What is ironic about the conversation between Juliet and Paris in act 4, scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet?

What’s ironic about the conversation between Juliet and Paris in act 4, scene 1 of Romeo and Juliet is that Paris has no clue that Juliet’s words have a double meaning that alludes to her and Romeo’s secret marriage.

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By act 4, scene 1, Juliet's father has completed a marriage agreement that will allow Paris to very quickly marry Juliet. Lord Capulet does this because he believes that this action will alleviate Juliet's sadness. He wrongly thinks her depressed mood is due to the death of her cousin...

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By act 4, scene 1, Juliet's father has completed a marriage agreement that will allow Paris to very quickly marry Juliet. Lord Capulet does this because he believes that this action will alleviate Juliet's sadness. He wrongly thinks her depressed mood is due to the death of her cousin Tybalt when it is primarily because of Romeo's banishment.

The dialogue Juliet engages in with Paris plays on dramatic irony, which occurs when an audience knows what characters in a play do not. We know that Juliet is secretly married to Romeo, so we can pick up on the double meanings in her dialogue. For example, when Paris wants her to stop crying because, he says, her face is not her own, he means that it is his. However, when Juliet replies "It may be so, for it is not mine own," we know that she means her face is not hers because it belongs to Romeo and that her provisional "may" is far more provisional than Paris understands. It actually means "may not."

Paris shows himself to be a patriarchal figure who would not be likely to excite Juliet's interest the way Romeo does if he had to earn her hand on his own merits. Paris relies on the convention of dealing with another man to obtain Juliet as a possession, while Romeo loves and pursues her as a person free to make her own choices. We can easily see how, despite his impulsivity and status as a Montague, Romeo might appeal to Juliet far more than Paris.

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Irony tends to depend on opposites and using language in a way that sharply departs from its expected meaning. What’s ironic between the conversation between Juliet and Paris in act 4, scene 1 is that Paris has no clue about what’s really going on. Paris thinks he’s about to get married to Juliet. In reality, the opposite will happen.

Paris calls Juliet “my lady and my wife.” Juliet replies, “that may be, sir, when I may be a wife.” Paris thinks Juliet is referring to their upcoming nuptials. Again, in reality, Juliet is already married. When she says “when I may be a wife”, she’s not talking about when she can be a wife to Paris, but when she can finally escape Verona and be a true wife to her husband, Romeo.

The ironic dialogue continues when Juliet tells Paris, “I will confess to you that I love him.” This could be considered ironic because the “him” suggests Romeo. In a sense, Juliet is confessing what she’s done. Yet Paris can’t figure this out, because he doesn’t realize that Juliet is being ironic and that almost everything she is saying has a kind of double meaning.

At one point, Juliet tells Paris that there’s much going on “behind his back.” Once more, Paris doesn’t pick up on the irony of her comment. There actually is a lot going on that he’s completely unaware of.

Finally, Paris’s “holy kiss” might be considered ironic because, in the next act, there will be a kiss. Alas, this kiss won’t be another kiss between Paris and Juliet: it’ll be between Romeo and Juliet. Afterwards, Romeo, and then Juliet, will be dead.

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Romeo and Juliet's Act IV, Scene 1 exemplifies well the use of dramatic irony, a literary technique involving an interesting contradiction of what is expected and what is known.  Specifically, in dramatic irony, there is a contradiction between what a character thinks and what the reader or audience knows to be true.  For, while the audience is aware that Juliet is wed to Romeo, Paris is ignorant of this fact.  He, then, comes to Friar Laurence to arrange his wedding to the fair Juliet; however, since Friar Laurence performed the wedding mass, who also knows that Juliet is wed.  His aside indicates this knowledge to the audience:

I would I knew not why it should be slowed. (4.1.16)

 Of course, the conversation between Paris and Juliet furthers the dramatic irony since the meaning of Juliet's words carries implications of which Paris is unaware.  Here are examples:

1. When Paris addresses Juliet as his "wife," Juliet replies ironically,

That may be, sir, when I may be a wife (4.1.19)

meaning that she can only wed Paris if her marriage to Romeo ends by his death.  But, Paris thinks she does not know the day of the wedding and tells her "on Thursday." 

2.  Then, Paris mistakenly believes that Juliet comes to the priest to make her confession as one does before receiving a sacrament such as the Sacrament of Marriage:

Come you to make confession to this Father?

To answer that, I should confess to you.(4.1.

Juliet means that she would have to confess that she is married to Romeo if she is to be forgiven for any sins in confession as one must be completely honest in confessional.

3.  Paris continues to be "in the dark" about Juliet's meanings.  When he tells her,

[Paris] Do not deny to him that you love me.

[Juliet] I will confess to you that I love him (4.1.25-26)

Juliet replies with the pronoun him; however, her antecedent, Romeo, is understood only by her, so Paris thinks she refers to the friar in the Christian sense of loving others. 

4. He, then, responds,

So will ye, I am sure, that you love me (4.1.27)

meaning that he is certain that Juliet will also express in the confessional her love for Paris.  To this remark, Juliet states that confessing that she loves Paris to the friar will have a greater value and meaning than saying it to him ("your face")

5. Of course, the dialogue regarding Juliet's tears and face involve misinterpretation as Juliet has been crying over Romeo as much as for Tybalt.   When Paris says that Juliet's face belongs to him, "Thy face is mine," Juliet replies,

It may be so, for it is not mine own. (4.1.37)

meaning again that she belongs to Romeo. 

6. Finally, Count Paris misinterprets Juliet's intention of coming to to the friar when Friar Laurence tells Paris he and Juliet must be alone, saying,

God shield I should disturb devotion (4.1.42)

Indeed, it is a unknowing and unsuspecting Paris that departs from Juliet and the friar.

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