Act I Commentary

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Opening Prologue: The first act prologue not only reveals what will happen during the course of the play, but also some of the major dichotomies. The opening line shows us that the Capulet and Montague houses are, although at odds, equal in their aristocratic status. It was considered "fashionable" in the Renaissance for aristocratic families to have feuds, but they were not to engage in public fighting, a taboo which is broken by the Capulets and the Montagues. However, line 4 indicates that these equal families are in an ungoverned situation where no rules will be obeyed, which is why they are able to fight. The Chorus reveals one of the most important themes of the play in line 5-8, which is that Romeo and Juliet are destined not only to love each other, but to die, which will end the feud. The fact that Shakespeare tells us the end of the play before it even begins is intentional—this creates a tension between what we as the audience know must happen, and what could have happened if the characters had acted differently. Thus the theme of fate versus free will emerges: do Romeo and Juliet die because it was their destiny, or do they die because of their actions and the actions of those around them? The third major point that surfaces in the opening prologue is one of extremes. There is extreme hatred between the Capulet and Montague families. The only solution to this situation is, according to line 11, the "end" of Romeo and Juliet. Thus we see a situation in which one extreme, hatred, is ended by its opposite: love.

Scene i: This scene is really a compilation of three mini-scenes. The first mini-scene begins with the fighting between the servants, after some brief comic relief through the jokes of Sampson and Gregory. The fact that the servants from each household are fighting further demonstrates that this feud has gone too far—so far, in fact, that Benvolio, who is a Montague, is prevented from breaking up the servants' fight by Tybalt, who, although Lady Capulet's nephew, is not really a Capulet. Even the Prince has very little control of the situation, which is evident in line 81 when fighting continues despite the fact that he has ordered them to stop. Escalus' weakness as ruler is revealed in his speech, where he notes that this is the third time that public fighting has erupted between the two families. His threat to execute any member of either family in lines 94-95 is fairly meaningless because he has done little to prevent their previous outbreaks, and Escalus does indeed fail to make good on his threat in Act III, scene 1. This lack of order in Verona contributes to the violence that occurs.

In the next section of the scene, we see Montague, Lady Montague, and Benvolio discussing Romeo, whose depression has attracted their attention. The Montagues have asked Romeo why he is so sad, but have gotten no response. This is typical for the Renaissance—as aristocrats, the Montagues are not really expected to have much to do with his upbringing, and therefore do not understand him much. However, the fact that Romeo keeps so much from his parents will lead to his death because he is not accustomed to confiding in the Montagues. Romeo does, however, confide in Benvolio in the third section of the scene. Romeo has been pining away for Rosaline, whose desire to lead a chaste life leads him to associate her with the moon goddess Diana in line 207. This association is important, as he will call Juliet the sun in Act II, scene 2. This comparison illustrates the dichotomy of light and dark that will run throughout the play. We also see one of Romeo's major character traits in this scene through his depression. Romeo is the embodiment of the Renaissance ideal of courtly love—he is fully consumed by love, and is devastated by Rosaline's rejection of it. This leads him to keep to the shadows and avoid the sun (note the light/dark theme at work). Romeo's plethora of oxymorons ("brawling love," "loving hate," "heavy lightness," etc.) are a reflection of his mastery of this concept. Despite this, however, Benvolio (who is no courtly lover) promises to snap Romeo out of his depression, which Benvolio will accomplish by showing Romeo other women. Benvolio's statement at the end of the scene, "I'll pay that doctrine, or else die in debt," is prophetic—Benvolio will indeed show Romeo a girl who will make him forget all about Rosaline (l. 236).

Scene ii: In the beginning of the scene, Capulet is still consumed with thoughts of Montague, but decides that, being as old as they are, avoiding confrontation should not be difficult. As long as things stay equal (because both Montague and Capulet are equally bound to fulfill the order of the Prince), Capulet is willing to accept the command. Paris, a kinsman of the Prince, then reminds Capulet of his desire to marry Juliet. Through Capulet's speech, we learn that, like the Montagues, Capulet really does care about his daughter's well being. Although the marriage would no doubt benefit him, Capulet is more concerned with Juliet's age (lines 10 and 11), her health (line 13), and her happiness (line 17), than he is about the possible profits to be made by an alliance with the royal family. The consideration and attachment of both sets of parents is notable in a time when children were often used as a commodity to advance the interests of the family in general. This part of the scene also introduces us to Paris, who will function as a foil character to Romeo. Like Romeo, Paris is a handsome, well-spoken aristocrat who is interested in a wife. Ironically, Capulet gives Paris the same advice Benvolio gives Romeo by suggesting that Paris may see some women at the forthcoming party that may interest him more than the current object of his affections. However, unlike Romeo, Paris' affections for his first choice remain firm throughout the play.

Scene iii: In this scene, we are finally introduced to Juliet, who is in her home helping to prepare for the party later that night. Through the Nurse's reminiscences about Juliet, we learn that despite having fallen and bumping her head as a toddler, Juliet was smart enough to acknowledge the Nurse's husband's suggestion that she should fall backward instead of forward in order to avoid doing the same thing again. Her ability to overcome her feelings will aid her later in the play. Once the Nurse's jokes are over, Lady Capulet tells Juliet "the good news"—that Paris wants to marry her. Juliet quickly replies that she has never thought about marriage, despite the fact that many girls younger than she already have children (Lady Capulet herself had already borne Juliet at Juliet's age). Lady Capulet tries to talk Juliet into wanting Paris, but Juliet, being intelligent despite her lack of experience, replies in line 97 that she will try to like him, but there are no guarantees (people cannot control what appeals to them, of course). Ironically, it is this inability to control love that causes the downfall of Romeo and Juliet.

Scene iv: Although the main action of this scene involves Romeo, Benvolio, and Mercutio (another of the Prince's kinsmen) heading to the Capulet party, the major importance of the scene lies in the characters' discussions of love and dreams. Romeo, as a courtly lover, is "weighed down" by his unrequited love and wants to carry the torch (both literally and figuratively). This leads to Mercutio's jokes about love, which he equates only with sexual desire. Unsuccessful in deterring Mercutio, Romeo then tries to talk his friends out of making him go to the masque because he had a bad dream. This introduces an important aspect of Romeo—he professes a great belief in dreams and in fate throughout the play. Romeo's dream tells him that attending the party will lead to his untimely death in lines 106-112, but, despite this, he chooses to attend the party. This is typical for Romeo, who constantly refers to fate as the controlling force in his life, but constantly acts against what he believes to be destined, which ultimately results in his death. Mercutio attempts to assuage Romeo's fears by talking about Queen Mab, the fairy who is responsible for dreams. When Mercutio gets caught up in his description of Queen Mab, he reminds Romeo that dreams are nothing. This discussion of the importance of dreams stems from the fate/free will theme—if there is fate, then dreams might matter, but if we have free will, then dreams are indeed nothing.

Scene v: After another spot of comic relief in the form of the servants (a technique Shakespeare utilizes in many of his plays to alleviate the tension after a serious scene), the party commences. Benvolio's prophecy does indeed come true—Romeo is distracted from his "love" for Rosaline upon seeing Juliet for the first time. He begins to speak in extremes once again, obsessed by Juliet's beauty. The idea of questioning love at first sight never occurs to Romeo, who is too in love with being in love to think about it. He is so in love, in fact, that he does not even notice Tybalt, who is preparing for a fight once he recognizes Romeo's voice. Once again we see the juxtaposition of extremes—Romeo's extreme love for Juliet and Tybalt's extreme hatred for the Montagues. Fortunately for the unaware Romeo, Capulet appears and calms his nephew down because it is rude to attack someone in your own house, no matter who they are. This concept of hospitality is shared by many cultures.

When Romeo and Juliet begin to speak to one another, it is poetry in both a literal and figurative sense. The language utilized is romantic and full of imagery. When their speech is combined, it forms an English sonnet, a 14-line love poem with alternating rhyme patterns and iambic pentameter that will eventually come to be called a Shakespearean sonnet. The talk of shrines and pilgrims is religious in nature, which is typical for the ideal of courtly love, in which the love for a woman should be so pure as to be religious in nature. Once they become aware of each other's identities, there are more prophetic statements—Romeo owes his foe, and Juliet says that "if he be married,/My grave is like to be my wedding bed" (ll. 134-135).

Act II Commentary

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Prologue: This prologue lists the consequences of the newfound passion of Romeo and Juliet. In the first four lines, the Chorus reminds us that although Romeo was once completely enamored of Rosaline, his once-invulnerable attraction has been vanquished by his love for Juliet, which is much more "fair." The prologue goes on to state that there is immense danger in this relationship, even going so far as to compare Juliet to a fish attracted to the bait of a fishing hook. Although Romeo and Juliet cannot conduct their relationship in the typical Renaissance England manner (as Paris attempts to do by approaching Capulet instead of Juliet), the combination of the strength of their love and "good" timing allows them the ability to develop their romance. As we were told in the Act I prologue, the love of Romeo and Juliet will counterbalance the hate of the feud, which is encapsulated in the last line of this prologue.

Scene i: Scene 1 begins where Act 1 leaves off—with the guests leaving the party. Romeo, being the devoted lover that he is, cannot leave Juliet, and climbs the wall to the Capulet orchard. However, he is still close enough to hear his friends calling for him. Mercutio, in one of his many displays of wit, decides to cast a spell and "conjure" Romeo by reciting all of what he thinks to be important to Romeo—love and Rosaline. While commenting that this sort of speech will anger Romeo, Benvolio tells Mercutio that "Blind is his love and best befits the dark" (l. 32). With this statement, the light/dark theme resurfaces. This will become critical in the next scene.

Scene ii: Once his friends leave, Romeo turns his attention to Juliet, who has just come out to the balcony for one of the most famous scenes in all of literature, despite its relatively minor status to the play itself. Upon seeing Juliet, Romeo compares her to the sun. This brings the light/dark dichotomy to the foreground. Juliet is associated with the sun, which overpowers the moon (Rosaline) through her light. However, it is the darkness of the night that allows Juliet to symbolize the sun, which she cannot do during the day because the real sun dominates the sky. Because of this, and because Romeo and Juliet cannot be together in the daytime for fear of their parents' rage, night is their time. Day, which is usually associated with good, turns to evil because of the destruction of the feud and the separation of Romeo and Juliet. This reversal of the significance of day and night is continued throughout the play.

When Juliet speaks, she reveals a great deal about her character. Although she is in love with Romeo, her first reflection is on the problems their love provokes. She asks why (wherefore) Romeo has to be a Montague, and reflects upon the irrelevance of names, which should not matter when people are in love. When Romeo interrupts her thoughts, Juliet's reaction is logical rather than emotional; instead of rejoicing in her lover's presence immediately, she questions him about who he is, how he got to the orchard, and reminds him that he will be killed if her family discovers him. Even when Romeo is swearing his love, Juliet reminds him of the fickleness of love and the difficulties of their situation. Even though Juliet is a sheltered young girl, she realizes that there is more to a successful relationship than just initial attraction. Juliet's ability to think while she is in love with Romeo will almost salvages their marriage later on.

Scene iii: This scene begins with Friar Laurence, Romeo's mentor and friend, picking herbs. While this seems irrelevant, Friar Laurence's speech about the nature of the plants he picks reveals several key facts of the play. First of all, Friar Laurence's knowledge of plant lore will be useful to Juliet when he gives her the potion in Act IV. He refers to the sun as "Titan's fiery wheels," inferring the destruction of day, and that, although good and bad are polar opposites, each balances each other, as do the other dichotomies of the play. The last flower picked has special significance because its poison, once smelled, "slays all senses with the heart." The flower symbolizes both the love of Romeo and Juliet, which slays their senses, and, contrarily, the hatred of the Capulets and the Montagues. The end of the friar's speech reminds us what will happen at the end of this play because rude will, or hatred, will be the "canker death" that eats up the love of Romeo and Juliet.

Another significance of this scene is its prophetic nature. While pointing out the near-lunacy of Romeo's falling in love with Juliet so soon after his pining for Rosaline, Friar Laurence recites several well-meaning mantras which, had everyone in the play followed them, would have prevented the disaster to come. Friar Laurence first reminds Romeo that weak men bring down women, which Romeo will prove in Act III, scene 1 by killing Tybalt. The friar also compares Romeo's love to a grave in lines 83-84, which foreshadows the death to come. Despite these protests, the friar agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet because he hopes to end the feud. When Romeo rushes out to give the news to the Nurse, Friar Laurence warns him that people who hurry stumble. This, of course, foreshadows the stumbling that the friar himself will be doing in Act V, when he fails to follow his own advice.

Scene iv: This scene gives insight to the personalities of Romeo, Mercutio, and the Nurse, Angelica. Mercutio and Benvolio open the scene by analyzing Romeo's ability to successfully answer Tybalt's challenge. Mercutio predicts that Romeo will lose because his "feminine" love weakens him and makes him not enough of a man to handle the situation. This is the first mention of the masculine/feminine theme of the play, and Mercutio's notions of masculinity will lead him to provoke the fatal fight in Act III. When Romeo arrives, Mercutio is distracted by the wittiness of Romeo's responses to his jokes, and even gives up when Romeo is too clever for him. This demonstrates than Romeo can be clever when he is in the mood. Mercutio, having lost to Romeo, chooses a new target—the Nurse. While Romeo is trying to give the Nurse the message he intends for Juliet, Mercutio jokes about the Nurse being a bawd and even sings a song to emphasize the point. While the Nurse feigns offense, she also makes crude jokes herself throughout the play. Thus the scene shows Romeo's talent for wit, and recalls the baseness of the Nurse and Mercutio.

Scene v: Although Juliet can think during the most romantic scene in the play, that does not mean she is always logical. In this scene, an impatient Juliet hounds the Nurse for information about Romeo. The Nurse, of course, complicates the matter by teasing Juliet and refusing to immediately tell her what she wants to know. Juliet complains that old people are too slow (which foreshadows Friar Laurence in Act V), and complains again when the Nurse teases her. Eventually the joke wears thin, and the Nurse tells her to go to Friar Laurence's cell to be married.

Scene vi: Marriage is usually the final scene in stories, but because of the Capulet-Montague feud, it is merely a minor scene in the play. Whereas Romeo makes the mistake of thinking that marrying Juliet should be sufficient grounds for happiness ("It is enough I may but call her mine"), Friar Laurence reminds him that this marriage is not going to be the end of the problem. Because of the intensity of the love of Romeo and Juliet, which the friar describes as violent, he reminds Romeo to moderate his love so that it can last, because violent emotions cause people to do violent things. When Juliet arrives, Romeo is full of lover's conceits, whereas Juliet can only tell him that she loves him so much that she cannot describe it. Friar Laurence, knowing and witnessing the strong attraction between the two, marries them immediately.

Act III Commentary

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Scene i: Like the first scene of Act I, this scene has three major parts. The first part begins with Benvolio and Mercutio discussing the heat, which stirs the "mad blood." Benvolio, who tries once again to avert a fight, suggests that they go inside, but Mercutio claims that Benvolio is more likely to cause trouble than he is. This is mere projection—Mercutio is obviously talking about himself when he refers to Benvolio's quick temper. Mercutio is so accurate in these opening lines of the scene that he even predicts his own death when he declares that if there were two of the people he is describing, "we should have/none shortly, for one would kill the other." We do indeed have two hot-headed individuals in this play—Mercutio and Tybalt, and we will shortly have none because Tybalt enters the scene looking for Romeo in order to pursue his challenge.

The second part of this scene concerns the duels. Romeo, having just come from his own wedding, tries to avoid fighting Tybalt out of his love for his wife and concern for her family, despite Tybalt's attempts to enrage him through insults. Romeo is doing exactly what he is supposed to do here—he is not supposed to fight in public because of the Prince's decree, and he should not try to kill his wife's cousin. While Romeo is trying to be logical and pacifying, Mercutio allows his temper to get the better of him. He believes that Romeo is acting like a girl in refusing to fight. Mercutio, who was trying to start a fight with Tybalt, decides to engage him at this point. When Romeo attempts to break up the fight, Tybalt stabs Mercutio under Romeo's arm and kills him. However, Mercutio does not see his own fault in this—he blames Romeo, the Montagues, and the Capulets instead. Romeo, believing that his love for Juliet makes him "effeminate," stops thinking all together and kills Tybalt. He does not stop to consider that Mercutio started the fight for no logical reason against the orders of the Prince, his kinsman. Because Romeo's masculinity has been called into question, he commits the "manly" act of vengeance in order to make up for his former "femininity." Also, Romeo knows that pursuing Tybalt will have consequences (which he relates in lines 117-118), but when he finally kills Tybalt, he blames fate for it. Romeo's statement that he is "fortune's fool" reminds us of the fate/free will theme—is Romeo destined for bad things, or does he choose his actions himself?

The last part of the scene shows the mindset of the "adults" in the play. Upon seeing the bloody body of Tybalt, Lady Capulet immediately demands the death of Romeo, despite the fact that she tried to stop the fight in Act I, scene 1. Grief over her nephew has turned Lady Capulet into a willing participant in the feud. Montague, wishing to protect his son, reminds the Prince that Romeo was Mercutio's friend, and therefore properly avenged his death. The Prince, in another attempt to gain order, orders Romeo banished from Verona on pain of death. However, as we have seen before in this play, the Prince's orders only have a limited effect, and his decree will not stop further bloodshed and grief. The Prince's last line in the scene underscores this—in having mercy by banishing Romeo instead of having him executed, the Prince has merely invited more murder to occur.

Scene ii: Juliet begins this scene with an image-filled soliloquy about night. Because nighttime belongs to Romeo and Juliet, Juliet associates it with love and civility. Like Romeo, she compares the object of her love to light by calling him "day in night," which furthers the light/dark theme. This reverie is quickly ended, however, when the Nurse comes with news of Tybalt's death. Juliet's reaction to this news is natural. She first thinks that the Nurse is referring to Romeo, since she was already thinking of him, but begins to curse Romeo when she learns that he killed Tybalt. Anger and resentment are very typical in this situation, but Juliet overcomes them to remember that Tybalt would have killed Romeo if he could have, and then forces herself to attempt to calm down. Her eyes betray her, however, and she continues to cry for Tybalt, as well as Romeo's banishment. Even though Juliet is trying to come to terms with these events, she is only human, and needs her husband to comfort her.

Scene iii: The theme of masculinity and femininity continues in this scene. Romeo, who is hiding in Friar Laurence's quarters until nightfall, bemoans his bad luck in being banished from Verona, despite knowing that there would be consequences from the pursuit of Tybalt. For Romeo, banishment is death because it takes him away from Juliet, who is his life. Although Friar Laurence tries to console him, Romeo is consumed with his grief until both Friar Laurence and the Nurse remind him that he is acting like a woman (i.e., being overemotional). Friar Laurence addresses this directly by asking him if he is a man and by calling his tears "womanish." After the attacks on Romeo's masculinity and Friar Laurence's reminders to count his numerous blessings, Romeo calms down, listens to the friar's plan, and leaves to see Juliet. The irony here is that Juliet, who by gender should be the feminine one in the relationship, takes on "masculine" qualities during the play, especially in her ability to calm her emotions in a tense situation long enough to solve the problem. Romeo, although a man, is overly emotional, a trait that results in the death of Tybalt. However, notions of gender are quite complex here--masculinity is also associated with violence when Romeo decides that avenging Mercutio's death is the "manly" thing to do, when the "feminine" act of peace would have allowed him to stay with Juliet. Despite the appeals to Romeo's manly side in this scene, masculinity is not necessarily superior to femininity in the play.

Scene iv: This very short scene between Capulet and Paris serves as a counterpoint to Act I, scene 2. Capulet, who previously declared that Juliet is too young to be married and that he would never force her into marriage, changes his mind and decides to rush the marriage between Paris and Juliet. During the time of the Renaissance as well as today, a wedding three days after the funeral of a loved one is questionable, but Capulet insists that it will be acceptable, although even Paris recognizes that this may not be a good time for it. There is some question here as to Capulet's purposes in hurrying the ceremony. Although Capulet claims to have loved Tybalt dearly and to know his daughter's mind, Capulet may be attempting to forge an alliance with the royal house as a result of the day's events in order to gain advantage in the feud. He may also be trying to cheer up his family after their tragic loss. Whatever the case, Capulet's deal with Paris forces Juliet to take drastic measures in order to save her marriage.

Scene v: The first half of this scene recalls the light/dark theme once again. While Juliet insists that it is still night (which means that Romeo can stay), Romeo reminds her that day has come, and the bird singing outside is the lark. However, Juliet's insistence wears down Romeo, who will gladly stay and die rather than be separated from his wife. After saying this, Juliet realizes her selfishness, and complains about the discordant lark that symbolizes the day that steals her life, Romeo, away. Juliet then brings back the topic of destiny by appealing to fortune and having a vision of Romeo dead (which will come true at the end of Act V). Although Romeo's escape seems to indicate that they may be successful in eventually reuniting, the mention of fate reminds us that they are destined to die.

The second half of the scene shows the interaction between the Capulets as parents and their daughter. Lady Capulet brings Juliet two different pieces of bad news: Lady Capulet is going to arrange for Romeo's death, and Lord Capulet has arranged for Juliet's marriage to Paris. Juliet, of course, sees both pieces of information as deadly to herself. She tries to use clever and polite words to talk her way out of the situation, much the way Romeo tries to calm Tybalt in scene 1, but her parents, like Tybalt, are only further incensed. This is not surprising, considering the Capulets and the Montagues cannot be reasoned with in regard to the feud. In the heated exchange between them, both parents make statements that foreshadow their daughter's death, leaving Juliet to cry to the Nurse for comfort. The Nurse, however, only considers the material, and advises Juliet to marry Paris, despite the fact that Juliet has sworn an oath to God. Juliet, seeing the Nurse as one who has little regard for the soul or other ideals, separates herself emotionally from her caretaker forever, and runs to the only spiritual counselor she has left—Friar Laurence.

Act IV Commentary

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Scene i: Friar Laurence and Juliet both display their wit and their emotions in this subtext-filled scene. While Paris arranges for the marriage and Friar Laurence tries to keep what he knows quiet, Juliet comes to the cell hoping to elicit the friar's wisdom. While Paris attempts to get some sign of affection from Juliet, Juliet manages to dodge his questions with quick retorts and avoidance. When Paris leaves, Juliet cries to the friar for help, and threatens to stab herself to death if he does not come up with a solution for her problem. Although her grief is a strong as Romeo's was in Act III, the difference here is that Juliet is willing to allow the friar to share his wisdom with her. Romeo did not listen to the friar at all until his manhood was called into question. Friar Laurence, seeing Juliet's desperation, hands her a potion that will kill her, albeit temporarily, if she is not prevented by "womanish fear." Juliet, who in this example of gender typing is more masculine than Romeo because she can overcome her emotions, accepts the potion and agrees to the friar's plan.

Scene ii: This scene is another example of the use of comic relief after a tense situation. The Capulet household is in preparation for the wedding. In a reversal of gender roles, Capulet does the majority of the wedding preparation, from arranging for the cook in the beginning of the scene to playing the housewife while letting his wife help Juliet. Juliet is forgiven for her act of rebelliousness, but all is not quite forgotten. Capulet decides to have the wedding a day early (although he thought Wednesday too soon in Act III, scene 4), and he sends both the Nurse and Lady Capulet to Juliet in order to keep an eye on her.

Scene iii: This scene explores the nature of fear and the power of love to overcome it. Once Juliet "rids" herself of her mother and the Nurse, her soliloquy focuses on the task at hand—the drinking of the potion. The coldness of the fear Juliet feels almost prevents her from taking the potion. In another image-filled speech, Juliet contemplates the potion's effects. She is at first terrified to be alone, but in a metadramatic comment remarks that she must complete her "scene" on her own. She then wonders if the potion will work at all, which will leave her stuck with the same situation in the morning, but then solves that problem by pulling out a dagger with which to commit suicide. The next problem is whether the potion is a poison with which Friar Laurence will dispatch her to avoid the shame he would incur by admitting that he married her to Romeo. Juliet reasons herself out of this fear by noting that the friar is a holy man. Then she contemplates the idea of waking up before Romeo arrives at the tomb. Juliet believes that she would either suffocate from lack of air or go insane from seeing the corpses of her relatives, especially that of Tybalt. Juliet becomes engulfed in this fear and thinks she sees Tybalt's ghost, an indication of the depth of her terror. However, this fear reminds her of the reason that she is going through all of this turmoil—to be with Romeo. The strength of her love and desire for Romeo prompts Juliet to take the potion, which would have led her to her goal, had not circumstances (or fortune) intervened.

Scene iv: Shakespeare once again provides comedy to relieve the tension of Juliet's traumatic "suicide." The Capulets, still preparing for the wedding, are joking with each other, and the Nurse even goes so far as to joke with Capulet. The rush of the preparation and Capulet's order to make haste reminds us of Friar Laurence's admonitions about hurry, which can lead to disaster. Indeed, the haste of the wedding has led to disaster, as the Nurse will discover in the next scene.

Scene v: The Nurse, joking of Juliet's impending wedding night, enters Juliet's room in order to awaken her for the ceremony. The way in which she attempts to awaken Juliet is reminiscent of Act I, scene 3, when the Nurse called Juliet to her mother. It takes the Nurse a while before she realizes that Juliet is not being lazy because of her enjoyment of her own wit. Once she does, however, the Capulets rush to the bedside. Capulet, refusing to believe the Nurse, insists on checking her body himself. Once he accepts her death, Capulet refers to Death as Juliet's husband and his son-in-law, which is ironic considering the events to come. While the Capulets and Paris lament the loss of Juliet, the friar reminds them that Juliet is better off—and she is, for the moment, because she has avoided the wedding. The friar also reminds them that they should rejoice for their daughter's happiness, an admonition that could have prevented this situation had they followed it sooner. More comic relief then follows from the musicians, who were originally hired for the wedding, but must now play for the funeral.

Act V Commentary

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Scene i: Romeo, who has fled to Mantua, opens this scene talking of the wonderful dream he has just experienced. Romeo, who professes a great belief in dreams and fate throughout the play, dreams that Juliet came to him and woke him up from death. Ironically, this is the reverse of what Friar Laurence and Juliet planned, as Romeo is supposed to take Juliet, who is "dead," and lead her from the tomb to their new life together. If Romeo truly believes that dreams can predict the future, then he should follow his first inclination to believe that all will be well. However, Romeo's faith in dreams and fortune is shallow, and he will only believe what his emotions tell him to. When Balthasar brings news of Juliet's funeral, which he witnessed, Romeo immediately blames fate: "Is it e'en so? Then I defy you, stars!/Thou knowest my lodging" (ll. 23-24). Although he initially believes his dream that he and Juliet will succeed in their quest to be together, Balthasar's news makes him think that his fate is to live out his life without Juliet. Although Romeo does ask Balthasar for any letters from the friar (which would have prevented the events to come, had there been any), Romeo never really stops to question the oddity of the situation. In sudden "haste," Romeo rushes off to find an apothecary, from whom he procures a poison which will kill him without any pain. To commit suicide in such a manner would have been considered "feminine" and weak during the Renaissance, when a "manly" suicide would have been to fall on his sword. Romeo displays his quick thinking again when he talks the apothecary into giving him the poison, an act that brings the death penalty by Mantua law. If Romeo had thought more about Juliet's death instead of how to talk the apothecary into selling him the poison, he might have realized that perhaps Juliet was not dead after all.

Scene ii: This brief scene reveals a major aspect of Elizabethan life and an important plot point. Friar John, who was supposed to have delivered a letter to Romeo telling him of the new plan, arrives at Friar Laurence's cell after temporary imprisonment. Friar John and a fellow priest had been visiting the sick when the local health inspectors suspected that they had visited a house where someone had the bubonic plague (also known as the Black Plague). The plague killed thousands of people throughout all of Europe during the medieval period and the Renaissance. The only way to prevent the spread of the plague was through quarantine, a practice that even affected Shakespeare's company when plague outbreaks forced the closing of the London theatres. Friar John, who could have prevented Romeo's return to Verona by giving him the letter from Friar Laurence, was quarantined and unable to deliver the letter. Friar Laurence, in a panic, asks for a crow bar to open the Capulet tomb with, and rushes out to get Juliet, who will awaken in three hours.

Scene iii: The final scene of the play begins not with Romeo or Juliet, but with Paris. Paris' devotion to Juliet by his vow to come every night and lay flowers at her tomb reminds us that he is not that different from Romeo. Unfortunately, this similarity will not prevent Paris' downfall. Unlike his kinsman Mercutio, who fought instead of trying to follow the Prince's edict, Paris attempts to arrest Romeo when he arrives rather than engage him in battle. This is Paris' duty, and he tries to perform it because he follows the Prince's orders. However, Romeo, who calls Paris a "youth" although they are the same age because Romeo feels old, kills Paris first and asks questions later. Romeo remembers that Paris loved Juliet also just a bit too late because he once again refuses to stop and think about a situation before acting. However, Romeo will do Paris the "favor" of laying him with Juliet.

Romeo then proceeds into the tomb and looks at Juliet, who looks very much alive. Throughout his death speech, Romeo almost guesses what is occurring. He remarks that Juliet looks much too alive for someone who has been dead for almost two days. She is still beautiful, her face still has color, and she has not begun to decompose. However, unlike Juliet, who conquered her fear, Romeo lets his fear that fate wants to keep him separated from his wife lead him to take the potion. As soon as Romeo drinks the poison, Friar Laurence arrives on the scene. He would have been there sooner, but he was running so fast that he tripped over several gravestones on the way, violating his warning to Romeo that people who run fast stumble. If Friar Laurence had followed his own advice, he would have arrived early enough to prevent Romeo's suicide. Upon learning from Balthasar that Romeo is in the tomb, he rushes in to find a dead Romeo and an awakening Juliet. When Juliet asks for her husband, Friar Laurence tells her that "a greater power than we can contradict/Hath thwarted our intents" (ll. 153-154), which calls to mind the fate/free will theme of the play—is the power fate or bad choices? The friar, who has warned against allowing emotion too much sway with actions, panics and runs away, leaving Juliet with her husband's corpse. Juliet decides to join her husband, but there is not enough poison for her to share in his death, so she uses a dagger to commit suicide, which is the "manly" way to die.

When the citizens of Verona arrive at the tomb, they see the three corpses, and question the friar as to how this occurred. The Prince chastises both Montague, who wife has just died from grief, and Capulet, telling them that this event is the product of their hate. Escalus also notes that some of the fault is his own for failing to prevent the situation, and that all are equally punished. Each of the families have lost two members. The Capulets lose Juliet and Tybalt, the Montagues have lost Romeo and Lady Montague, and the Prince has lost Paris and Mercutio, because they are all to blame for the feud. These losses, as promised, bring the end of the feud—Capulet and Montague swear to raise monuments to the other's child, now cured by the love of Juliet and her Romeo.

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