Last Updated on January 7, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 746
Act IV, Scene 4
The next morning, the Capulet household is bustling with activity as they prepare for the wedding. Lady Capulet urges her husband to get some sleep (he has stayed up all night long with the wedding preparations). He jokes that he has stayed up all night for less important things—a reference to youthful days of womanizing. As Paris approaches with some musicians, Lord Capulet orders the Nurse to hurry and wake Juliet.
Act IV, Scene 5
The Nurse finds Juliet lying fully clothed on her bed. After unsuccessfully trying to wake her, the Nurse realizes that Juliet is dead and desperately calls out for help. Lady Capulet, Lord Capulet and Paris are distraught by Juliet’s unexpected passing and begin berating death itself for having stolen her so soon. Friar Laurence appears and reminds them that Juliet is in a far better place. He tells the greiving parties that while it is natural to cry, they should really be happy for her. Lord Capulet says out that all the preparations made for the wedding must now be used instead for a funeral, and the Friar urges all of them to prepare for a funeral procession to the Capulet tomb. After the family leaves the room, the musicians begin to pack up, realizing that they are no longer needed. Peter enters and asks them to play him a happy song to ease his grief. The musicians refuse, saying that it is not the proper time for such music. Peter gets angry and exchanges insults with the musicians before stalking away. The musicians decide to stick around in the hopes that they can have some of the lunch that will be served.
The joyous and celebratory tone of scene 4 contrasts sharply with the dark desperation of the preceding scene. In a scene full of dramatic irony, the Capulet household excitedly prepares for a celebration the audience knows will not happen. Even as Paris arrives at the house for his wedding, the audience knows that his future bride lies upstairs, apparently dead. The enthusiasm of Juliet’s parents, particularly her father, shows how deeply invested they are in Juliet’s marriage. Lord Capulet is so excited about the wedding that he moves it up a day and stays up all night long to help plan it, even though such preparations were traditionally considered a feminine task.
The overwhelming joy felt by Juliet’s parents quickly turns to overpowering despair when they discover their daughter’s dead body. The genuine distress expressed by Lord and Lady Capulet somewhat softens their cruel treatment of Juliet in act III, demonstrating that despite everything, they did truly love her: “Death, that hath ta’en her hence to make me wail, / Ties up my tongue and will not let me speak.” Meanwhile, the Friar arrives and pretends to be surprised by Juliet’s sudden death. Interestingly, while Lord Capulet, Lady Capulet, and Paris all declared that Juliet’s grief (which they assumed was related to Tybalt’s death) was over the top, it is now Friar Laurence who says something similar to them: “And weep ye now, seeing she is advanced; / Above the clouds, as high as heaven itself?” Reminding the family that they must begin preparations for Juliet’s funeral, the Friar puts the next part of his plan into motion.
After the mourning family exits, there is a short scene between Peter, a Capulet servant, and some musicians that were hired for the wedding. Though this scene might seem out of place when juxtaposed with the drama of Juliet’s sudden death, there are several reasons Shakespeare may have included it. This brief, comic moment is likely meant to lighten the dark mood that has dominated many of the previous scenes. This exchange also demonstrates that the musicians are not especially moved by the tragedy of Juliet’s untimely death. To them, this turn of events is primarily upsetting because they have lost a job; their chief concern at the end of the scene is whether they will able to snag some free lunch. Though such mundane concerns in the face of tragedy may come across as callous, their worries show that the problems of upper-class society are not necessarily those of the working class. The indifference of the musicians serves as a reminder that the play’s great tragedy is of the families’ own making and that not everyone is (or necessarily should be) sympathetic to their plight.
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