What kind of language and structure are employed in Juliet's soliloquy in Act 4, Scene 3? 

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Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Juliet's soliloquy in IV.iii is structured as a series of rhetorical questions that are answered or resolved by her immediately after she asks them. This type of structural device is a rhetorical device. The specific type of rhetorical question is called anthypophora. In anthypophora, the speaker asks a rhetorical question (a question carrying no expectation that the listener will provide an answer) then immediately provides the answering response themselves. Examples of anthypophora from Juliet's soliloquy are:

  • "What should she do here? / My dismal scene I needs must act alone."
  • "What if it be a poison, which the friar
    Subtly hath minister'd to have me dead ...
    ... yet, methinks, it should not,
    For he hath still been tried a holy man."
  • "How if, when I am laid into the tomb,
    I wake before the time that Romeo
    Come to redeem me? there's a fearful point!
    Shall I not, then, be stifled in the vault..."

In one or two spots, Juliet asks two or more questions that share one resolving response:

What if this mixture do not work at all?
Shall I be married then to-morrow morning?
No, no: this shall forbid it: lie thou there.

Juliet's soliloquy is also structured as a series of apostrophes in which she addresses someone who is absent, not present with her, as though they were present. The first apostrophe, "Farewell!" is addressed to her mother and to Nurse. The second, brief though it is, is addressed to her apparent hallucination of Tybalt, "stay, Tybalt, stay!" The third, even more brief, is addressed to Romeo: "Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee."

The central part is structured as the rhetorical questions, the anthypophora, Juliet asks herself (and answers for herself). At one point, Juliet digresses from her flow of thought into a separate, tangential thought. Her flow of thought concerns her feigned death and the disastrous outcomes that might befall the enormous chance she is taking by swallowing the near-death sleeping potion prepared for her by the Friar. The tangential digressing thought is about the "terror" of the "ancient receptacle" where she will find herself. This sort of digression from the central flow of thought is a rhetorical device called digressio and was used to great effect by both Shakespeare and Chaucer throughout their work.

Another element of structure in Juliet's soliloquy is foreshadowing. The rhetorical device of foreshadowing is called prolepsis. Prolepsis is a device of anticipation used to anticipate, or foreshadow, what may be in store for a character in the upcoming storyline. Juliet's soliloquy employs prolepsis in her unpleasant contemplation about how she might behave should she awaken in the tomb before Romeo joins her:

O, if I wake, shall I not be distraught,
Environed with all these hideous fears?
And madly play with my forefather's joints?
And pluck the mangled Tybalt from his shroud?
And, in this rage, with some great kinsman's bone,
As with a club, dash out my desperate brains?

The language, therefore, in Juliet's soliloquy is in large part rhetorical and speculative. The speculative questions "What if" and "How if" figure heavily throughout. There is a tight mixture of logos (logical thought) and pathos (emotional thought) as she tries to logically reason her way through potentialities that elicit an enormous degree of intense emotion in her. In the end, it is pathos, or emotion, that sways her as she yields and clings to her lover's thoughts of Romeo: "Romeo, I come! this do I drink to thee."

Read the study guide:
Romeo and Juliet

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