Act III, Scene 5: Summary and Analysis
Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1194
Act III, Scene 5
The next morning, Romeo and Juliet are awake in her room. As dawn approaches, Romeo must prepare to leave for Mantua, but Juliet begs him to stay, playfully suggesting that the bird they hear chirping is a nightingale rather than a lark (nightingales sing at night, while larks sing in the morning). Reluctant to leave, Romeo tells her that he will stay if she wants, but Juliet immediately changes tack, telling him that it is getting lighter outside and that he must leave. The Nurse enters and warns Juliet that her mother is approaching the bedroom. Romeo and Juliet share one last kiss before he sneaks out the window. Looking down from her window, Juliet remarks that Romeo appears pale, as if dead. Romeo says that Juliet looks pale as well but decides that it is only sorrow that makes them appear so.
After Romeo leaves, Lady Capulet enters Juliet’s room. Juliet tells her mother that she feels unwell, and Lady Capulet wonders how Juliet can still be so upset over Tybalt’s death. Lady Capulet reasons that Juliet’s grief is probably due to the fact that Romeo, Tybalt’s murderer, walks free. Juliet tells her mother that she wishes no one could avenge Tybalt’s death but her. Interpreting this as an expression of Juliet’s desire to kill Romeo, Lady Capulet tells Juliet that she plans to send a man to Mantua to poison Romeo. Juliet requests that she be allowed to mix the poison herself if her mother wishes to carry out this plan. Lady Capulet then changes the subject, informing Juliet that her father has arranged for her to marry Paris on Thursday morning. Shocked, Juliet claims that she cannot marry Paris, telling her mother that she does not know Paris well enough to be his bride. Lord Capulet and the Nurse then enter the room.
Lord Capulet asks whether his wife has told Juliet their decision, and Lady Capulet explains that Juliet will not agree to the marriage. Juliet’s defiance enrages Lord Capulet, who threatens to drag her to the church himself. Juliet attempts to persuade her father to simply delay the wedding, but Lord Capulet will not hear of it. He declares that if Juliet refuses to marry Paris, he will disown her and not care whether she lives or dies. Juliet begs her mother to intercede, but Lady Capulet refuses to help her. When she is alone with the Nurse after her parents have left, Juliet says that she cannot marry another man while her husband lives. The Nurse advises Juliet to marry Paris—who she now claims is a better man than Romeo—and tells Juliet that Romeo cannot come back for her anyways. Juliet does not argue with the Nurse, but asks her to inform Lady Capulet that she has gone to Friar Laurence to confess. After the Nurse leaves, Juliet verbally abuses her for giving out such wicked advice, vowing never to confide in the Nurse again. As she leaves to go seek help from the Friar, Juliet reasons that she can always take her own life if all else fails.
As Romeo leaves Juliet the morning after they consummate their marriage, she says farewell to him from above, echoing the balcony scene from act II. Now, however, the youthful optimism and excitement of the lovers is tempered by their increasingly perilous situation. Gazing down on her beloved, Juliet remarks that he looks as pale as death—“Methinks I see thee now, thou art so low / As one dead in the bottom of a tomb”—and Romeo remarks that she looks the same. The somber tone of this final goodbye (this is the last moment that Romeo and Juliet will see each other alive) sharply contrasts with the playful and romantic farewell they exchanged the night they first met, reflecting the play’s transition from romance to tragedy. Romeo and Juliet say goodbye, and the audience senses fate closing in as, unbeknownst to the young lovers, their pale appearances foreshadow their impending demise.
Lady Capulet and Juliet’s conversation illustrates the extent to which Juliet has rapidly matured since the beginning of the play. Juliet verbally toys with her mother, seeming to condemn Romeo while secretly expressing how much she cares about him. For example, Juliet tells her mother that if a man is sent to poison Romeo, then she wants to be the one who mixes the poison. When her mother broaches the subject of Juliet’s marriage to Paris, Juliet responds that she would rather marry Romeo than Paris. To Lady Capulet, this sounds like a declaration of how much Juliet does not want to marry Paris—she would rather marry Romeo, her worst enemy—but the audience understands that Juliet is actually expressing her literal preference for Romeo.
Juliet’s outright refusal to marry Paris, a direct contrast to her obedient promise to consider him in act I, demonstrates a great degree of bravery. Lord Capulet’s conversation with Paris in act III, scene 4 indicates that despite his earlier claim that Juliet’s wishes were of the utmost importance, her interest in the match was always inconsequential: “I think she will be ruled / In all respects by me. Nay, more, I doubt it not.” In the following scene, Lord Capulet’s utter rage when he learns of Juliet’s reluctance to marry Paris confirms that he never intended to allow Juliet to make her own decisions about her marriage.
After Juliet’s father threatens to throw her out if she refuses to marry Paris, readers may wonder why Juliet does not simply leave and join Romeo in Mantua. Juliet’s position here is complicated by her age, gender, and social position. Juliet is only thirteen years old, and having been raised as a sheltered noblewoman, she has no practical way of getting to Mantua, especially without help. It is also important to remember that Juliet is the only daughter of a powerful noble family whose feud with the Montagues is at its height. If Juliet did somehow find a way to escape to be with Romeo, it is extremely unlikely that her family would accept the match in the wake of Tybalt’s death—remember that Juliet’s own mother is already thinking of ways to secretly have Romeo killed, even in exile.
As an inexperienced, young woman under the control of her father, Juliet is in an extremely difficult position. Her predicament is only made worse when the Nurse betrays her by suggesting that Juliet pretend the marriage to Romeo never happened and marry Paris instead. Separated from her husband and unable to confide in her closest friend, Juliet is left with little support and even fewer practical options—circumstances which help explain why she contemplates suicide in the first place. That she considers suicide as a viable solution to her problems highlights how little control Juliet, as a young woman, has over the course of her own life. Unable to shape her future, Juliet reasons that her only remaining power might be in her ability to decide whether she lives or dies.