Romeo and Juliet By William Shakespeare Summary and Analysis Act IV: Scene 1

Summary

On Tuesday morning, Paris tells Friar Laurence of his proposed marriage to Juliet — a wedding scheduled to take place in two days. The Friar expresses concern that the wedding has been arranged too quickly, and he offers various reasons to delay the ceremony. Paris believes that Capulet hastened the nuptials out of concern for Juliet's grief over Tybalt's death.

Juliet arrives at the Friar's cell and manages to cleverly sidestep Paris' compliments and references to their upcoming marriage. Paris then leaves, and Juliet begs the Friar for a solution to her tragic dilemma because she fears that death is her only option. The Friar offers Juliet a remedy — a sleeping potion that she is to take on Wednesday night, the evening before the wedding. The potion will render Juliet unconscious, and she will appear to be dead for 42 hours, during which time her body will rest in the family tomb. In the meantime, the Friar will let Romeo know of this plan. Juliet immediately agrees and leaves with the potion.

Analysis

This scene acts as a watershed — a defining moment — in the play's overall structure. In this scene, Juliet's decision to accept the Friar's potion demonstrates her commitment to defying her father's rule, asserting her independence, and accepting her resolution to die in order to be with Romeo.

Juliet's composure in this scene is exceptional. She is surprised to find Paris at the Friar's cell — a development that contributes significantly to the dramatic tension in the scene. The tension in the cell is electric as Juliet and Paris engage in a rigid and formal exchange known as stichomythia — an exchange between characters in which their dialogue switches back and forth across alternating lines. Paris shows himself to be a proper and courteous suitor, while Juliet proves her nimble mind as she evades Paris's questions and compliments.

Paris, like Capulet, believes that marriage will cure Juliet's grief, which if left unsupervised, may result in extreme melancholy. Ironically, Juliet recently has made a series of mature, reasoned decisions, such as defying her family, marrying, and now, sacrificing her life for her forbidden love — all of which are contrary to Paris and Capulet's paternalistic view of her need for adult male guidance. Juliet's conversation with the Friar parallels Act III, Scene 3, because Juliet, like Romeo, now believes that only death can offer a solution to her dilemma: "Be not so long to speak. I long to die / If what thou speak'st speak not of remedy."

Juliet's describes her fears about pursuing the Friar's plan as she contemplates the horrors she is prepared to face rather than marry Paris. The gothic images foreshadow the play's final scene in the Capulet tomb. She prepares to take the potion and exclaims, "And bid me go into a new-made grave / And hide me with a dead man in his shroud." Although these images suggest the wild fears of a spirited young teenager, they also highlight her bravery and the depth of her love for her husband.

The Friar's willingness to help Juliet reflects his concern for his own role in the unfolding events. He has performed an illicit marriage and must now strive to prevent being implicated in the bigamous marriage between Juliet and Paris. The Friar has exposed himself to substantial personal liability, but he faces many opportunities to absolve himself of any involvement. The Friar is a peace-loving yet powerless character whose efforts to promote good are as subject to the whims of fate as anyone else's in the play.

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