Student Question

Explain the man vs. nature conflict in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet.

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In Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, the man vs. nature conflict is evident in two main instances. First, Juliet struggles with the natural progression of time as she wishes for the night to prolong Romeo's departure due to his banishment. This is symbolized by her mistaking the lark for the nightingale. Secondly, a plague prevents Friar John from delivering a crucial message to Romeo, which was intended to inform him of Juliet's feigned death, illustrating how natural forces hinder their plans.

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While the main conflicts in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet involve man vs. man, man vs. society and man vs. fate, there are two instances of man vs. nature. A conflict involving man vs. nature occurs when the characters battle against something in nature that is not caused by human beings.

In Act III, Scene 5, Juliet struggles against nature when she thinks she hears the nightingale, a symbol for the night, singing outside her window. She very much wants the night to last because she is with Romeo on the eve of his banishment from Verona. After killing Tybalt, Romeo must leave or risk apprehension by the Prince and possible death. When Romeo gets up to leave, Juliet implores him to stay:

Wilt thou be gone? It is not yet near day.
It was the nightingale, and not the lark,
That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear.
Nightly she sings on yond pomegranate tree.
Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.
Fate has conspired against Romeo and Juliet and now nature hinders the couple from being together. Finally realizing it is actually a lark, "the herald of the morn," Juliet urges Romeo to leave.
The second example of man vs. nature is in Act V, Scene 2 when Friar John, who is carrying Friar Lawrence's message to Romeo, is detained by a plague threat. Friar John never delivers the all important note which explains the Friar's plan for Juliet to fake her death. The plague ravaged Europe for many years and was a problem in Renaissance Italy. John explains the situation to Lawrence:
Going to find a barefoot brother out,
One of our order, to associate me,
Here in this city visiting the sick,
And finding him, the searchers of the town,
Suspecting that we both were in a house
Where the infectious pestilence did reign,
Sealed up the doors and would not let us forth,
So that my speed to Mantua there was stayed.  
The letter would have explained to Romeo that Juliet was still alive and he should arrive at Capulet's tomb at the time of her awakening to take the girl away, presumably to live happily ever after. But, as with the deadly feud between the two families, and a malevolent fate, nature goes against the two young lovers.  

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