Act II, Scenes 3–4: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1160

Act II, Scene 3

Scene 3 opens as Friar Laurence gathers herbs and plants from his garden early the next morning. Speaking aloud to himself, Friar Laurence discusses the various uses of plants, noting that they have the power both to heal and to kill. Romeo enters as Friar Laurence uses a particular flower as an example, explaining that merely smelling the flower makes one feel good, while a taste of it could kill. Romeo announces his presence and Friar Laurence chides him for being up so early, surmising that Romeo never actually went to bed the previous night. When Romeo confirms that he has not yet slept, Friar Laurence is initially fearful that Romeo has sinned by sleeping with Rosaline. Romeo assures him that this is not the case and that he is completely over Rosaline. Explaining that he now loves Juliet, Romeo begs the Friar to marry them.

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Friar Laurence is taken aback by Romeo’s sudden declaration of love for Juliet and points out that Romeo’s tears over Rosaline have barely dried, yet he has already fallen in love again. Romeo defends his choice, reminding the Friar that he often counseled Romeo to forget about Rosaline. Romeo argues that his relationship with Juliet is different as she (unlike Rosaline) loves him back; this leads Friar Laurence to point out that Rosaline could tell that Romeo’s love was not genuine. Though he remains skeptical of Romeo’s judgment, Friar Laurence ultimately agrees to perform the marriage ceremony in the hope that such an alliance might put a stop to the feud between the Montagues and Capulets.

Act II, Scene 4

Mercutio and Benvolio enter, wondering what happened to Romeo, since he never returned home the night before. Mercutio criticizes Rosaline, whom he believes to be the cause of his friend’s odd behavior, and Benvolio mentions that Tybalt has formally challenged Romeo to a duel. Mercutio questions whether Romeo, in his lovelorn state, is really man enough to face Tybalt, who is very well trained in the art of swordsmanship (though Mercutio criticizes Tybalt for his conceited attitude and obsession with proper style). Romeo finally appears, and Mercutio mocks his friend’s earlier lovesickness by making up dramatic and overwrought compliments about Rosaline, hyperbolically declaring that great beauties like Cleopatra and Helen of Troy are nothing compared to her.

Romeo does not deny that he gave his friends the slip the night before but claims that he had a good reason for his behavior. This sets off a witty exchange between Mercutio and Romeo that is full of sexual humor and double-entendre. Their verbal sparring is interrupted by the arrival of the Nurse and Peter. To the Nurse’s chagrin, Mercutio taunts her with insulting and obviously sexual language. Irritated, the Nurse demands whether any of them know Romeo Montague. Romeo identifies himself, and Mercutio and Benvolio leave. The Nurse warns Romeo that he had better not be attempting to trick Juliet, and Romeo assures her that his intentions are honorable. He asks the Nurse to have Juliet come up with an excuse to visit the abbey later that afternoon so that Friar Laurence may secretly marry them. He also instructs the Nurse to pick up a rope ladder from one of his men, which will allow Romeo to visit Juliet’s room on their wedding night.

Analysis

Scene 3 introduces Friar Laurence, Romeo’s priest and confidante. Friar Laurence’s speech about the dual nature of plants ties into the theme of paradox that runs throughout the play. All living things, Friar Laurence contends, have the potential for good, and conversely, there is nothing so good that it cannot become bad if put to the wrong use. Of course, this idea can be directly applied to that predicament of the young lovers as the feud transforms their love—which would normally be a positive force—into something destructive and sad. By marrying Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence hopes to prove his theory right, demonstrating that something that seems bad (forbidden love) can bring about something virtuous (the end of the feud): “And vice sometime by action dignified.” However, Friar Laurence’s theory is sadly proved correct in reverse when Romeo and Juliet’s virtuous love turns to tragedy after being “misapplied” to end the feud.

With Friar Laurence and the Nurse, Romeo and Juliet have now each recruited an adult accomplice to aid them in their secret plans. Unfortunately, both adults prove to be somewhat inept advisors and do little to discourage the young lovers. Friar Laurence initially scolds Romeo for his seemingly fickle love, saying aloud what the audience has likely been thinking: that Romeo’s change of heart seems to have happened too fast. He counsels Romeo to be slow and cautious yet fails to follow his own advice, agreeing to marry the young couple later that very day. Meanwhile, the Nurse just appears excited to be included in the illicit romance, doing little to slow the course of the relationship. Though they support the couple, neither Friar Laurence nor the Nurse seem to understand the purity or idealism of Romeo and Juliet’s feelings. While the Nurse sees their relationship primarily in sexual terms, Friar Laurence sees their love as an opportunity to end a violent conflict.

Though his Mercutio’s teasing in scene 4 obviously indicates that Romeo’s friends still think he is in love with Rosaline, Romeo does not bother to correct them, suggesting that Romeo has compartmentalized his relationship with Juliet from the rest of his life. Trading inappropriate jokes with his friends, Romeo seems completely changed from the sensitive, emotional lover he is with Juliet. Mercutio even remarks upon Romeo’s noticeably brightened spirits, saying, “Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo.” These two seemingly different sides to Romeo further complicate his relationships with both Juliet and his friends. This tension is highlighted when the Nurse arrives to make plans with Romeo and is subjected to Mercutio’s inappropriate jests. The juxtaposition of sexualized male banter and Romeo’s assurances to the Nurse that his intentions with Juliet are honorable  is jarring and serves as a reminder of Romeo’s youth.

Ultimately, it is left to the audience to decide how much Romeo has actually matured since the beginning of the play. Mercutio’s mimicry of his lovelorn friend not only highlights the obvious superficiality of Romeo’s past love for Rosaline, but also references “Thisbe” from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The famous tale of the forbidden love between Thisbe and her lover Pyramus (who both eventually commit suicide) shares many similarities with Romeo and Juliet. Mercutio’s reference to this particular story invites the question of whether Romeo ever truly extinguishes his desire to imitate the classic or traditional forms of love. Is his decision to commit suicide at the end of the play wholly caused by genuine despair or is he influenced by a classical tradition of dying for love?

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