Romeo and Juliet Summary and Analysis

Act 4

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Summary

Act Four, Scene One

At the chapel, Paris speaks to Friar Laurence about his impending wedding to Juliet. Aware of the complications that will arise from this new match, the Friar is full of misgivings.

Juliet, in search of Romeo, arrives at the chapel and finds Paris there. She is forced to speak with him, and he behaves arrogantly now that their wedding is set. However, Juliet rebuffs him with her vague answers, and then finally asks Friar Laurence if she might speak to him alone. When the Friar assents, Paris is forced to leave.

Friar Laurence proposes a complicated plan to help Juliet reunite with Romeo. The Friar will give Juliet a special potion that will effectively kill her for 48 hours; she will exhibit no signs of life. Following their family tradition, her parents will place her body in the Capulet vault. Meanwhile, Friar Laurence will send a letter to Romeo, instructing him of the plan so that the boy can meet Juliet in the tomb and then lead her away from Verona. Juliet approves of the plan.

Act Four, Scene Two

Happy to know that she will be reunited with Romeo, Juliet returns home and apologizes to her father for her disobedience. He pardons her, and instructs her to prepare her clothes for the wedding, which is now going to happen the next day. Lord Capulet then sets out to find Paris to deliver the good news about Juliet's change of heart.

Act Four, Scene Three

Juliet convinces Lady Capulet and the Nurse to let her sleep alone that night. Juliet keeps a knife nearby in case the potion should fail. She then drinks the Friar's potion and falls to her bed, motionless.

Act Four, Scene Four

(Please note that some editions of the play separate this scene into two different scenes.)

When the Nurse arrives to fetch Juliet the next morning, she finds the young girl's lifeless body. Lady Capulet soon follows, and is understandably devastated over her daughter's apparent suicide. When Lord Capulet finds out his daughter is dead, he orders the the wedding music to shift into funeral dirges. The grieving family prepares to move Juliet's body to the Capulet tomb as soon as possible.

Analysis

As noted in the previous Analysis sections, Shakespeare foreshadows Romeo and Juliet's tragic ending by peppering the whole play with images of death. In Act 4, death finally comes to the forefront. Even though the audience understands that Juliet's death is a ploy, watching her plan and execute her suicide is an emotional moment - the extreme measures Juliet and Romeo are willing to take to be together are proof of their tragic desperation.

In Act 4, Juliet summons all of her internal strength, which is manifest in her willingness to engage in the Friar's rash and precarious plan. Romeo does not appear in this Act; which makes it feel like Shakespeare wanted to draw attention to Juliet's unwavering devotion towards solving their problem. Where Romeo's reacted to his banishment by actually attempting suicide in Act 3, Juliet looks at the problem logically, choosing to feign suicide in order to reunited with her lover. These parallel decisions suggest Juliet's superior courage and cleverness, and indicate the power of love in Romeo and Juliet.

Juliet's actions emphasize the recurring division between the young and the old in the play. Her decision to comply with the Friar's plan might be rash, but it is unquestionably brave. On the other hand, the adults in Act 4 act almost exclusively out of resignation and self-interest. Paris is no longer trying to charm or woo Juliet but, upon hearing the news that she has accepted his hand, becomes arrogant and obnoxious. Juliet's parents no longer concern themselves with her well-being once she claims to accept her betrothal to Paris, and even the Nurse (who knows the depth of her passion for Romeo) allows her to sleep alone. Only the young lovers know the triumph and the heartbreak of true love, whereas their older counterparts stoically accept the status quo, favoring ease and expediency. Juliet's parents are so happy that she has agreed to the profitable match with Paris that they never question why she has changed her mind about him so quickly.

From the beginning of Romeo and Juliet, Friar Laurence seems more like a politician than a holy man. He knows that Romeo and Juliet's marriage is hasty and irrational but sees it as a way to negotiate peace between the Montagues and the Capulets. In the first scene of Act 4, Friar Laurence makes no attempt to interfere with Paris's marriage plans, even though the Friar knows that Juliet is already married. He lacks the courage to state the truth, even though he knows that Juliet and Paris' marriage would be complete sacrilege. Furthermore, the Friar allows Juliet to use the sacrament of penance to get rid of Paris, which is another example of his disrespect for religious conventions. Finally, the Friar's outrageous plan makes him seem more like a mad scientist than a priest. He could have helped Romeo and Juliet to simply run away, but had he done so, he would have lost an opportunity to reconcile the feud between the Montagues and Capulets. By engineering a false tragedy and playing with death, Friar Laurence reveals his priorities - his own desire for political influence is more important than the lovers' happiness or his own religious vows.

Finally, the Friar's convoluted plan calls the play's tragic categorization into further question. While the ending of Romeo and Juliet is undeniably sad, it keeps moving further away from the tropes of classical tragedy. The fact that Juliet agrees the Friar's wild plan instead of simply running away (which is a realistic option, especially since Romeo has already been banished) suggests that the characters' choices play a major role in the lovers' ultimate demise. In a classical tragedy, fate and other immovable forces lead to catastrophic events. However, in the Friar and Juliet's plan, it seems that Juliet cannot fully relinquish her life in Verona – she wants to claim victory over her parents. She is too headstrong to wonder whether her youthful bravado might have its own negative consequences.