Summary: Act 4, scene 3

In her bedchamber, Juliet asks the Nurse to let her spend the night by herself, and she repeats the request to Lady Capulet when she arrives. Alone, clutching the vial given to her by Friar Lawrence, she wonders what will happen when she drinks it. If the friar is untrustworthy and seeks merely to hide his role in her marriage to Romeo, she might die; or, if Romeo is late for some reason, she might awaken in the tomb and go mad with fear. She has a vision in which she sees Tybalt’s ghost searching for Romeo. She begs Tybalt’s ghost to quit its search for Romeo, and toasting to Romeo, drinks the contents of the vial.

Read a translation of Act 4, scene 3

Summary: Act 4, scenes 4–5

Early the next morning, the Capulet house is aflutter with preparations for the wedding. Capulet sends the Nurse to go wake Juliet. She finds Juliet dead and begins to wail, soon joined by both Lady Capulet and Capulet. Paris arrives with Friar Lawrence and a group of musicians for the wedding. When he learns what has happened, Paris joins in the lamentations. The friar reminds them all that Juliet has gone to a better place, and urges them to make ready for her funeral. Sorrowfully, they comply, and exit.

Left behind, the musicians begin to pack up, their task cut short. Peter, the Capulet servant, enters and asks the musicians to play a happy tune to ease his sorrowful heart. The musicians refuse, arguing that to play such music would be inappropriate. Angered, Peter insults the musicians, who respond in kind. After singing a final insult at the musicians, Peter leaves. The musicians decide to wait for the mourners to return so that they might get to eat the lunch that will be served.

Read a translation of Act 4, scenes 4–5

Analysis: Act 4, scenes 3–5

Once again, Juliet demonstrates her strength. She comes up with reason after reason why drinking the sleeping potion might cause her harm, physical or psychological, but chooses to drink it anyway. In this action she not only attempts to circumvent the forces that obstruct her relationship with Romeo, she takes full responsibility for herself. She recognizes that drinking the potion might lead her to madness or to death. Drinking the potion, therefore, constitutes an action in which she takes her life into her own hands, and determines its worth to her. In addition to the obvious foreshadow in Juliet’s vision of Tybalt’s vengeful ghost, her drinking of the potion also hints at future events. She drinks the potion just as Romeo will later drink the apothecary’s poison. In drinking the potion Juliet not only demonstrates a willingness to take her life into her own hands, but she also goes against what is expected of women and takes action.

In their mourning for Juliet, the Capulets appear less as a hostile force arrayed against the lovers and more as individuals. The audience gains an understanding of the immense hopes that the Capulets had placed in Juliet, as well as a sense of their love for her. Similarly, Paris’s love for Juliet seems wholly legitimate. His wailing cannot simply be taken as grief over the loss of a wife who might have brought him fortune. It seems more personal than that, more like grief over the loss of a loved one.

Read more about the tone of the play.

Many productions of Romeo and Juliet cut the scene depicting Peter and the musicians. Productions do this for good reason: the scene’s humor and traded insults seem ill placed at such a tragic moment in the play. If one looks at the scene as merely comic relief, it is possible to argue that it acts as a sort of caesura, a moment for the audience to catch its breath from the tragedy of Act 4 before heading into the even greater tragedy of Act 5. If one looks at the scene in context with the earlier scenes that include servants, a second argument can be made for why Shakespeare included it. From each scene including servants, we gain a unique perspective of the events going on in the play. Here, in the figure of the musicians, we get a profoundly different view of the reaction of the lower classes to the tragedy of Juliet’s death. Initially the musicians are wary about playing a happy song because it will be considered improper, no matter their explanations. It is not, after all, for a mere musician to give explanations to mourning noblemen. As the scene progresses, it becomes clear that the musicians do not really care much about Juliet or the tragedy in which she is involved. They care more about the fact that they are out of a job, and, perhaps, that they will miss out on a free lunch. In other words, this great tragedy, while epic to the Capulets, is still not a tragedy to everyone.

Read more about opposite points of view as a motif.