Romeo and Juliet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet | Act 4, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Paris visits the friar to tell him that his "father Capulet" wants Paris to marry Juliet on Thursday to stop her excessive mourning for Tybalt. Juliet arrives, seeking the friar's counsel, and exchanges strained words with Paris that indicate her resistance to the wedding. Paris leaves, and the friar tells Juliet that there is nothing to be done, but she shows him her dagger, indicating she will kill herself rather than marry Paris. The friar develops a plan, which Juliet embraces "without fear or doubt": she will take a potion that mimics death and be entombed. As images of light and beauty have been associated with the lovers, the friar describes how Juliet's light will appear to go out when she drinks the potion that simulates death: "The roses in thy lips and cheeks shall fade/To paly ashes, thy eyes' windows fall/Like death when he shuts up the day of life." He explains that he will then send word to Romeo; they will both be in the crypt when she awakens, and then Romeo will take her away from Verona (to Mantua). He warns Juliet not to give way to "womanish fear," but she responds, "O, tell not me of fear!"

Analysis

Paris greets Juliet by naming her "my lady and my wife." Neither are yet the case, as Juliet points out, and Paris follows up by saying they "must be, love, on Thursday next." Paris's possessive words make Juliet feel that she is not her own person. She answers that her face is not her own.

This explains, then, how quickly and easily she considers suicide. Her most important aspect of identity now is wife to Romeo, a position from which she will not revolt, or if forced to she'll kill herself rather than betray that relationship. If she cannot be Romeo's wife, she cannot be.

When Juliet explains, "O, tell not me of fear!" she displays an inner conviction and authority that few other characters in the play possess. Her new identity strengthens her even as it speeds her toward the grave.

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