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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act II, Scene 3
As he plucks medicinal herbs, Friar Lawrence reveals his philosophy of life and his love for plants; he also reveals himself to be kind and sympathetic as he rejoices in the beauty of nature. He fills his basket with both harmful and beneficial herbs. He selects some plants whose smell cheers the senses, but whose juices can kill the man that tastes them. He philosophizes that good and evil are both found in man as well as in plants.
Romeo enters and bids the Friar good morning. The Friar blesses him, but is surprised at the fact that Romeo is up and about so early. He fears that Romeo may have been with Rosaline, but he tells the Friar that he has overcome his infatuation for her and has fallen in love with Juliet. He also reveals that he wishes the Friar to perform their marriage on this very day. The Friar is amazed at Romeo’s sudden change of heart and rebukes him for his insincerity. However, he consents to marry them in the afternoon, hoping the union will do much to end the conflict between their two families.
This scene introduces Friar Lawrence, who plays a very important role in the play, and serves as a contrast to the mood in the previous scene. Here age, wisdom, and caution, symbolized by the Friar, are contrasted to the earlier passion of young love. The Friar’s philosophy on life is based on moderation and temperance. He is depicted as a devoted priest, a lover of nature, a philosopher, and above all as the confessor for both families, the Capulets and the Montagues. As a herbalist, he loves his plants and finds good as well as evil qualities in them, just like with mankind. The herb that he singles out is full of beauty and fragrance, but contains a poison that may cause death, foreshadowing the tragedy that is to follow.
When Romeo informs Friar Lawrence about his new love for Juliet, the confessor chides him for his rapid change of heart. There is quiet humor in his reproofs, however, for the Friar is a kind old man. The Friar agrees to marry Romeo and Juliet because he hopes that this marriage may bring about a reconciliation of their families. The Friar advises Romeo to have patience: “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.” Unfortunately, Romeo does not follow the advice of his confessor. In his passion, Romeo has no patience, which is the tragic flaw that leads to the deaths of the couple.
Act II, Scene 4
Juliet selects the Nurse as her messenger to Romeo. Her search for Romeo causes some delay. Meanwhile, Benvolio and Mercutio are up early, looking for Romeo. Benvolio has learned that Romeo was not at home all night and that Tybalt has sent a letter to Romeo challenging him to a duel. He then displays his own interest in dueling by mocking a host of new Italian and French terms, recently introduced in England.
Romeo enters, happy in the anticipation of meeting Juliet’s messenger. Mercutio makes fun of Romeo, supposing that he is still mooning over Rosaline, but Romeo challenges him in a contest of wit with. As they banter, the Nurse arrives. She feels important about her errand, and, attended by the servant Peter, she tries to appear dignified. Mercutio is amused at her seeming self-importance and ridicules her. The Nurse gets into an argument with him. When she inquires where she can find Romeo, he comes forward and introduces himself. She reveals that she has a private message for him. Benvolio and Mercutio leave the scene after teasing the Nurse, who threatens revenge. The Nurse, however, accepts Romeo as a worthy suitor for Juliet.
Romeo informs the Nurse of his meeting with the Friar and tells her that the priest has asked Juliet to come to him that afternoon for confession, absolution, and the marriage ceremony. Romeo pays Nurse for her pains and asks her to arrange for a rope ladder with which he will be able to climb into Juliet’s room that night. The Nurse agrees to the plan, even though she compares Paris with Romeo.
This scene takes place at nine o’clock on the same morning that Romeo has visited with the Friar. Benvolio and Mercutio are up early looking for Romeo, for Tybalt has sent a letter to Romeo, challenging him to a duel. Mercutio worries that Romeo’s love-lorn state will make him unfit for fighting an opponent as formidable as Tybalt.
Another dueling of wits marks the scene, written chiefly in prose,: one between Mercutio and Romeo and the other between Mercutio and the Nurse. Romeo’s changed nature keeps him from being the easy victim of Mercutio’s satire this time; instead, he engages in a brilliant play of wit with Mercutio, which the peacemaker Benvolio tries to quiet. Mercutio, on the other hand, is delighted at Romeo’s spirit, an indication that he has finally come out of his lovesick mood. Mercutio also turns his wit on the Nurse. He picks on her absurd pomposity, but the Nurse holds her own with him. As soon as Mercutio leaves, the Nurse resorts to her familiar coarseness, vulgarly criticizing Mercutio. Romeo, in a light mood, teases the Nurse. It is good comedy and an appropriate contrast to the seriousness of the love and impending marriage of Romeo and Juliet.
The Nurse is very amusing in her pompous manner. She is genuinely filled with concern over Romeo’s honorable intentions and Juliet’s welfare. She must judge Romeo as worthy before she consents to deal further with him. Once he is approved by her, Romeo delivers his instructions for the marriage ceremony and with practicality (not previously seen in him) asks the Nurse to arrange for a ladder so that he can climb into Juliet’s room at night.
The chief purpose of the scene is to complete the details necessary for the marriage and to set a happy mood for the union. It also adds suspense by mentioning that Tybalt has challenged Romeo to a duel. It then furnishes comic relief to the seriousness of the preceding and following scenes. Finally, it develops the characters of Mercutio and Nurse.