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ROMEO AND JULIET General Analysis Although Romeo and Juliet is classified as a tragedy, it more closely resembles Shakespeare's comedies than his other tragedies. The lovers and their battle with authority is reminiscent of As You Like It and The Winter's Tale. "Characteristically, those comedies concern themselves with the inborn, unargued stupidity of older people and the life-affirming gaiety and resourcefulness of young ones. The lovers thread their way through obstacles set up by middle aged vanity and impercipience. Parents are stupid and do not know what it best for their children or themselves . . . [Romeo and Juliet] begins with the materials for a comedy - the stupid parental generation, the instant attraction of the young lovers, the quick surface life of street fights, masked balls and comic servants" (Wain 107). Indeed, one could view Romeo and Juliet as a transitional play in which Shakespeare merges the comedic elements perfected in his earlier work with tragic elements he would later perfect in the great tragedies -- Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear. This mixture of styles ultimately hurts Romeo and Juliet, exposing the immaturity of the playwright. The heroes of the play must contend with external forces that impede their relationship, but, unlike the great tragic heroes, they are devoid of the inner struggle that makes for great tragedy. The influential Shakespearean scholar, A.C. Bradley, went so far as to neglect the play entirely in his well-known collection of lectures on the great tragedies, Shakespearean Tragedy. While no one can deny the merits of Shakespeare's powerful, inspired verse, the themes Shakespeare stresses in Romeo and Juliet also seem to reflect his immaturity as a writer. To understand properly who this is so, we must examine each pervasive motif in the play. The Theme of Light Scholar Caroline Spurgen once wrote, "The dominating image [in Romeo and Juliet] is light, every form and manifestation of it" (Shakespeare's Imagery, 310). When Romeo initially sees Juliet, he compares her immediately to the brilliant light of the torches and tapers that illuminate Capulet's great hall: " O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!" (I.V.46). Juliet is the light that frees him from the darkness of his perpetual melancholia. In the famous balcony scene Romeo associates Juliet with sunlight, "It is the east and Juliet is the sun!" (II.ii.3), daylight, "The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars/As daylight doth a lamp" (II.ii.20-1), and the light emanating from angels, "O speak again bright angel" (II.ii.26). In turn, Juliet compares their new-found love to lightening (II.ii.120), primarily to stress the speed at which their romance is moving, but also to suggest that, as the lightening is a glorious break in the blackness of the night sky, so too is their love a flash of wondrous luminance in an otherwise dark world -- a world where her every action is controlled by those around her. When the Nurse does not arrive fast enough with news about Romeo, Juliet laments that love's heralds should be thoughts "Which ten times faster glides than the sun's beams/Driving back shadows over lowering hills" (II.v.4-5). Here, the heralds of love that will bring comforting news about her

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    General Analysis Although Romeo and Juliet is classified as a tragedy, it more closely resembles Shakespeare's comedies than his other tragedies. The lovers and their battle with authority is reminiscent of As You Like It and The Winter's Tale. "Characteristically, those comedies concern themselves with the inborn, unargued stupidity of older people and the life-affirming gaiety and resourcefulness of young ones. The lovers thread their way through obstacles set up by middle aged vanity and impercipience. Parents are stupid and do not know what it best for their children or themselves . . . [Romeo and Juliet] begins with the materials for a comedy - the stupid parental generation, the instant attraction of the young lovers, the quick surface life of street fights, masked balls and comic servants" (Wain 107). Indeed, one could view Romeo and Juliet as a transitional play in which Shakespeare merges the comedic elements perfected in his earlier work with tragic elements he would later perfect in the great tragedies -- Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, and King Lear. This mixture of styles ultimately hurts Romeo and Juliet, exposing the immaturity of the playwright. The heroes of the play must contend with external forces that impede their relationship, but, unlike the great tragic heroes, they are devoid of the inner struggle that makes for great tragedy. The influential Shakespearean scholar, A.C. Bradley, went so far as to neglect the play entirely in his well-known collection of lectures on the great tragedies, Shakespearean Tragedy. While no one can deny the merits of Shakespeare's powerful, inspired verse, the themes Shakespeare stresses in Romeo and Juliet also seem to reflect his immaturity as a writer. To understand properly who this is so, we must examine each pervasive motif in the play.

    The Theme of Light Scholar Caroline Spurgen once wrote, "The dominating image [in Romeo and Juliet] is light, every form and manifestation of it" (Shakespeare's Imagery, 310). When Romeo initially sees Juliet, he compares her immediately to the brilliant light of the torches and tapers that illuminate Capulet's great hall: " O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!" (I.V.46). Juliet is the light that frees him from the darkness of his perpetual melancholia. In the famous balcony scene Romeo associates Juliet with sunlight, "It is the east and Juliet is the sun!" (II.ii.3), daylight, "The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars/As daylight doth a lamp" (II.ii.20-1), and the light emanating from angels, "O speak again bright angel" (II.ii.26). In turn, Juliet compares their new-found love to lightening (II.ii.120), primarily to stress the speed at which their romance is moving, but also to suggest that, as the lightening is a glorious break in the blackness of the night sky, so too is their love a flash of wondrous luminance in an otherwise dark world -- a world where her every action is controlled by those around her. When the Nurse does not arrive fast enough with news about Romeo, Juliet laments that love's heralds should be thoughts "Which ten times faster glides than the sun's beams/Driving back shadows over lowering hills" (II.v.4-5). Here, the heralds of love that will bring comforting news about her

  • darling are compared to the magical and reassuring rays of sun that drive away unwanted shadows. Juliet also equates Romeo and the bond that they share with radiant light. In a common play on words, she begs Romeo to "not impute this yielding to light love/Which the dark night hath so discovered" (II.ii.105-6), again comparing their mutual feelings of love to bright and comforting light . Having no fear of the darkness, Juliet proclaims that night can Take [Romeo] and cut him out into little stars, And he will make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garrish sun. (III.ii.23-6) Here Romeo, transformed into shimmering immortality, becomes the very definition of light, outshining the sun itself. However, despite all the aforementioned positive references to light in the play, it ultimately takes on a negative role, forcing the lovers to part at dawn: Romeo. It was the lark, the herald of the morn, No nightingale. Look, love, what envious streaks Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east. Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day Stands tiptoe on the misty mountaintops. I must be gone and live, or stay and die. (III.V.6-11)

    From this point on, darkness becomes the central motif. Romeo exclaims: "More light and light: more dark and dark our woes!" (III.v.36). And, as Peter Quennell writes, "...the beauty and brevity of love itself -- that 'brief light', doomed to quick extinction, celebrated in Catullus' famous lyric -- are set off by the 'perpetual darkness' of ancient Capulets' sepulchral vault" (Shakespeare: A Biography,150). The final indication that darkness has triumphed over light comes from The Prince: "A glooming peace this morning with it brings/The sun for sorrow will not show his head" (V.III.304-5). There are several other examples one could cite, and, despite Shakespeare's masterful poetic styling, many critics argue that these continual references to light are overkill, illustrative of Shakespeare at his most immature stage of writing.

    The Theme of Time Early in the play, Romeo is painfully aware of the passage of time as he pines for Rosaline: "sad hours seem long" (I.I.159). Mercutio is the first to address the problem of "wasted time", and after his complaint, a sudden shift occurs and time quickens to rapid movement. Capulet laments that the years are passing too fast, and Juliet cautions that her love for Romeo is "too rash, too unadvis'd, too sudden...too like the lightening" (2.2.120).

  • Soon time begins to aid in the destruction of the lovers. Capulet rushes ahead the marriage date, insisting Juliet wed Paris a day early, and thus forcing her into swift and, ultimately, fatal action. "The fast-paced world that Shakespeare builds up around his characters allows little possibility for adherence to Friar Lawrence's counsel of "Wisely and slow." In such a world to stumble tragically is surely no less inevitable than it is for Lear to go mad in the face of human ingratitude." (Cole, 17). As with Shakespeare's manipulation of the theme of light, it can be said that his reliance on time as an increasingly menacing force against the lovers is immature and artificial.

    The Theme of Destiny As critic Bertrand Evans points out: "Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy of unawareness" more so than any of Shakespeare's other plays. "Fate, or Heaven, as the Prince calls it, or the "greater power," as the Friar calls it, working out its purpose without the use of either a human villain or a supernatural agent sent to intervene in mortal affairs, operates through the common human condition of not knowing. Participants in the action, some of them in parts that are minor and seem insignificant, contribute one by one the indispensable stitches which make the pattern, and contribute them not knowing; that is to say, they act when they do not know the truth of the situation in which they act, this truth being known, however, to us who are spectators." (The Brevity of Friar Laurence, 850) The idea that Fortune dictates the course of mankind dates back to ancient times. Those writers of the medieval world incorporated the goddess Fortune into Christianity and made her God's servant, responsible for adding challenges to our lives so that we would see the importance of giving up our tumultuous earthly lives to God. The most influential treatise on the theme of Fate was The Consolation of Philosophy, written by the scholar Boethius (c.A.D. 475-525). Written while he awaited execution, it is a dialogue between himself and his guide 'Philosophy', who explores with him the true nature of happiness and fate, and leads him to hope and enlightenment. Here is an excerpt from Book IV To human acts alone denied Thy fit control as Lord of all. Why else does slippery Fortune change So much, and punishment more fit For crime oppress the innocent? Corrupted men sit throned on high; By strange reversal evilness Downtreads the necks of holy men. Bright virtue lies in dark eclipse By clouds obscured, and unjust men Heap condemnation on the just... Look down on all earth's wretchedness;

  • Of this great work is man so mean A part, by Fortune to be tossed? Lord...Make stable all the land's of the earth. (Book I) Boethius' work, specifically his concept of "Fortune's wheel", made an enormous impact on the work of Chaucer and Dante and, less directly, Shakespeare. Fate's impact on Romeo and Juliet is made clear from the outset of the play. The Chorus tells us that the lovers are "star-cross'd", and thus hindered by the influence of malignant planets (note that Renaissance astrologers used the planets to predict plagues and other such calamities, in addition to predicting the outcome and quality of individual's lives) . Throughout the play Fate's role is reaffirmed as the lovers sense its interference. Romeo, just before he attends Capulet's ball, has a premonition: My mind misgives Some consequence, yet hanging in the stars, Shall bitterly begin thisd fearful date With this night's revels, and expire the term Of a dispised life, clos'd in my breast, By some vile forfeit of untimely death: But he that hath the steerage of my course Direct my sail! (I.IV.106) Romeo later cries that he is "fortune's fool" (III.i.141), and Juliet exclaims that she has an "ill-divining soul" (III.v.52). Moreover, their predictions extend into their dreams, as Romeo says "I dreamt my lady came and found me dead" (V.i.6). So in keeping with tradition set down by the likes of Seneca and Boethius, Fate controls Shakespeare's doomed lovers. And "[t]he intent of this emphasis is clear. The tale will end with the death of two ravishingly attractive young folk; and the dramatist must exonerate himself from all complicity in their murder, lest he be found guilty of pandering to a liking for a human shambles. He disowns responsibility and throws it on Destiny, Fate." (Charlton, Shakespearean Tragedy, 52). This reliance on the motif of Fate in the play is the most representative of Shakespeare's dramatic deficiency. It is not the lovers' flaws that lead them to ruin; the tragedy does not spring from their own weaknesses. As a result, there is little growth of character and no profound analysis of the complexity of human nature. Thus, despite the lyrical beauty of the play and the endearing qualities of Romeo and his Juliet, (which have secured its place as one of the great dramas), it fails to rise to the level of Shakespeare's other tragedies that explore the inner failings of humankind. Sources for Romeo and Juliet Shakespeare's primary source for Romeo and Juliet was a poem by Arthur Brooke called The Tragicall Historye of Romeus and Iuliet, written in 1562. He also could have known the popular tale of Romeo and Juliet from a collection by William Painter, entitled The

  • Palace of Pleasure, which was written sometime before 1580. Shakespeare also likely read the three sources on which Brooke's poem and Painter's story were based -- namely, Giulietta e Romeo, a novella by the Italian author Matteo Bandello, written in 1554; a story in a collection called Il Novellio, by the widely-popular fifteenth-century writer Masuccio Salernitano; and the Historia Novellamente Ritrovata di Due Nobili Amanti or A Story Newly Found of two Noble Lovers, written by Luigi Da Porto and published in 1530. For specific information about Shakespeare's sources I will cite excerpts from Brian Gibbon's edition of the play: "In da Porto the lovers are named Romeo and Giulietta and the two families of Montecchi and Capelletti are at feud. There is a Friar Lorenz, and da Porto invents Marcuccio, Thebaldo, and the Conte di Lodrone (Shakespeare's Paris). Romeo goes disguised as a nymph to a carnival ball at his enemy's house in the hope of seeing a lady who scorns his love....The lovers meet often in due course at Giulietta's balcony until one night when it is snowing Romeo begs admittance to her room." (The Arden Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet. London: Methuen, 1980, [24]). Da Porto's version follows Shakespeare's very closely after this point.

    "Bandello gives more emphasis to Romeo's initial love-melancholy, and the feud between the families is active. Romeo attends the ball, not disguised as a nymph, but in a masque with several other young gentlemen; he removes his visard and is recognized, but is so young and handsome that no one insults him. Mercutio is said to be 'audacious among maidens as a lion among lambs'...Bandello introduces the Nurse and a character corresponding to Shakespeare's Benvolio; the Conte Lodrone is called Paris. Romeo only learns Julietta's identity from a friend as he leaves the ball, and Julietta finds out who he is from the Nurse. ... In the tomb, when Julietta awakes she is at first alarmed at Romeo's disguised figure and fears the Friar has betrayed her; but then she recognizes him, the lovers mutually lament their misfortune, and Romeo regrets killing Tibaldo and urges Julietta to live on after his own death" (35-6). Julietta will not listen to Romeo, and she kills herself by holding her breath.

    "Brooke's translation, 3020 lines in length, is a faithful version of [Bandello], though Brooke also makes additions to the story in his turn, under the influence of the greatest romance narrative in his own language, Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. Brooke's chief contribution is his emphasis on the power of the 'blyndfold goddesse' 'fierce 'Fortune' throughout the story, providing a perspective which distinctly recalls Chaucer, and without which the verbal borrowings or echoes would have little significance. Brooke's Preface speaks of unhonest desire, of the neglect of authority and parental advice, the shame of stolen contracts, the moral to be drawn by the pious reader, but his poem itself shows a warmer understanding of youth, which keeps the reader half-conscious of the spirit of Chaucer for much of the time" (36-7).

    Plot Synopsis Act I, Prologue The play begins in Verona, a city that has had its peace shattered by the feud between two prominent families, the house of Montague and the house of Capulet. The Chorus tells us that amidst this ancient grudge, a "pair of star-cross'd lovers" will take their lives and that

  • their deaths will extinguish their parents' rage. Act I, Scene I On a street in Verona, two servants from the house of Capulet, Sampson and Gregory, deliberately initiate a fight with two servants from the Montague house, Abram and Balthasar. Benvolio, a close friend to Romeo and nephew of Lord Montague, arrives and tries to stop the fight: "Part fools!/Put up your swords; you know not what you do" (I.i.56-7). But as he attempts to keep the peace, Tybalt, nephew to Lord Capulet, comes upon the scene and demands to duel with the passive young Benvolio. Reluctantly, Benvolio draws his sword and they fight. The fiery citizens of Verona become involved and a vicious brawl ensues. Capulet and Montague arrive, and immediately join in the clash, while their wives look on in fear. Prince Escalus happens upon the scene and he is shocked and outraged at such behaviour from his subjects. His guards break up the fight and he chastises all those involved, exclaiming "You men, you beasts!" (I.i.74-5). He declares that any further public disorder will result in the execution of the participants. The crowd disperses along with Lord Capulet and his family, leaving behind Montague, Lady Montague, and Benvolio. Their attention turns to their son Romeo, who has been depressed of late. Benvolio asks Lord Montague if he knows what is troubling his son, but he has no answer. All he knows is that Romeo has been seen walking the streets in the early mornings, "With tears augmenting the fresh morning's dew/Adding to clouds more clouds with his deep sighs" (I.i.124-5). Benvolio sees Romeo coming and requests that Montague and his Lady step aside so he can talk to Romeo alone and uncover the reason for his melancholy. After asking many questions Benvolio finally learns that Romeo is sad because he is in love with a woman, Rosaline, who has taken a vow of chastity and refuses to return his affection. Benvolio suggests to Romeo that he should forget Rosaline and look for romance elsewhere. Romeo insists that no woman could ever compare to Rosaline, for she is a ravishing beauty. He insists that to forget Rosaline would be impossible, "Thou canst not teach me to forget" (I.i.229), as the scene comes to a close. Act I, Scene II Scene II opens with Paris, a noble young kinsmen of the Prince, asking Capulet for his daughter's hand in marriage. Capulet tells Paris that Juliet has "not seen the change of fourteen years" (I.ii.10) and is probably too young to marry. However, if Paris can woo her and win her heart, Capulet will grant him consent to wed Juliet. Capulet is preparing for a grand party at his house that evening, and he gives a servant a guest list and instructs him to go forth into the streets to invite them all. The servant meets Romeo and Benvolio on the road and he begs Romeo to help him, for he is illiterate and cannot complete the task given to him by his master. Romeo obligingly reads aloud the names on the invitation list, and to his delight, comes upon the name Rosaline. Benvolio challenges Romeo to sneak into the party with hopes that Romeo will see many other women to distract his attention away from Rosaline. Romeo agrees that going to the party is a splendid idea, for he longs to catch a glimpse of his darling Rosaline. Act I, Scene III Back at the Capulet's house, Lady Capulet visits her daughter's chamber to tell her about

  • Paris. Juliet's nurse is in the room and she begins to ramble, recounting Juliet as a young child: For then she could stand high-alone; nay, by the rood, She could have run and waddled all about; For even the day before, she broke her brow.... (I.iii.35-8) Lady Capulet asks Juliet how she feels about marriage and Juliet politely and honestly responds, "It is an honour that I dream not of" (I.iii.46). Lady Capulet tells Juliet that it is time she start thinking of becoming a bride and a mother, for there are girls in Verona even younger than Juliet who have children of their own. She adds that a suitable mate has already been found for Juliet: "The valiant Paris seeks you for his love" (I.iii.54). Juliet has little choice but to respectfully agree to consider Paris as a husband. She tells her mother, "I'll look to like" (I.iii.76). Their conversation ends abruptly when a servant calls Lady Capulet, announcing that supper is ready and the guests have arrived for the party. Act I, Scene IV The festivities are about to commence at the house of Capulet and, concealed amidst the Masquers, Romeo and Benvolio arrive with their close friend, Mercutio. Stifled by "love's heavy burden", Romeo refuses to dance with his friends. He reveals that he has had an ominous dream, but will not be any more specific. Mercutio tries to lighten Romeo's mood, and muses that Romeo must have been visited in sleep by Queen Mab, the "fairies midwife"... "In shape no bigger than an agate stone/On the fore-finger of an alderman" (I.iv.52-4). She races over peoples noses as they slumber, riding in a chariot steered by a gray-coated gnat and made from an empty hazelnut. Romeo is not as amused as Mercutio himself is by his inventive tale, and Romeo implores him to be silent. He cannot shake the feeling that Some consequence yet hanging in the stars Shall bitterly begin this fearful date With this night's revels, and expire the term Of a despised life clos'd in my breast By some vile forfeit of untimely death. (I.iv.104-8) Act I, Scene V In the hallway of the Capulet's house four servingmen clear away the dinner dishes. Lord Capulet comes out to greet his guests, asking them to dance and make merry. He admits that his "dancing days" have long since past, but he loves to watch others enjoy themselves. Romeo, seeking Rosaline through the crowd, sees Juliet instead. He is awe-struck by her grace and beauty, and he completely forgets Rosaline. Romeo's heart is racing as he exclaims, "O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!/It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night/As a rich jewel in an Ethiop's ear" (I.v.46-9). Tybalt, a cousin to

  • Capulet, recognizes Romeo's voice and shouts for his sword. Tybalt is prepared to slay Romeo in front of the guests, but Lord Capulet stops him, knowing that any fighting will ruin the festivities. It appears that Lord Capulet is not as hostile towards his perceived enemy as is his violent and head-strong kinsman, Tybalt, as we can see in the following passage: Content thee, gentle coz, let him alone, 'A bears him like a portly gentleman; And, to say truth, Verona brags of him To be a virtuous and well-govern'd youth. I would not for the wealth of all this town Here in my house do him disparagement... (I.v.68-72) Tybalt is disgusted by Capulet's weakness, and leaves the party in a rage. Romeo decides he should leave as well, but first he stops to speak at least a word to Juliet. Dressed as a pilgrim to the Holy Land, Romeo addresses Juliet in character, pretending that he has just come upon a most holy shrine. They exchange pleasantries and Juliet, equally smitten with the handsome Romeo, grants him a kiss. Juliet is promptly called away by her mother, and Romeo learns from the Nurse that she is the daughter of his father's enemy, Capulet. Deeply troubled by this knowledge, Romeo exits the hall with Benvolio and Capulet's other guests. When everyone has left, Juliet probes the Nurse for information about the stranger with whom she has fallen madly in love. The Nurse tells her that his name is Romeo and he is a Montague. Like Romeo, Juliet is grieved to hear such news and she cries "My only love sprung from my only hate!/Too early seen unknown, and known too late!" (I.v.140-1) as the first act draws to a close. Act II, Prologue The Chorus opens Act II by announcing that Romeo is madly in love with the bewitching Juliet. But he warns that Romeo will not be able to court his Juliet in the proper manner befitting a fair lady because she is his father's enemy. And he adds that Juliet will not be able to meet Romeo as she pleases, but will be forced to see her darling only in secret. Despite the obstacles the lovers must overcome, the Chorus reassures us that their "passion lends them power", and that they will find a way to be together. Act II, Scene I Romeo leaves the house of Capulet and wanders into a lane behind their family orchard. Longing to be with Juliet, he sorrowfully asks "Can I go forward when my heart is here?" He realizes that he cannot go any further from Juliet and he leaps over the orchard wall onto Capulet's grounds. Mercutio and Benvolio, who have been looking for Romeo, see him disappear behind the wall and they laugh at his silly behaviour, still thinking that he is chasing after Rosaline. They decide not to follow him on his quest for love and they both go home to bed. Act II, Scene II

  • Romeo is hidden amongst the shadows outside Capulet's house, content simply to be close to Juliet. Looking up, Romeo catches sight of a figure emerging from an overhead window. He rejoices when he realizes who has come out upon the balcony: "It is my Lady! O it is my love" (II.ii.11). Juliet, believing that she is alone, professes her love for Romeo and her profound sorrow that he is a Montague. Romeo reveals himself and, with words as moving as any in literature, the lovers speak to each other, exchanging their vows of absolute and undying devotion. The glorious meeting is interrupted by a cry coming from inside the house. It is Juliet's nurse, who has been searching the house for her mistress. Before they part, the lovers hatch a cunning plan. Romeo will find a way for them to be married and, when he does, he will give the details to the messenger Juliet sends to him. The scene comes to a close as they say their tender farewells for the evening: Juliet: Good-night, good-night! Parting is such sweet sorrow That I shall say good-night till it be morrow. Romeo: Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest! Hence will I to my ghostly father's cell, His help to crave, and my dear hap to tell. (II.ii.184-90) Act II, Scene III Romeo travels to the cell of Friar Laurence, who has been out in the fields all morning gathering herbs. He ponders the duel nature of these "baleful weeds and precious juiced flowers" that have the power to kill and the power to heal. Cheerful and excited, Romeo greets the Friar and tells him of his new love and plans for marriage. Friar Laurence, who has been Romeo's friend and confessor for sometime, is confused and concerned about Romeo's sudden change of heart. He exclaims "Holy Saint Francis, what a change is here!/Is Rosaline, that thou didst love so dear/So soon forsaken?" (II.iii.65-8). But Romeo persuades the Friar that this time he has found true love and that he is ready to enter immediately into the serious bond of holy matrimony. Friar Laurence agrees to help Romeo, hoping that their union will finally end the feud between the houses of Montague and Capulet. In one respect I'll thy assistance be/For this aliance may so happy prove/To turn your households' rancour to pure love" (II.iii.90-3). Act II, Scene IV Mercutio and Benvolio are again wandering about the streets of Verona, wondering what happened to the love-struck Romeo. Their conversation turns to Tybalt, who Mercutio calls "the courageous captain of compliments" (II.iv.21). Tybalt has left a note for Romeo at the house of Montague, challenging him to a duel. Mercutio is afraid that the fierce Tybalt will surely kill Romeo, who is too preoccupied to fight his best. Benvolio sees Romeo approach, seemingly in a light-hearted mood. Mercutio, overjoyed to see Romeo back to his happy and carefree self, teases him about his recent foolish behaviour. The two banter as good friends should and Mercutio quips, "Why, is this not better now than

  • groaning for love? Now art thou sociable, now art thou Romeo, now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature; for tis drivelling love is like a great natural..." (II.iv.90-4). But Benvolio and Romeo are tired of his ramblings and cut him off in mid-sentence. Romeo directs Mercutio to Juliet's nurse who is coming down the road, and Mercutio continues his musings with her as his new audience. It does not take long for Mercutio to lose interest in his own pontificating and he and Benvolio leave for supper at Montague's house. Romeo and the Nurse are left alone and Romeo makes excuses for Mercutio's talkative and saucy behaviour, which has greatly offended her. Romeo asks the Nurse to give Juliet the information about his plan of marriage, and she agrees. The wedding, he tells the Nurse, will be performed that afternoon by Friar Laurence. Juliet is to go to the Friar's cell and Romeo will arrange for a rope ladder to be placed at Juliet's window within the hour to facilitate her escape. The Nurse runs off with the message as the curtain closes. Act II, Scene V Scene V opens in Capulet's orchard. Juliet is frantically awaiting the news about Romeo. The Nurse comes in, preoccupied with her own troubles. She wants to discuss her aching bones, but Juliet pleads with her not to withhold Romeo's plan any longer. Slowly, the Nurse begins to speak of Romeo. She says that she doesn't much care for the boy, but she approves of his handsome face and gentle nature. She finally tells Juliet all that Romeo has told her, and Juliet leaves at once for Friar Laurence's cell. Act II, Scene VI Friar Laurence and Romeo are anxiously awaiting Juliet's arrival. The Friar gives Romeo some advice before the wedding, cautioning him to 'love moderately'. Juliet appears and Friar Laurence comments on her delicacy. He starts the marriage proceedings at once, "For, by your leaves you shall not stay alone/Till Holy Church incorporate two in one" ( Act III, Scene I Act III opens with Mercutio and Benvolio walking as usual around the town. Benvolio's keen instinct is telling him that a brawl could erupt in the street at any moment, and he warns Mercutio that they should go home at once. Mercutio is not as peace loving as his dear friend and chastises Benvolio for even suggesting that they cower inside. To aggravate Benvolio, Mercutio cites nonsensical examples of fights Benvolio has participated in -- one with a man cracking nuts, another with a man who tied his new shoes with 'old riband'. Benvolio sees the Capulet's coming and knows a confrontation is inevitable. Tybalt demands to see Romeo so that he can slay him with his ever-ready rapier. Mercutio confronts Tybalt, but, because Mercutio is not a Capulet, Tybalt brushes him aside and moves straight toward Romeo who has just come upon the scene. Romeo, now related to Tybalt, refuses to fight. He cannot reveal why he does not defend his honour, but suggests that they should stop the bitter feud and embrace each other once and for all: I do protest, I never injured thee, But love thee better than thou canst devise

  • Till thou shalt know the true reason of my love; And so, good Capulet,-- which name I tender As dearly as mine own,-- be satisfied (III.i.70-4). Mercutio cannot stand by and watch Romeo stand down like a common coward. He draws his sword and challenges Tybalt. Romeo tries to stop the fight but to no avail -- Tybalt fatally wounds Mercutio. He dies cursing both families, "a plague on both your houses/They have made worms meat of me" (III.i.91-2), despite the fact that his own intemperance has caused his death. Romeo is crushed by the knowledge that Mercutio has lost his life for him, and he draws his sword, attacking Tybalt with ferocity. Tybalt is no match for the skilled and enraged Romeo, and he falls dead to the ground. Romeo stands over Tybalt and all the consequences of his actions flood his mind. By the Prince's decree, Romeo will be executed for disobeying the peace, thus leaving Juliet a widow. And he has betrayed his new bride by killing her beloved cousin. The Prince, the Capulet's, and Montague happen upon the tragic scene and Benvolio tries his best to explain why Romeo was forced to kill Tybalt. Because Romeo has slain the instigator of the violence and the murderer of Mercutio, the Prince decides that Romeo should not be executed but banished from Verona instead. If Romeo ever returns, Prince Escalus cautions, he will certainly be killed. Act III, Scene II Juliet waits at the Capulet house, unaware of the horror unfolding in the street outside and longing for Romeo to come to her bed. But instead of Romeo, the Nurse enters, crying "He's dead, he's dead!". Juliet fears that the Nurse is referring to Romeo and begs her for more information. When the Nurse tells her that it is Tybalt who is dead at the hand of the banished Romeo, Juliet lashes out at her traitorous husband: "O serpent heart!" But she almost immediately forgives Romeo, realizing that Tybalt would have not spared the life of Romeo if he had won the duel. Her thoughts turn to Romeo's banishment. She knows that she cannot live without her husband and exclaims "'Romeo is banished', to speak that word/Is father, mother, Tybalt, Romeo ,Juliet/All slain, all dead" (III.ii.120-3). The Nurse, realizing that Juliet is about to commit suicide, promises her that she will find Romeo and bring him to comfort her. Act III, Scene III Romeo, who has taken refuge in Friar Laurence's cell, hears the news that he has not been sentenced to death, but banished from Verona. He expresses his anguish at the knowledge that he will not be reunited with Juliet. Suicidal, he laments: "Banished? O friar, the damned use that word in hell/Howlings attend it" (III.iii.46-7). The Nurse arrives at the door, announcing that she comes from Lady Juliet. Romeo anxiously asks if Juliet now hates him for killing Tybalt and if she is coping with his banishment. The Nurse tells Romeo that Juliet weeps and weeps, alternating between cries of Tybalt and Romeo. She also tells him that he must visit Juliet one more time. He agrees, risking execution if anyone sees him. Friar Laurence, after chastising Romeo for his outrageous display of weakness, instructs Romeo that he should flee to Mantua after his final meeting with Juliet, and he will send him regular updates on Juliet and his family. Romeo and the

  • Nurse bid the Friar farewell and head toward the house of Capulet. Act III, Scene IV In this brief scene, Capulet, his Lady, and Paris discuss Juliet's great distress over the death of her kinsman, Tybalt. Capulet decides that the best remedy for her grief is to wed Paris the following Thursday. Act III, Scene V Dawn approaches, and in Juliet's chamber the lovers share their final moments together. Juliet cannot bear the thought of Romeo leaving, and she tries to convince him that the night is not yet over: "it is not yet near day. It was the nightingale, and not the lark/That pierc'd the fearful hollow of thine ear" (III.v.1-3). But Romeo knows that it was no nightingale singing, but the lark, "the herald of the morn" (III,v.6). He insists that he must go but Juliet persists, and Romeo gives into his darling, agreeing that it is not morning because Juliet wills it so. He will stay and die to make Juliet happy a little longer. Realizing that they have no choice but to part, Juliet tells Romeo that he should go "O, now be gone; more light and light it grows" (III.v.35). The Nurse comes to warn the lovers that Lady Capulet is coming and Romeo climbs out the window to the orchard below, reassuring Juliet that they will be reunited. Juliet's mother rushes in, elated with what she believes to be wonderful news of the upcoming marriage of Juliet to Paris. When Juliet refuses to marry Paris, Lady Capulet is dumbfounded. Capulet, hearing the refusal as he comes to congratulate his daughter, is outraged and insulted. Not only is Juliet flagrantly disobeying him, but she is also rejecting a man whom he has personally chosen above all others. Juliet pleads with Capulet, but he is deaf with rage. He storms out of Juliet's chamber and Juliet turns to her mother, making a final plea for help. Lady Capulet, while not as furious as her husband, refuses to hear another word. "Talk not to me ... for I have done with thee" (III.v.204-5). She exits the room and Juliet is alone with her Nurse. She begs for comfort but the Nurse will give her none, telling her instead to forget Romeo who is forever banished, and marry the noble Paris as Capulet commands. Juliet pretends to come to her senses and tells Nurse to go and inform her mother that she has gone to Friar Laurence to confess her sin of disobedience to her father. The Nurse happily agrees and runs off with the news. Juliet is disgusted with the Nurse's hypocrisy: Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend! Is it more sin to wish me thus forsworn, Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue Which she hath prais'd him with above compare So mant thousand times? (III.v.237-9) She decides to place her last hope in Friar Laurence. If he cannot help her, she will surely commit suicide. Act IV, Scene I Act IV opens with Friar Laurence and Paris discussing his upcoming marriage to Juliet. The Friar expresses his disapproval of the wedding plans, telling Paris that he does not

  • know Juliet well enough to marry her. He is careful not to be any more specific in his criticism. Juliet arrives and is friendly but cool to her would-be husband. Paris leaves, assuming that Juliet is about to confess her sins to the Friar. Once alone, Juliet and the Friar discuss what can be done to save Juliet from the fate of becoming the wife of two men. Friar Laurence, a man skilled in the art of herb preparation, proposes a dangerous plan to Juliet. He has a potion that will make her appear dead when she drinks it, and it will keep her the lifeless state for forty-two hours. She will be interred in the Capulet family crypt, as custom dictates, and Friar Laurence will send word to Romeo. Romeo will then return to Verona and collect Juliet and they will live together in Mantua, free from Prince Escalus and their feuding families. Juliet excitedly approves of the plan and goes home to drink the potion. Act IV, Scene II Capulet and his Lady are busy making wedding arrangements. They are indeed planning a huge event -- Capulet orders 'twenty cunning cooks'. Juliet comes into the main hall to speak with her father. He is cheerful and his spirits are further uplifted when Juliet apologizes and assures him that henceforward, until Paris becomes her master, she will be ruled only by her father. Capulet moves the wedding up a day to the next morning, and tells his wife "My heart is wonderous light/Since this same wayward girl is so reclaim'd" (IV.ii.45-7). Act IV, Scene III Juliet, alone in her chamber, holds her vial of poison. The full gravity of the situation weighs heavy on her mind, and she expresses her fears in a moving soliloquy. What if the potion fails to work? What if the Friar has betrayed her and has given her real poison, so that no one finds out he disgracefully married her to Romeo in secret? Juliet quickly rules out these scenarios as impossible , but she still fears awaking in the stifling and gruesome vault next to the corpse of Tybalt, bloody and festering in his shroud. The horrors of her imagination overtake Juliet and she sees the ghost of Tybalt ready to seek out and kill Romeo. With a final cry to Romeo, Juliet drinks the potion and falls lifeless upon her bed. Act IV, Scene IV Downstairs the next morning, the wedding plans are moving ahead as scheduled. Capulet sends the Nurse to fetch Juliet while he visits with his future son-in-law. Act IV, Scene V The Nurse rushes to Juliet's chamber and finds her dead. Her screams attract Lady Capulet, who, upon seeing her dead daughter, cries "O me, O me! My child, my only life/Revive, look up, or I will die with thee!" (IV.v.14-5). Capulet comes in to find out what delays Juliet and he laments "Death, that hath ta'en her hence to make me wail/Ties up my tongue, and will not let me speak" (IV.v.29-30). Paris and Friar Laurence enter and Paris grieves for the love he will never know. The musicians, gathered for the wedding festivities, now play a song in memory of Juliet for her sorrowful Nurse. Act V, Scene I

  • Act V opens in Mantua, where Romeo is waiting anxiously for news of Juliet and his family. He greets his servant, Balthasar with excitement: Dost thou not bring me letters from the friar? How doth my lady? Is mt father well? How fairs mt Juliet? that I ask again; For nothing can be ill, if she be well. (V.i.13-6) With deep regret, Balthasar tells him that Juliet has died and that her body rests in the Capulet tomb. Romeo puts on a brave face for his faithful servant, but when Balthasar departs, he reveals with despair that the only thing left to do is return to Verona and join Juliet in death. Romeo calls for the apothecary and demands a vial of poison. The apothecary reluctantly gives him a potion and Romeo thanks him greatly for the gift. Indeed, to Romeo, it is a most wonderful gift: "Come, cordial and not poison, go with me/To Juliet's grave; for there I must use thee" (V.i.85-6). Act V, Scene II Back at Friar Laurence's cell, Friar John reports that he has been unable to deliver the vital letter to Romeo. A plague had broken out and Friar John was quarantined for fear he was infected. Friar Laurence sends John to find an iron bar with which they can pry open the tomb, for it is only three hours until Juliet will awake afraid and alone amongst the corpses. Friar Laurence, knowing he can trust no one but himself, plans to keep Juliet safe in his own cell until Romeo can be reached. Act V, Scene III Paris and his page enter the churchyard and stand before the Capulet tomb. Paris orders the page to stand watch so that he can be alone in his grief. He strews the vault with flowers and speaks to Juliet: O woe! thy canopy is dust and stones-- Which with sweet water nightly I will dew, Or, wanting that, with tears distill'd by moans. (V.iii.13-5) He is interrupted by his page's whistle, warning him that someone approaches. He hides in the darkness and sees Romeo and Balthasar enter with a torch, a mattock, and a wrenching iron. Romeo hands Balthasar a letter and asks him to deliver it to Lord Montague in the morning. He next cracks open the tomb and tells Balthasar that he must not interfere with the actions that he will now take. Balthasar agrees to leave, but he instead hides in the shadows to observe his master. Paris, who still believes Romeo to be the murderous villain who has slain Tybalt and, indirectly, Juliet, steps out of the dark to challenge Romeo to a duel. Romeo warns Paris to leave him be: "Good gentle youth, tempt not a desperate man" (V.iii.59). Romeo does not want another to die at his hands and he implores Paris to put away his sword. But Paris attacks and Romeo is forced to fight. Skilled at the art of combat, Romeo has no trouble defeating Paris. As Paris lay

  • dying he requests that Romeo place his body beside Juliet's and Romeo, knowing Paris' anguish far too well, gladly agrees. He carries Paris inside the crypt, where he sees his beloved Juliet, as beautiful as ever in her best clothes. Standing above her, Romeo begins his farewell to his young bride, "O my love! my wife!" (V.iii.91). He drinks the poison, and with one last kiss he falls dead to the earthen floor of the tomb. Friar Laurence arrives and Balthasar comes out of hiding to tell him that Romeo has been in the vault for at least half an hour. Friar Laurence rushes in to find Romeo dead and Juliet awakening from her death-like slumber. Confused, Juliet asks Friar Laurence where her Romeo is, and he can do nothing but tell her the horrible truth. Hearing the Watchmen in the distance and fearing they will be caught, Friar Laurence begs Juliet to hurry. Juliet refuses to go and the Friar, desperately afraid for his own life and reputation, runs outside, leaving Juliet behind. She sees the vial of poison still enclosed in Romeo's hand, and she drinks from it, but there is no poison left. Then she kisses her love with the hopes that there is enough poison on his lips to kill her, but she lives on. She hears the Watchmen draw closer and she knows she must act quickly. She grabs Romeo's dagger and stabs herself, falling dead upon Romeo's body. The Watchmen rush in and are shocked at the bloody scene. They capture Balthasar and Friar Laurence as Prince Escalus arrives, along with the Capulets and Lord Montague. The Friar recounts the whole tragic story to the Prince and the feuding families, and they realize that their hate is the reason why their children lay dead. Capulet and Montague vow to end their war and they decide to erect golden statues of the star-crossed lovers as a beautiful yet painful reminder of their lives and extraordinary love. The play comes to a close with the mournful words of Prince Escalus: A glooming peace this morning with it brings; The sun, for sorrow, will not show his head. Go hence to have more talk on these sad things; Some shall be pardon'd, and some punish'd: For never was a story of more woe Than this of Juliet and her Romeo. (V.iii.304-10) Play History The best information regarding the date of Romeo and Juliet comes from the title page of the first Quarto, which tells us that the play "hath been often (with great applause) plaid publiquely, by the right Honourable the L. of Hunsdon his servants". This reference would indicate that the play was composed no later than 1596, because Hunsdon's acting troupe went by a different name after this date. Moreover, "[m]any critics have placed it as early as 1591, on account of the Nurse's reference in I.iii.22 to the earthquake of eleven years before, identifying this with an earthquake felt in England in 1580" (Neilson, Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, 36). But the earliest performance of Romeo and Juliet actually documented was in 1662, staged by William Davenant, the poet and playwright who insisted that he was Shakespeare's illegitimate son. The play has

  • remained extremely popular throughout the centuries, but, strangely, producers in the seventeenth century found it necessary to take great literary license with Shakespeare's original work. In some productions, Romeo and Juliet survive their ordeal to live happy, fulfilled lives. And, in 1679, Thomas Otway created a version of the play called The History and Fall of Caius Marius, set in Augustan Rome. Otway transformed the play to revolve around two opposing senators, Metellus and Marius Senior, who are fighting for political control. Metellus represents the old nobility 'fit to hold power' and he considers himself a 'worthy patron of her honor' although the followers of Marius regard him as an inglorious patrician. Marius Senior, on the other hand, is a neophyte, having held power for only six terms. He comes from a lesser stock than does Metellus, and Metellus wants to keep Marius Senior from achieving a seventh term in office. After a series of physical confrontations and a heated power struggle, Marius Senior and his men are exiled. Caught in the political struggle between their fathers are the two lovers. Note the similarities between Otway's lines and Shakespeare's famous balcony scene: "O Marius, Marius! wherefore art thou Marius? Deny thy Family, renounce thy Name: Or if thou wilt not, be but fworn my Love, And I'll no longer call Metellus Parent. (Caius Marius. New York: Garland, 1980 [20]).

    Otway's version was so acclaimed that for seventy years it virtually stopped all production of Shakespeare's own Romeo and Juliet. In the 1740s Shakespeare's version was again experiencing much popularity, due to revivals by several producers, including David Garrick and Theophilus Cibber. However, even they mixed other material in with Shakespeare's original text. Cibber included passages from The Two Gentlemen of Verona in his production, and Garrick opened the play with Romeo madly in love with Juliet, omitting Rosaline entirely. In the nineteenth century, Romeo and Juliet was performed with relatively little dramatic alteration, and it became one of Shakespeare's most-produced plays and a mainstay of the English stage. With the advent of motion pictures the play reached mass audiences. More than eighteen film versions of Romeo and Juliet have been made, and by far the most popular is Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, filmed in 1968 and starring Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. To learn more about Zeffirelli, click here. Over the last fifty years many have attempted to translate the plot of Romeo and Juliet into the modern era. The most famous of these is Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story and Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, starring Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio.


    Juliet Capulet has all the makings of a modern leading lady in a blockbuster "chick-flick." Claire Danes proved that to be true in the 1996 movie of Romeo and Juliet. What is it about Juliet that sets her apart, makes her the heroine of this 16th-century tragedy, and makes her seem so modern?

    She's young, beautiful, independent, insightful, and in love.

  • Although it's Juliet's physical appearance that first attracts Romeo, she is more than merely pretty. In her, Shakespeare crafts a heroine who not only chooses to think for herself, but also has the courage to act independently. For modern audiences, it's this combination of beauty and strength of character that makes her so appealing.

    The first instance in which Juliet demonstrates independent thinking is when she's asked by her mother about the possibility of an engagement to a suitor named Paris. She responds, "It is an honour that I dream not of" (1.3.66). For the Elizabethan era, this is an odd response. Juliet appears to be dodging the question her mother's and Paris's. What's her angle?

    Has she said "no" in a diplomatic way, or has she actually agreed to the engagement? She says nothing else on the subject, except:

    Juliet I'll look to like, if looking liking move; But no more deep will I endart mine eye Than your consent gives strength to make it fly.


    Translation: "I'll take a look at Paris, and I'll try to like him and won't look anywhere that you say I shouldn't."

    In this speech, Juliet appears to be a model and dutiful daughter. On the one hand, she tells her mother that she'll do what she's told. But her mother obviously wants her to marry Paris, and Juliet hasn't agreed to do so. She has not actually agreed to anything.

    Juliet's attitude (and her parents' leniency in the beginning) is uncharacteristic behavior for the Elizabethan era when daughters were generally not given choices. Not only is Juliet being asked for her opinion, but she seems to feel free to withhold her consent. That's a pretty modern idea.

    The intriguing question for the story, then, is not whether she is too young. The important question is, what makes this "good girl" suddenly throw caution to the wind? Her change in attitude is literally a change of heart. Until she meets Romeo, she isn't interested in being married like other girls her age. Then she meets him and can think of nothing else. She doesn't just look; she takes action.

    What's a Nice Girl Like You.

    When Romeo approaches Juliet at the Capulet ball, they engage in the sophisticated wordplay that starts their courtship. The language of praying a safe and respectable subject is used to foster romance. Juliet does not behave like a compliant child; instead, she acts like a woman and takes control. She responds to Romeo's desire to kiss her by saying, "Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake" (1.5.106).

  • Translation: "Saints don't take the initiative, but they might help grant your prayer." In other words, "I'm not going to kiss you, but I'll kiss you back if you try."

    Juliet seems attracted to Romeo's boldness. Perhaps his directness is more appealing than the traditional approach that Paris took in asking her father for permission to marry her.

    Since Romeo speaks directly to Juliet, he is able to win her heart through the conversation. The kiss follows the all-important conversation. It's not love at first sight.

    This conversation is also important because it demonstrates Juliet's intelligence. She is able to participate in the sophisticated wordplay with Romeo, and she seems less childlike in this exchange.

    Sadly, Juliet learns that Romeo is a Montague and therefore her enemy. Her reaction to this knowledge provides another insight into her character.

    Juliet My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me That I must love a loathed enemy.


    Unlike Romeo, who has most recently been infatuated with Rosaline, Juliet professes only one love. She is certain in her declaration. This is a clear departure from her attitude about Paris and her discussion of marriage with her mother.

    On the Balcony

    How strong is Juliet's love for Romeo? The balcony scene is telling. She separates Romeo from his family by drawing a distinction between the person of Romeo and his name Montague.

    In her famous speech, Juliet makes it clear that the person, Romeo, is distinct from his family and that only his name is an enemy. This line of reasoning contradicts the culture of medieval Verona in which Romeo and Juliet is set, and is equally inconsistent with the patriarchal culture of Elizabethan England. Juliet's feelings and her actions clash with the custom of her time.

    During this scene, Juliet's language also demonstrates her decision not to let the family feud stand between her and her "only love." Though each vows to love the other, it is Juliet who takes the lead. She tells Romeo that she will marry him, if he asks.

    Juliet If that thy bent of love be honorable, Thy purpose marriage, send me word tomorrow,

  • By one that I'll procure to come to thee, Where and what time thou wilt perform the rite; And all my fortunes at thy foot I'll lay And follow thee my lord throughout the world.


    What a modern woman! She didn't just ask Romeo out for Saturday night; she told him to marry her.

    Is she impetuous? Or is she so sure of her own mind and love that she is strong-willed in her commitment to Romeo? Herein lies a key to Juliet's character. Knowing Romeo enables this heroine to make a commitment to him, whereas not knowing Paris stands in the way of Juliet's consenting to marry him.

    Wise Up

    Though she wants him, Juliet is acutely aware of the risks involved in her romance with Romeo; in fact she seems much more conscious of the danger than he. Her ability to recognize the hazards in the midst of her passion demonstrates she is not just a rash teenager. She is trying to be reasonable and use her head. During the balcony scene she cautions him, and displays rational fear of her kinsman. While Romeo appears caught up in the moment, Juliet has her head on her shoulders. She knows that Romeo's presence in the Capulet orchard is a bad idea.

    She displays this same maturity and insight when Romeo is banished to Mantua. Juliet questions whether they shall meet again. Romeo is certain they will and assures her that "all their woes shall serve" (3.5.52) as topics for conversation in their later years. He's optimistic they will grow old together.

    Juliet, however, sees things differently. Not only can she not envision their happy future, but she has a premonition of things to come:

    Juliet Methinks I see thee, now thou art so low, As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.


    These flashes of insight reveal that Juliet is not allowing her passions to guide her. She understands the direness of the circumstances. She evokes sympathy because she is trying so hard to make it come out right, even though she appears to know the situation is doomed.

    Stand by Your Man

  • Regardless of the dangers, nothing stands in Juliet's way once she is committed. She marries Romeo without her parents' knowledge and consent. And she remains steadfast in her devotion to him when he is banished for slaying her cousin, Tybalt. Overnight, she has become an adult and assumes a more traditional role of wife. Juliet chooses to support her husband regardless of the consequences. She even changes her relationship with the Nurse (who had been a second mother to her). In defense of her husband, Juliet chides the Nurse for suggesting that she be disloyal to Romeo.

    Nurse Will you speak well of him that kill'd your cousin?

    Juliet Shall I speak ill of him that is my husband? Ah, my poor lord, what tongue shall smooth thy name When I, thy three-hours wife, have mangled it?


    Juliet makes clear where her loyalties lie: not with her family, but with her husband.

    Can Love Conquer All?

    Although Juliet remains loyal to Romeo when he is banished to Mantua, this commitment becomes increasingly difficult for her. When her parents try to force the issue of her marriage to Paris, she can no longer equivocate. She has no way out. Her transgressions are already too great, and she cannot defy her parents. Yet she needs to avoid a second wedding.

    For a modern audience watching the play, Juliet's decision to fake her death may seem ill-conceived. Within the context of her time, however, she displays great courage. She is not in a position to defy her father's demands, so she takes the only option that seems open to her. She plays dead.

    Is it necessary for Juliet to resort to deception in order to exert her will? It is hard to reconcile Juliet's participation in this ill-fated ruse with the intuition and foresight that she demonstrates earlier in the play. How can she be certain that Romeo will know she is not really dead? How can she possibly get involved in a plan that seems so poorly conceived?

    This choice illustrates the Juliet's desperation. Because the acts seems irrational and in sharp contrast with the clear-thinking young woman who was able to discern danger, and make informed choices about her family, love, and where her loyalty lay, the audience feels even more sympathy for her. Committed to her marriage and steadfast in her love, Juliet takes her own life when she realizes Romeo is gone. Sadly, this young woman has already lost everything.

    Like the rest of her choices, Juliet's decision to end her life is definitive. Once her mind is made up, there is no talking her out of it. Though the Friar tries to influence her, Juliet

  • will not be persuaded. Her death scene is short. With a "happy dagger" (5.3.169) and very little ceremony, Juliet takes her own life.

    Since Juliet's behaviors and attitudes were so inappropriate for the time, she may have seemed rash and foolhardy to the Elizabethan audience. Modern readers and playgoers must decide for themselves whether she is to be pitied for her impetuousness or celebrated for her courage.


    Romeo Montague, hero or wimp?

    He's the hero of the play, but on the surface he doesn't seem too heroic. He starts out in love with one girl (Rosaline), decides he likes another one better (Juliet), marries her but doesn't let anyone know about it, gets his best friend killed (Mercutio), kills his wife's cousin (Tybalt), runs off, returns, kills his wife's suitor (Paris), thinks his wife is dead, doesn't check, and commits suicide. Nice going, Romeo.

    What kind of hero is this?

    To understand Romeo and why he is heroic, listen very closely to his speech. The poetic language that Shakespeare uses for Romeo is the key to his character and the ideals that he represents. Though he can banter with Mercutio, Romeo is not a "good-time guy." He is much more soulful and speaks from his heart. The poetry of his speech reveals his sincerity, passion, and commitment.

    Love is Romeo's primary motivation and the driving force behind most of his actions. Even before he arrives onstage, Romeo is preceded by his reputation as a lover. Old Montague and Benvolio discuss Romeo and describe his odd behavior his tears, his sighs, his insomnia, and his nighttime wanderings. When he makes his appearance, Romeo explains what his problem is: he is lovesick.

    Romeo Ay me! Sad hours seem so long. Was that my father that went hence so fast?

    Benvolio It was. What sadness lengthens Romeo's hours?

    Romeo Not having that which, having, makes them short.

    Benvolio In love?

    Romeo Out --

    Benvolio Of love?

    Romeo Out of her favor, where I am in love.

    Benvolio Alas, that love, so gentle in his view,

  • Should be so tyrannous and rough in proof!


    Why is Romeo so lovesick? It's because Rosaline, the current object of his affections doesn't return his feelings. He launches into a speech, that verifies his lovesickness, and more importantly gives insight into Romeo's character.

    He describes his love in a series of paradoxes: heavy lightness, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health. The most striking of these pairings are his couplings of "brawling love" and "loving hate" (1.1.176).

    These paradoxes serve two purposes. In the context of the plot, they demonstrate Romeo's confused state of mind. He seems to be speaking in riddles. How can love be described as brawling and juxtaposed with hate? The language makes Romeo seem crazy and the audience wonders, "Is this guy for real?" Consequently, they question, "Is this love (for Rosaline) for real?"

    The pairing of "brawling love, loving hate" stops the reader. Is there some truth about love in this contradiction? Romeo, who is motivated by love, is about to experience a whole new range of emotions in his love for Juliet. His new love exists alongside hatred, namely the brawling hatred between the Montagues and the Capulets. This speech, though it seems confused, offers a reality check. Watch out! This Romeo may be a lot more than he seems.

    After he crashes the Capulet ball and boldly kisses Juliet, Romeo is ready to pursue her full throttle.

    Romeo Can I go forward when my heart is here? Turn back, dull earth, and find thy center out.


    Here Romeo refers to himself as "dull earth," a being that is lifeless and requires its center Juliet to feel alive. Consequently, he scales the orchard wall to see her again. This act demonstrates his bravery. The threats of danger and death (the penalty for being caught in enemy territory) do not deter him from his pursuit.

    When he reaches the Capulet orchard and sees Juliet at her balcony, Romeo demonstrates more about what really makes him tick. He's a wordsmith but he isn't feeding Juliet a line. Romeo's language is Juliet's (and the audience's) guide to his character. His expression of love contains Romeo's finest spoken poetry and illustrates his ardor.

    Romeo But, soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun. Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

  • Who is already sick and pale with grief That thou her maid are far more fair than she.


    He sees Juliet as light and calls her "the sun." He claims that even the moon, the traditional symbol for a woman's beauty and purity, is envious of Juliet. This characterization is not merely dramatic. The use of these superlatives is meant to convey Romeo's deep feeling.

    When compared to his earlier characterization of Rosaline, Romeo's tribute to Juliet takes on even more significance. Examine the difference between what Romeo says of Rosaline and what he says in the "But soft" speech about Juliet. His characterization of Rosaline commences with the traditional comparison to Diana. Romeo acknowledges that Rosaline is "rich in beauty" (1.1.215) and that her beauty is defined in terms of her chastity. It's part of her appeal to Romeo. Romeo values Rosaline because she will not satisfy his desires; therefore, he thinks of her beauty as lost to "all posterity" (1.1.220).

    However, when he describes Juliet and invokes the sun, he suggests something far more potent: the eternal source of light and life-giving force of the heavens. Juliet's beauty and warmth will live forever and do not depend upon Romeo's perceptions. She exists independently of Romeo, and when Romeo thinks of Juliet, he dwells on her and not on what she will do for him.

    Romeo's language demonstrates that although he was infatuated with Rosaline; he has no mere crush on Juliet. He is deeply in love, and the depth of his feelings demonstrates Romeo's maturation.

    Yet, it is not just in his ability to love that Romeo manifests growth. Think back on Romeo's speech about "brawling love" and "loving hate" and guess where else his character demonstrates maturity. Is it surprising that killing and death are keys to his character? Though motivated by love, Romeo is also the man who kills two people in the play. When he tries to separate the brawling Mercutio and Tybalt, Romeo actually prevents Mercutio from defending himself. The result of Romeo's intervention? Tybalt kills Mercutio, and Romeo kills Tybalt in revenge. Romeo's mistake is that he naively believes that can stop the fighting. His decision to slay Tybalt in retaliation is rash and ill-conceived.

    When Romeo learns that he is banished from Verona for killing Tybalt, he is not grateful for the Prince's leniency. Just married an hour and already missing his bride, Romeo takes the news very badly. He equates the banishment with a death sentence and bemoans his fate. His utmost concern is for himself and what he will be missing when he leaves Verona; he does not dwell on the fact that he has murdered a man.

  • However, the death that Romeo causes at the end of the play is under quite different circumstances. It is not rash, and Romeo is instantly contrite that has killed Paris. He kill Paris not for revenge, but because Paris is barring him from entering the Capulet tomb. He begs Paris to retreat and warns him of the danger. In essence he says, "I have no quarrel with you. Don't get in my way, because I'm here to kill myself." He does not wish to murder an innocent man and he tries to reason with Paris.

    What word does Romeo repeat? Twice he calls Paris "youth" and just prior to killing him, Romeo refers to Paris as "boy" (5.3.70) Conversely, he calls himself a "man" (5.3.59). The play does not suggest that Paris is younger than Romeo. To the contrary, it is more likely that Paris is at least a little older than Romeo since Paris was pursuing a bride and sought out Juliet's father for a man-to-man talk.

    Has Romeo sufficiently matured to call himself a man? Certainly, he handles this killing much differently from his slaying of Tybalt. In Romeo, Shakespeare introduces a boyish character who is in puppy-love and kills for revenge. In the short span of the play a mere four days Romeo experiences a lifetime of emotions. He ceases to put himself first, finds the courage to carry out difficult actions, and proves himself to be true to his commitments. He grows to be a man of convictions and is therefore a worthy hero of this story.


    Is the Nurse a help or a hindrance? A loyal friend or a busybody? She acts like Juliet's mother, but is actually Juliet's servant. What is the audience to make of her?

    The Nurse is not a medical professional and her role differs from that of a modern nurse. She is a domestic servant namely, she is Juliet's nursemaid. Her employment in the Capulet household underscores Juliet's youth. The Nurse is responsible for Juliet's care and has been since Juliet's infancy, a mere 14 years ago.

    Because she is a servant and of the lower class, she is portrayed as a bawdy and humorous character.

    Though she is essentially a good person and extremely devoted to Juliet, the Nurse tends to babble inappropriately, and her language is frequently laden with sexual innuendo. She talks too much, is constantly throwing her two cents into a situation, and is frequently the target of ridicule. Nonetheless, she is a God-fearing woman who aspires to do the right thing.

    The Nurse's sole desire is to make Juliet happy. Having lost her own daughter (who was Juliet's age) and husband, the Nurse has devoted her life to Juliet's care. She loves her as a daughter.

  • Juliet actually seems closer to the Nurse than she is to her own mother. Certainly, she turns to the Nurse for help. Lady Capulet is aware of the closeness between her daughter and the Nurse. When Lady Capulet wishes to discusses Paris's marriage proposal with Juliet she first asks the Nurse to leave. But then she recalls that she need not hide anything important (that concerns Juliet) from the Nurse.

    Lady Capulet This is the matter. Nurse, give leave awhile, We must talk in secret. Nurse, come back again; I have remember'd me, thou's hear our counsel.


    Juliet reaffirms her confidence in the Nurse during the masque at the Capulet home. When she wants to know the name of the young man who has piqued her interest, Juliet does not ask her own mother. She asks her Nurse and does not hesitate to expose her feelings, even though Romeo is a Montague.

    Juliet What's he that follows here, that would not dance?

    Nurse I know not.

    Juliet Go ask his name. [Nurse goes.] If he be married, My grave is like to be my wedding bed.

    Nurse [Returning.] His name is Romeo, and a Montague, The only son of your great enemy.

    Juliet My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me That I must love a loathed enemy.

    Nurse What's this? What's this?

    Juliet A rhyme I learn'd even now Of one I danc'd withal.


    Upon learning that Romeo is a Montague, Juliet spills her heart to the Nurse, telling her that she "love[s] a loathed enemy" (1.5.142). But when the Nurse reacts negatively to the confession, Juliet retreats behind deception. She changes her story and retracts her earlier statement saying that it was just a rhyme she learned.

    But even though the Nurse's initial reaction is not good, Juliet trusts her to act as go-between with Romeo. The Nurse does as Juliet requests, but she wants to make certain that Romeo is an honorable gentleman. She is very concerned about Juliet's welfare and worries that Romeo may be trying to take advantage of Juliet's youth and inexperience.

  • Even though the Nurse believes that "Paris is the properer man" (2.4.200) for Juliet, she continues to do her mistress's bidding because she wishes to make Juliet happy. She even arranges for Romeo to enter Juliet's bedroom on their wedding night.

    Nurse Hie you to church; I must another way, To fetch a ladder, by the which your love Must climb a bird's nest soon when it is dark. I am the drudge and toil in your delight, But you shall bear the burden soon at night.


    Here, in her bawdy and comic manner, the Nurse instructs Juliet to go get married and explains that she will handle the details that will enable Romeo and Juliet to consummate their marriage. She says that she will get a ladder and Romeo will be able to climb up to Juliet's room to visit her "bird's nest" a sexual allusion. She also says that she needs to do all this work for Juliet's delight, but refers to the sex act as Juliet's "burden" to bear at night.

    How would the Capulets react if they were to learn of the Nurse's actions? Though many of the Nurse's actions may seem ill-conceived, she appears to act out of love and concern for Juliet. Apparently, she wishes only to make Juliet happy and is willing to take significant personal risks to do so.

    Yet for all her scheming, the Nurse is simple. Though she takes part in all of these complicated ploys, she seems to believe that the romance with Romeo is a passing fancy. She figures that Juliet will easily be able to forget her love once Romeo is banished and the situation becomes too difficult. First she upsets Juliet by disparaging Romeo. Then the Nurse tells Juliet that she should forsake her love and marry Paris instead. She is delighted to hear Juliet's feigned consent to the proposal.

    The Nurse's dismissal of Romeo causes Juliet to separate from her once-beloved Nurse.

    Juliet Ancient damnation! O most wicked fiend! Is it more sin to wish me thus forsworn, Or to dispraise my lord with that same tongue Which she hath prais'd him with above compare So many thousand times? Go, counsellor, Thou and my bosom henceforth shall be twain. I'll to the friar, to know his remedy. If all else fail, myself have power to die. [Exit.]


    From this moment the Nurse will have no further discourse with Juliet, who is the love of her life. The next time she sees Juliet, the Nurse she believes her dead, although Juliet is

  • in a deep trance from the potion she has taken. After that encounter, the Nurse will not see Juliet again until she truly is dead.

    Even when she discovers Juliet's body still and lifeless on her bed, and before she concludes (erroneously) that Juliet is dead, the Nurse's language is bawdy and humorous. She tells Juliet that her honeymoon with Paris will tolerate no sleeping, but then asks God to forgive her.

    Nurse Sleep for a week; for the next night, I warrant, The County Paris hath set up his rest That you shall rest but little. God forgive me, Marry and amen! How sound is she asleep! I needs must wake her. Madam, madam, madam! Ay, let the County take you in your bed; He'll fright you up, i' faith. Will it not be?


    Ultimately, the Nurse is a contradiction. In her character, Shakespeare has created a relatively young woman who seems old; a pious woman who delights in the bawdy; a maternal woman without a daughter; a loyal woman who deceives her patrons. For the audience, she is both entertaining and irritating. For Juliet, she is mother and friend, confidante and betrayer.

    Prince Escalus Weighing decisions. Balancing sides. Choosing what's right. That's the job of a wise leader and Prince Escalus strives to be one.

    The name, Escalus, literally means scale, an old symbol for justice. Throughout the play, Escalus tries to maintain order and strike a just balance. He attempts to rule wisely and within the prevailing guidelines for the time period.

    Verona, the setting for Romeo and Juliet is a city-state in Italy during the Renaissance. As its ruler, Escalus has broad discretion about how to govern. Leaders of this time were frequently despots. Escalus is atypical of his era, as he continually strives to temper his judgments about the Montague-Capulet feud with compassion and parity.

    The Prince first enters the scene after the brawl between members of the Capulet and Montague households on the street. The Prince's arrival stops the fighting and he is furious with everyone involved in the brawl. He calls them "rebellious subjects, enemies to peace" (1.1.80) and is particularly angered by the presence of the two older men, Montague and Capulet. Listen to his rage.

  • In this speech the audience learns that there is just cause for Escalus's anger. This street-fighting is not a one-time occurrence. Escalus reprimands Montague and Capulet that three times of late there have been peace-breaking brawls instigated by their households.

    Escalus Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word, By thee, old Capulet, and Montague, Have thrice disturb'd the quiet of our streets,


    He obviously holds them equally responsible and says that he will speak to each of them, privately, about the situation. What's his collateral for this bargain? Their lives. The Prince means business.

    Has the Prince been too harsh in his decree? An understanding of Elizabethan law might provide some insight, but a consideration of the laws that would have governed an Italian city-state such as Verona is useful.

    Prince Escalus is unlike most rulers of Renaissance city-states. The prevailing wisdom of the time called for dire and direct punishment of offenders against the state. In 1513, the great Italian statesman and writer Niccolo Machiavelli wrote a famous treatise called The Prince. In it, he provided guidelines for how a ruler should manage his subjects in order to stay in power. The Prince is not merely prescriptive for rulers of its time; the document reflects how successful leaders were governing. The information contained therein can be applied to Prince Escalus's governing of Verona.

    According to Machiavelli's The Prince, the best way for a prince to maintain order is to rule well. If this is not possible, then Machiavelli presents a variety of strategies for remaining in power. Cruelty is definitely an option.

    "The Prince must not mind incurring the charge of cruelty for the purpose of keeping his subjects united and faithful; for, with a very few examples, he will be more merciful than those who, from excess of tenderness, allow disorders to arise." -Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

    In The Prince, Machiavelli describes the courses of action a ruler can take when confronted with persistent civil strife (such as the brawling that erupts on the streets of Verona). He lists what the Prince can do to maintain order in his principality and to retain his own power.

    1. the one is to put the leaders to death 2. (the second) to banish them from the city 3. (last, and certainly least) to reconcile them to each other under a pledge not to

    offend again -Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince

  • In Romeo and Juliet, the Prince threatens to impose the first punishment death after the street brawl.

    Escalus If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace.


    Though Escalus has threatened a death sentence, he does not impose it. The punishment he enforces is the third option: "to reconcile them to each other under a pledge." Presumably, in his individual discussions with Montague and Capulet, the Prince extracts their pledge to end the fighting. Capulet's gracious behavior toward Romeo and his refusal to have a brawl in his home suggest that he has taken the Prince's edict seriously and intends to uphold the pledge.

    But the pledge doesn't last. Another brawl erupts only one day later. Tybalt (a Capulet) is killed and so is Romeo's good friend, Mercutio. Mercutio is not attached to either household he is a relative of the Prince. After the fray, Lady Capulet cries out for vengeance and demands that the Prince impose the death sentence that he had promised earlier.

    Lady Capulet Tybalt, my cousin! O my brother's child! O Prince! O cousin! Husband! O, the blood is spill'd Of my dear kinsman! Prince as thou art true, For blood of ours, shed blood of Montage.


    But there's a catch. Though Romeo has slain Tybalt, Tybalt struck the first blow against Mercutio. The situation appears to leave Escalus in a quandary.

    Escalus Romeo slew him, he slew Mercutio. Who now the price of his dear blood doth owe?


    Escalus decides to be lenient in his measure of justice. He does not execute Romeo; instead he selects the second option two from the Machiavellian scheme: "to banish them [the offenders] from the city." He insists that Romeo get out, fast, or face the death sentence. He warns that this is the last time he'll show mercy.

    Escalus Let Romeo hence in haste, Else, when he's found, that hour is his last.


  • Ultimately, Escalus doubts his own edict. He knows he should be tougher. Escalus Mercy but murders, pardoning those that kill.


    Escalus's final appearance is at the tragic end of the story. There has been more bloodshed. This time, Juliet, Romeo, and Paris (another kinsman to the Prince) are all dead. In the final scene, Prince Escalus acts not only as ruler of Verona, but also as a kind of detective attempting to sort out all of the facts. He is both the police and the judge.

    Escalus Seal up the mouth of outrage for a while, Till we can clear these ambiguities, And know their spring, their head, their true descent; And then will I be general of your woes, And lead you even to death. Meantime, forbear, And let mischance be slave to patience. Bring forth the parties of suspicion.


    He calmly listens to the testimony of Friar Lawrence, Romeo's servant Balthasar, and Paris's page. Then, in his role of the dispenser of justice to Verona, he makes his final proclamation.

    Escalus Go hence to have more talk of these sad things. Some shall be pardon'd, and some punished;


    Shakespeare's source material for the play, Arthur Brooke's poem, Romeus and Juliet details these punishments. But Shakespeare chooses to leave them out. He does not have Escalus metes out final judgments.

    The play ends here. The audience never learns the final punishment. Perhaps Shakespeare felt that the tragic ending served the justice that Escalus needed to dispense. Not even a Machiavellian scheme of justice can exact a higher price from these offenders. Mercutio "He was very smart and entertaining and all. The thing is, it drives me crazy if somebody gets killed especially somebody very smart and entertaining and all and it's somebody else's fault."

  • That's what Holden Caulfield says about Mercutio in J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. And he has a point. Mercutio is a great guy and although he appears in only four scenes, his premature death is a major blow. But, it sets the stage for the tragedy that unfolds.

    Why? What's so great about Mercutio that makes everybody love him? He is the most likable character in the play. He's the perennial good-time guy and life of the party. His clever banter, witty comebacks, and sexually charged language make him compelling.

    When Mercutio first appears, he is headed with Romeo, Benvolio, and friends to the Capulet party. Raucous and amusing, Mercutio debates everything the sad, gloomy Romeo says and lightens up the mood with his wit. His upbeat personality contrasts sharply with Romeo's melancholy. He counters Romeo's every complaint with a funny barb loaded with sexual innuendo.

    The exchange between the two creates a curious dilemma for the audience. Romeo is the hero of this story, but Mercutio is the one who is really appealing. When Romeo protests, "I dreamt a dream tonight," as an ominous reason for his not attending the party of his enemy, Mercutio launches into his famous "Queen Mab" speech, disparaging the honesty of any dream and the virtue of all dreamers. In the war of wits between the friends, the "Queen Mab" speech clearly makes Mercutio the victor. Romeo is verbally trounced and does attend the Capulet ball.

    After the party, Romeo eludes his friends and climbs Juliet's orchard walls. Mercutio calls after Romeo, poking fun at his friend, who he believes is still madly in love with Rosaline. Mercutio cannot help but to reduce such lovesick feelings to a rude and witty sexual comment. In this speech, Mercutio shows himself to be the consummate party boy. He can't take anything seriously.

    It isn't just Mercutio's language that makes him steal every scene that he is in. It's also the way that the character is played. The gestures and physical comedy that goes into playing Mercutio are also important. In describing Romeo's disappearing act the night of the Capulet ball, Mercutio uses the term, "wild-goose chase" (2.4.70) to describe the slip Romeo gave to them. The banter evolves into many layers of puns on the meaning of the word "goose." When playing this scene, the actors can be extremely raunchy. A great deal of physical horseplay can take place between the two friends as they joke over and over about the word. And Mercutio is able to punctuate his remarks with thrusts and gestures that accentuate his meaning.

    Since he has kept the comedy rolling throughout the play, Mercutio's final appearance (his death scene) is a mixture of comic language and dramatic sadness. He needles Benvolio about losing his temper too readily.

    Mercutio Thou wilt quarrel with a man for cracking nuts, having no

  • other reason but because thou hast hazel eyes.


    But then as soon as Tybalt insults Mercutio, he rushes into the challenge. He probably would have won the duel, too, had peacemaking Romeo not intervened. Tybalt takes advantage of Romeo's grip on his friend's arms and fatally stabs Mercutio. Even in his dying words, Mercutio is witty.

    When Romeo protests that the wound is nothing much, Mercutio replies, "No, 'tis not so deep as a well, nor so wide as a / church door; but 'tis enough, 'twill serve.' (3.1.95-96). This time, his wit is accompanied by a prophetic curse on both the Montagues and Capulets. Three times with his dying breath Mercutio proclaims, "A plague o' both your houses." Since Mercutio is a favorite, audiences may adopt this attitude and feel anger toward the Montagues, the Capulets, and the absolute waste and foolishness of their longstanding hostility. Mercutio's death leaves everyone stunned. A vital element has disappeared from Verona and from the play. It is a turning point in the story. The fun and games are gone. This tale cannot possibly have a happy ending. Mercutio's death is the beginning of the tragic ending for all these characters. From this point forward, the tragedy kicks into high gear. While still reeling from Mercutio's death, the audience begins to absorb the blows that lead to the ultimate devastation of the play's end. Friar Laurence With a friend like Friar Lawrence, who needs enemies?

    The Friar, a Franciscan monk in Verona, is a priest who has taken the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. As the confidante and confessor to both Romeo and Juliet, he is privy to their innermost thoughts and desires.

    It is the Friar who agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet in secrecy, though he knows their parents would not consent. He also concocts the plan for Juliet to play dead and is supposed to get the word out to Romeo. He fails.

    Nothing that Friar Lawrence touches turns out right. What are his motivations for getting so deeply involved with the star-crossed lovers?

    Friar Lawrence's first appearance onstage suggests a framework for understanding his character. While gardening, he contemplates the coexistence of good and evil in nature and in people.

    The man behind Mercutio,

    Shakespeare might be criticized for killing Romeo and Juliet's most interesting

    character half-way through the play.

  • The duality he ponders is emblematic of the Friar's own nature. If he is "virtue," then surely his good acts helping Romeo and Juliet turn to "vice" because he goes them the wrong way. And if his motivations are "vice" perhaps currying favor with the Prince by helping to unite the families and end the feud a positive result might have justified his self-interest. Unfortunately, for the Friar and everyone else involved, there is no good outcome in this tragedy.

    Friar Lawrence Virtue itself turns vice, being misapplied, And vice sometime by action dignified.


    Romeo greets the Friar "Good morrow, father" (2.3.31), and Friar Lawrence responds by calling Romeo "young son" (2.3.33). Though these appellations are appropriate because of the religious context, this interchange has greater resonance. It is not just the exchange between the priest and the penitent. The Friar also stands in for Romeo's own father since there are no scenes between Romeo and his parents. The Friar is the only person to whom Romeo turns for advice, and he is the last person to whom Juliet turns after all others have forsaken her. In this sense, he is father to them both and responsible for upholding order.

    The Friar is suspicious of Romeo's sudden change of heart. He knows that Romeo has been pining for Rosaline and he tells Romeo that Rosaline did not return his love because she could tell that it "did read by rote, that could not spell" (2.3.88). Basically, he tells Romeo that he was never really in love with Rosaline and that he was just repeating empty words he didn't really understand. After such a quick turnabout, the Friar has good reason to be suspicious of Romeo's new love.

    Perhaps the Friar is right. But why does he agree to help Romeo?

    Friar Lawrence But come, young waverer, come, go with me, In one respect I'll thy assistant be; For this alliance may so happy prove To turn your households' rancor to pure love.


    He consents to be a conspirator in the strange alliance because he thinks it might end the feud between the brawling households. That's a pretty bad plan and a lot to ask of a marriage particularly a hasty and secretive one. Yet in the framework that Shakespeare has erected, the Friar's motivation might be "action dignified" (2.3.22) and can perhaps be understood as balancing vice and virtue. Obviously, he hopes that this bad plan will work out.

  • At the same time, the Friar recognizes that the use of the sacrament of matrimony in such a stealthy manner may very well have terrible consequences. He worries that a sad ending will result.

    Friar Lawrence So smile the heavens upon this holy act, That after hours with sorrow chide us not!


    The Friar tries to act as a voice of reason to temper the mounting hysteria as the tragedy unfolds. After slaying Tybalt, Romeo flees to the relative safety of the Friar Lawrence's cell. When Romeo bemoans his banishment and refers to it as a fate less merciful than death, the Friar seems irritated.

    Friar Lawrence O deadly sin! O rude unthankfulness! Thy fault our law calls death; but the kind Prince, Taking they part, hath rush'd aside the law, And turn'd that black word "death" to "banishment." This is dear mercy, and thou seest it not.


    Translation: "Pull yourself together, Romeo. You're lucky you haven't been sentenced to death."

    The priest admonishes Romeo for behaving so melodramatically. He wa