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

The plan Friar Laurence concocts to place Juliet in a deathlike state so that she may emerge from the tomb to be reunited with her husband appears both farfetched and morbidly weird. In the context of the play, however, the plan manifests themes previously and repeatedly intertwined — love, marriage, life, and death. By placing Juliet into a suspended state, the Friar is reversing the traditional birth/death paradigm — he is creating death in order to draw out life. This theme echoes his words from Act II, Scene 3, "The earth that's nature's mother is her tomb. / What is her burying grave, that is her womb" (lines 9-10).

Through the Friar's plan, the cycle of life and death is reversed; Juliet must appear to die in order to share her life with her husband. Romeo and Juliet's love has transcended the hollow concerns of the other mortal players. Now in order to be united, Romeo and Juliet must rise above the troublesome, temporal world in which mortal players squander their lives in fighting and feuding rather than in living and loving.

The Friar uses his knowledge of flowers and herbs to conceive Juliet's remedial concoction. In Act II, Scene 3, the Friar describes the dual qualities of the flower that is capable of healing yet has the power to act as a poison. The drug the Friar offers Juliet is compounded of opposites and will give Juliet the appearance of death so that she can regain her life and her love. The Friar's plan serves as the mechanism of hope for Juliet, but due to the influence of fate, becomes the vehicle of the tragedy itself.

The Friar's plan to fake Juliet's death using a sleeping drug would have been accepted by Shakespeare's audience, because medical knowledge was extremely limited in the 16th century. Up to the mid-19th century, physicians often were unable to distinguish between deep comas and death, making real the possibility that someone could be buried alive. When her nurse discovers Juliet, the family accepts that she is dead simply from her appearance, without having the fact confirmed by a physician.

Glossary

nothing slow to slack his haste by no means reluctant if I should slow him down in his haste.

uneven is the course the decision is arbitrary and one-sided.

society companionship.

pensive sad; melancholy.

shield forbid.

prorogue postpone; delay.

extremes severe difficulties.

cop'st is willing to face or encounter.

charnel house a building or place where corpses or bones are deposited.

reeky emitting a strong, unpleasant smell.

chapless without the lower jaw.

humour fluid.

surcease cease; stop.

wanny pale.

supple government muscular movement.

stark stiff or rigid, as a corpse.

drift intention.

toy triviality.

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