Romeo and Juliet | Study Guide

William Shakespeare

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Act 5, Scene 1

Professor Regina Buccola of Roosevelt University provides in-depth summary and analysis of Act 5, Scene 1 of William Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet.

Romeo and Juliet | Act 5, Scene 1 | Summary

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Summary

Romeo is alone, happy and unencumbered, having had an odd dream about love reviving death, when Balthasar arrives and tells him that Juliet has died. Romeo responds immediately by asserting that he will return to Verona. When his servant urges him to be patient, Romeo asks if the friar has sent any letters, but there are none. Hearing that, Romeo declares, "Juliet, I will lie with thee tonight." Like Juliet he intends to be faithful to his marriage vows in life or death. He remembers seeing an old apothecary from whom he is confident he can buy poison despite its illegality, and he succeeds in doing so by appealing to the apothecary's poverty.

Analysis

Romeo enters this final act optimistically, a remarkable mood given the circumstances. In his last glimpse of Juliet, she was ominously pale, and they both seemed to fear that disaster would overtake them. The only thing that has changed since then (as far as Romeo knows) is that he is alone in Mantua.

An unexpected mischance—the fact that Balthasar arrives with the report of Juliet's death before Friar Lawrence's letter reaches Romeo—drives the plot from this point forward. Romeo has no reason to doubt his servant's word, so he acts in the belief that the worst thing imaginable, Juliet's death, has occurred. Romeo's response is immediate action, which he takes in an effort to "deny you, stars!" or deny fate. Instead of sleeping with her in a sexual way, he will sleep with her in death that night.

In addition to the prominent prophetic visions Romeo and Juliet have of each other's deaths throughout the play, the idea of fate as a force guiding them to their doom is consistent even in minor details. In Act 1, Scene 2, when the servant asks if Romeo can read, Romeo replies, "Ay, mine own fortune in my misery," fortune in this sense meaning "future." Now, in Act 5, Scene 1, the moment Romeo learns of Juliet's death, believing it to be true, an image of the apothecary leaps into his mind. Romeo comments to himself how strange it is that the thought should come to his mind just at that moment and how odd it is that when he first saw the apothecary he immediately thought about how, because the man was poor, he would probably sell poison illegally. Did Shakespeare purposely leave clues to suggest that Romeo and Juliet are fated to die and their fate is inexorable? If so, why? Nothing spurs the young lovers' deaths to happen more than the counsel of the friar throughout the play. The friar, then, who represents spiritual matters, can be seen as a human hand helping fate's directives come to fruition. Romeo and Juliet's sacrifice will ultimately bring peace to the community, so the detail that Romeo's meeting with the apothecary was foreseen in a vision and returned to him at the perfect moment supports the greater idea of fate's role in the tragedy.

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