Act IV, Scenes 1–3: Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1262

Act IV, Scene 1

In Friar Laurence’s cell, Paris and the Friar discuss the arrangements for Paris and Juliet’s wedding. Paris explains that Lord Capulet has arranged the hasty marriage to console Juliet, who is still grieving Tybalt. The Friar remarks in an aside that he wishes he did not know the real reason that Juliet and Paris’s marriage should be delayed. Juliet then enters, and Paris greets her affectionately. Juliet remains somewhat distant during their interaction, and eventually the Friar urges Paris to leave so that Juliet may confess. Paris leaves but not before kissing Juliet.

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Alone with the Friar, Juliet desperately pleads for help. She reveals a dagger and declares that she is ready to kill herself if they cannot come up with an alternate plan. Seeing how far Juliet is willing to go to avoid marrying Paris, the Friar says that he might have a plan if Juliet is brave enough to go through with it. He explains that she should go home and tell her family that she has decided to marry Paris after all. Tomorrow night (Wednesday, the day before the wedding) Juliet will take secretly take a potion. Handing her a vial, the Friar explains that this potion will make her appear dead for forty-two hours. When the family sees Juliet’s apparently dead body, they will carry her in an open casket to the Capulet tomb—as is the custom. Meanwhile, the Friar will contact Romeo, explaining Juliet’s fake death and instructing him to secretly return to Verona. Romeo and the Friar will watch over Juliet’s body in the Capulet tomb and wait for her to awaken. When she does, Romeo will secretly take her back with him to Mantua. The Friar reminds Juliet that this plan will only work if she is brave enough to execute it. Juliet immediately takes the vial, saying she doesn’t want to talk about fear. The Friar says that he will send a fellow friar to deliver the details of their plan to Romeo.

Act IV, Scene 2

Back at the Capulet residence, preparations for the wedding are underway. Lord Capulet orders his serving men to hire twenty cooks, and the Nurse informs him that Juliet has been visiting with Friar Laurence. Juliet appears and begs her father to forgive her earlier disobedience, vowing to obey him from this point onwards. Capulet orders that Paris be informed of this good news and expresses thanks for the Friar’s apparent intervention. Lord Capulet is so pleased with this turn of events that he moves the wedding up a day, declaring that it will now take place on Wednesday instead of Thursday. Lady Capulet protests that they are not properly prepared to have the wedding so soon, but Lord Capulet promises that he will stay up late and make the arrangements.

Act IV, Scene 3

The Nurse helps Juliet pick out a wedding outfit, and Lady Capulet asks whether Juliet needs her help as well. Juliet sends her mother and the Nurse away, requesting that she be left alone for the rest of the night. Alone, Juliet takes out the vial of potion. She admits that she is scared that the potion won’t work or that the Friar, wishing to conceal his own role in Romeo and Juliet’s illicit marriage, has given her poison instead. She also expresses her fear of waking up too soon and finding herself alone in the Capulet tomb with Tybalt’s decaying body. Juliet imagines that she can see Tybalt’s ghost looking for Romeo, and toasting to Romeo, she downs the potion.

Analysis

Scene 1 shows Juliet and Paris interacting for the first time. While Paris eagerly anticipates their wedding, Juliet treats him with indifference, reminding him that they are not yet married: “That may be, sir, when I may be a wife.” Paris comes across as a bit arrogant in this scene, obviously assuming that Juliet is as delighted to be marrying him as he is to be marrying her. Paris is also possessive in his remarks—“Thy face is mine, and thou hast sland’red it”—likening Juliet to an object he can own. As Paris gets relatively few lines in the play, it is not fully clear whether he truly loves Juliet or whether he is merely attracted to her beauty and social position. His reaction to Juliet’s fake death, however, will suggest that underneath his pomposity and obliviousness, Paris may truly care about her.

In these scenes, Juliet defies the conventions of her time by literally taking her life into her own hands. She turns to Friar Laurence for help, declaring that he must either find a way to prevent her marriage or watch as she takes her own life. Juliet’s conviction and intensity in this moment convinces the Friar that she is deadly serious and prompts him to come up with a plan. In coming up with an elaborate scheme to fake Juliet’s death, Friar Laurence proves himself to be a skilled strategist. Though the audience knows that Friar Laurence’s plan ultimately fails, Shakespeare has taken care to highlight goodness of the Friar’s intentions. The fact that even Friar Laurence’s intricate scheme was thwarted by fate reinforces the idea that Romeo and Juliet’s destiny is out of their hands.

As the architect of the plan, Friar Laurence is often faulted or blamed for the missed communication that eventually leads to the suicides of the the young lovers. However, readers should take care to not underestimate the role of fate in Romeo and Juliet; casting blame solely on the Friar also ignores the occasions when Friar Laurence actually prevents the lovers from taking their own lives. In the aftermath of Romeo’s banishment, the Friar talks Romeo down from his suicidal urges, and the Friar comes up with the plan to fake Juliet’s death on the spot to prevent Juliet from carrying out her threat of suicide:

If, rather than to marry County Paris,

Thou hast the strength of will to slay thyself,

Then is it likely thou wilt undertake

A thing like death to chide away this shame,

That copest with death himself to ’scape from it.

An if thou darest, I’ll give thee remedy.

Friar Laurence’s plan is not without risk, and he never pretends to Juliet that it is a foolproof solution. He reminds her several times that the plan is drastic and will require great courage on her part. Although Friar Laurence undoubtedly makes several mistakes, he—like the other characters—is ultimately a victim of fate.

Juliet does not hesitate to go along with Friar Laurence’s scheme and eagerly accepts the vial of potion. It is only later, after having faked a change of heart to her parents, that Juliet truly contemplates the danger of what she is about to do. She envisions the many ways in which the plan might go wrong and even considers the possibility that the Friar might be trying to kill her rather than help her. Despite her misgivings, Juliet decides to take the potion anyways, demonstrating her utter commitment to Romeo. Before drinking the potion and falling into a death-like sleep, Juliet places her dagger beside her, reaffirming her intention to commit suicide if this plan should fail. Though the ultimate failure of Friar Laurence’s plan is a undoubtably a tragedy, Juliet’s soliloquy reminds us that she may have committed suicide even sooner had Friar Laurence not come up with his risky plan.

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Act IV, Scenes 4–5: Summary and Analysis

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