Romeo and Juliet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 4, Scene 5

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides in-depth summary and analysis of Act 4, Scene 5 of William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet | Act 4, Scene 5 | Summary

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Summary

In Juliet's bedroom, the nurse teases her heavily sleeping charge about the night ahead of her with Paris, until Juliet's stillness finally makes her realize that something is wrong. The nurse calls out that Juliet is dead. Her parents rush in and quickly fall into despair.

The friar, Paris, and musicians enter the Capulet house for the wedding, but Lord Capulet explains that Juliet is dead. Each character cries out in their pain and loss. Lady Capulet responds with heartbreak: "My child, my only life,/Revive, look up, or I will die with thee." While Lord Capulet says, "Death is my son-in-law; Death is my heir." Paris mourns the beloved he never had, as he admits he "thought long to see this morning's face." The poor nurse emits a series of woeful utterances until the friar intervenes, demanding they recognize that Juliet is in heaven and that "she's best married that dies married young." The friar encourages them to embrace Juliet's death and prepare for the funeral. He tells the grieving family that "Heaven and yourself/Had part in this fair maid. Now heaven hath all,/And all the better is it for the maid."

The scene ends with a quarrel between the servant Peter and the musicians who have been hired for the wedding—now Juliet's funeral.

Analysis

When the nurse alerts the household to Juliet's apparent death, each person's reaction reveals his or her character and true relationship to Juliet. Lady Capulet's line is an extraordinary contrast with her earlier line, "I have done with thee," and perhaps reveals her deepest feelings. Lord Capulet says poignantly that he is speechless, perhaps because he realizes that he has no power over anything at all. Even so, when Paris arrives, Lord Capulet feels the need to exert his authority to define Juliet by stating that she is married to death.

The friar, who alone knows that Juliet still lives, reminds them of eternal life in heaven and says their weeping is inappropriate. Here is another case of dramatic irony. The audience too knows that, at this point in the play, weeping is unnecessary, but not for the reason that the friar states.

The argument with the musicians, like the scene that opens the play, is full of wordplay. The play on "silver sound" is one example in this section:

PETER: Why "music with her silver/sound"? What say you, Simon Catling?
FIRST MUSICIAN: Marry, sir, because silver hath a
sweet sound.
PETER Prates.—What say you, Hugh Rebeck?
SECOND MUSICIAN: I say "silver sound" because musicians
sound for silver.

Although having such a comic scene follow the heart-wrenching mourning may seem jarring to modern sensibilities, Shakespeare often used comedy to give the audience relief after an emotionally intense scene.

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