parents, the celebration would be grand and opulent, as evidenced by the preparations for Juliet's wedding to Paris in IV.iv. The lavish plans are detailed when Lord Capulet, thinking Juliet dead, bemoans that fact that the music, flowers, and feasting will now be used for the funeral. 

All things that we ordained festival

Turn from their office to black funeral.

Our instruments to melancholy bells,

Our wedding cheer to a sad burial feast.

Our solemn hymns to sullen dirges change,

Our bridal flowers serve for a buried corse,

And all things change them to the contrary.