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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act III, Scene 5
The scene opens just before dawn on Tuesday morning, and Romeo and Juliet appear on the balcony of her room. He must leave the city before daylight, and the two are bidding a lingering farewell to each other. Romeo has heard the song of the lark announcing the coming of dawn, but Juliet, hoping to hold her husband awhile longer, insists that it was the nightingale. Romeo then points to the horizon where streaks of light are seen in the east, but she claims that it is a meteor to light him on his way to Mantua in the darkness. He says that he would prefer to die rather than leave her. At the word death, she yields and bids him to go before he is discovered and can escape. As Romeo prepares to depart, the Nurse announces Lady Capulet’s arrival. The two lovers exchange final kisses, and Romeo goes down the ladder. Juliet tells him to write to her every hour, and he promises to do so. They part after a very touching farewell.
When Lady Capulet comes in, she scolds Juliet for weeping too long over Tybalt’s death. She then announces that she has good news to cheer Juliet. Her father has fixed her marriage to Paris for Thursday morning at Saint Peter’s Church. Juliet, shocked by this complication, tells her mother that she refuses to marry a man who has not even wooed her. When Lady Capulet tells her husband about Juliet’s decision, Capulet cannot believe his ears and confronts his daughter. He orders her to be ready to go to church on Thursday . When Lady Capulet and Juliet plead with him, he refuses to listen. He threatens to disinherit her if she refuses to marry Paris.
Juliet’s pleading with her mother to put off the marriage even for a week is to no avail. Juliet then seeks the Nurse’s advice, but she has no wisdom for the young bride. Instead, the Nurse tells her that since Romeo is banished and will not dare to return, it would be better for Juliet to marry the handsome Paris and forget Romeo, a suggestion that is horrifying to Juliet. In a soliloquy, she describes the Nurse as the personification of evil and a wicked friend. She also asks herself which is the greater sin: to lie (as she has just done to her mother) or to speak ill of her husband. With determination and maturity, Juliet vows that she will never trust the Nurse’s advice again and that in future she will follow her own will. She then decides to go to Friar Lawrence to confess, receive absolution, and seek his advice, just like her husband sought refuge in the Friar’s cell after the murder of Tybalt. Since the young lovers cannot be honest with their own fathers, they always turn to their father confessor.
This scene, known as the Second Balcony Scene, is of dramatic importance and contains various moods, ranging from the lyric rapture of the lovers to the senile fury of old Capulet. The lovers are together at the window of Juliet’s room. It is time for Romeo to depart from his wife and from Verona, for it is nearly dawn on Tuesday morning. In their love and sorrow, they speak in beautiful lyric poetry. It is not easy for them to say good-bye, for they do not know when they will see one another again. The tragedy is that they will never again see each other alive.
Juliet exhibits exquisite tension as she realizes that Romeo must leave her, but begs him to stay. It is appropriate that the time is dawn, which divides the day and the night. The tension is further reflected in the light and dark images that color their speeches. Romeo knows he must immediately depart for “Night’s candles are burnt out,” and he sees light in the east. Juliet tries to explain it away as a meteor in the darkness. As Romeo finally goes down the ladder, Juliet, with dramatic irony, asks a poignant question: “O think’st thou we shall meet again”? Romeo bravely tries to comfort her. Looking down upon him from her balcony, Juliet utters a totally prophetic line: “O God! I have an ill-divining soul/Methinks I see thee, now thou art below/As one dead in the bottom of a tomb.” When the lovers meet next, it will be in a tomb, and Romeo will be dead.
The next part of the scene is in sharp contrast to this quiet, anxious farewell between the two lovers. Both Capulets are vehement as they chastise their daughter when she refuses to marry Paris. They are perplexed and furious over her disobedience. Capulet, whose temper has been shown before, explodes into a violent rage and berates his daughter for her ingratitude. He calls her “young baggage” and “a disobedient wretch” and threatens to disinherit her if she does not obey his commands. The irony is that in her own mind she has already been exiled from her family when Romeo left Verona.
Lady Capulet also shows unexpected cruelty. She makes no attempt to sympathize with her daughter or to understand her feelings. Her wicked nature is seen in her plan to poison Romeo and in her preference to see “Juliet married to her grave” rather than to endure Juliet’s disobedience to herself and her husband.
Juliet’s next hope of comfort lies with her Nurse. This cautions counselor also fails to give Juliet the solace she needs. The Nurse’s hypocritical and treacherous advice to the young bride is to forget Romeo and marry Paris. Juliet realizes that she can no longer trust the Nurse’s advice and that she must think and act on her own. Her love for Romeo has rapidly changed her from childish ways to maturity.
Juliet’s last hope for comfort is with Friar Lawrence. She plans to go to him for confession, absolution, and advice. She declares that if the Friar does not help her to avoid the marriage to Paris, she will kill herself, a foreshadowing of what is to soon happen.
The entire scene is filled with dramatic irony. Dawn, in bringing a new day, usually ushers in brightness and hope. Such is not the case for Romeo and Juliet. For them, the dawn ushers in darkness and despair, for it brings their separation. Lady Capulet believes that Juliet is in her room, grieving over the death of her cousin Tybalt. (In truth, Juliet is grieving, but it is over her separation from Romeo.) Lady Capulet says that she will avenge Tybalt’s death by sending a servant to Mantua to poison Romeo, an ironic foreshadowing of Romeo’s poisoning at his own hands. Juliet pretends to enter into her mother’s plan, and answers her with a wonderful play on words: “Indeed I shall never be satisfied / with Romeo, till I behold him - dead - is my poor heart.” Indeed, Juliet does long to see Romeo, “to behold him”. In her maturity and devotion to her husband, she is prepared to deceive her parents for the sake of her love.