Summary and Analysis
Romeo is struck by the way Juliet's beauty appears to defy death — she still looks alive: "Why art thou yet so fair? Shall I believe / That unsubstantial Death is so amorous?" he asks bitterly, believing that death preserves her to be death's own lover. The dramatic tension is amplified by the audience's awareness that Romeo is seeing the physical signs of Juliet's recovery from drug-induced sleep. In an example of bleak irony, his attraction to her even in death emboldens him to press onward with his own suicide just as she is about to awaken.
Lady Capulet's curse on Juliet echoes loudly: "I would the fool were married to her grave," as does Paris' description of the tomb as a "bridal bed." Once again, the themes of love, sex, and death become inextricably intertwined ensnaring the characters in an intricate web. Reunion in this scene is not only spiritual, but also sexual. Shakespeare again draws on the Elizabethan meaning of death as sexual climax. Romeo drinks poison from the round vial — an allusion to female sexuality. Juliet stabs herself with Romeo's dagger, a phallic image symbolizing the reconsummation of their marriage. Thus as they die in pursuit of spiritual unification, they symbolically reconsummate their marriage, leaving their bodies as monuments to the depth of their love as well as signs of the tragic waste that is the feud's legacy.
Paris' challenge to Romeo at the tomb parallels Tybalt's challenge in Act III, Scene 1. In both instances, Romeo resists the invitation to fight, but fate conspires to leave him no choice. Romeo is reluctant to kill Paris, because he is concerned only with dying himself and entreats Paris to leave. Romeo says to Paris, "By heaven I love thee better than myself." He responded similarly to Tybalt's insults in Act III, Scene 1, "But [I] love thee better than thou canst devise."
After Paris is dead, Romeo realizes who Paris is and describes them both as the victims of fate: "One writ with me in sour misfortune's book." Paris is a noble suitor and defends Juliet's grave with his life. His death, like Mercutio's, is tragic in that he never knew the love shared by Romeo and Juliet.
Romeo's sudden sense of compassion for the dying Paris may be understandable. When Romeo courted Rosaline, he found her cold and unresponsive to his amorous desires. Like Romeo, Paris received little beyond polite conversation from Juliet; her love was entirely dedicated to Romeo. Like Romeo, Paris is a worthy suitor of good character and noble intent. The pain of an unrequited love is not foreign to Romeo, and the fact that Paris will die, like Mercutio, without enlightenment or exposure to true, transcendent, spiritual love catalyzes great compassion and sympathy in Romeo.
Rather than demonstrating weakness or a distracted mindset, Juliet's death indicates her dignity and strength of character. The Romans regarded stabbing as the most noble form of suicide. Juliet ignores the Friar's warnings and deliberately follows through with her vow to be with Romeo in death.
Thus the play concludes with the reconciliation of the families — a somewhat Pyrrhic triumph. As the originators of the feud stand amidst the dead bodies of their city's youth, the rift is healed. Romeo and Juliet have achieved spiritual reunion in death, and their lives will be memorialized in gold as witness to their sacrifice. The conclusion seems somewhat empty because Romeo and Juliet triumph in death — an ending that manifests the very essence of the tragedy itself. However, measuring the tragedy by the crude barometer of the moral lessons that the survivors learn seems obtuse. The tragedy can be appreciated in the context of the protagonists' understanding of their own lives. The soul of the tragedy is not constituted in the joy they had and lost; rather, the soul of the tragedy lies in the joy that could never last in this world.
obsequies funeral rites.
cross to thwart.
mattock a tool for loosening the soil: it is like a pickax but has a flat, adz-shaped blade on one or both sides.
dear employment important purpose.
conjuration solemn entreaty.
lantern an open or windowed structure on the roof of a building or in the upper part of a tower or the like, to admit light or air.
feasting presence presence chamber: the room in which a king or other person of rank or distinction formally receives guests.
keepers guards, as of prisoners.
a light'ning before death! Romeo refers to the belief that on the point of death the spirits were supposed to revive.
conduct that is, the poison.
churl a surly, ill-bred person.
rust corruption, decay.
let mischance be slave to patience submit to these unfortunate events with patience.
kill your joys kill your children and turn your joy to sorrow.
winking turning a blind eye to.
glooming peace peace overshadowed with grief.