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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act V, Scene 1
On Wednesday morning, Romeo is eagerly waiting for news from Verona. He has had a good night’s sleep. Ironically, he has dreamed that he was dead and that Juliet’s kiss brought him back to life. While he is considering this as a good omen, his servant Balthazar approaches him with the news that Juliet is dead and that he was present at her funeral. Heart-broken but in control, Romeo prepares to return to Verona that same night. Balthasar begs him not to do anything rash. In the soliloquy that follows, Romeo reveals that he has made up his mind to kill himself at Juliet’s resting place. He buys some quick acting poison for the purpose .
This scene is a masterful one set in Mantua, where Romeo is in exile. Romeo’s good mood is in sharp contrast to the lamentations over Juliet’s cold body. The irony of Romeo’s dream about Juliet is apparent. It was obviously sent as a bad omen, but the romantic Romeo has not seen it in that manner. The real meaning of the dream, however, is revealed when Balthasar interrupts his reverie. He tries to break the news to Romeo gently, telling him that Juliet sleeps with the angels. He then reveals that in truth he has just come from Juliet’s funeral. Romeo’s immediate reaction is to defy his fate. He decides to return to Verona that very night and die by Juliet’s side. Sensing his master’s despair, Balthasar begs him not to do anything rash. Romeo’s soliloquy reveals the depth of his depression. He remembers an impoverished apothecary shop and believes its owner, in his poverty, would be willing to sell him poison, even though its sale is punishable by death in Mantua. Romeo goes there and offers the man forty ducats in gold; he reminds the owner that the money will make him independent of the law. The apothecary obliges and gives him the fatal powder. As Romeo gives him the money, he remarks that gold is a worse poison to men’s souls in this loathsome world than any drug. With the poison in his pocket, Romeo leaves for Verona.
In an earlier scene, Juliet was shown to have matured and to act independently in drinking her potion. In the latter part of this scene, Shakespeare also depicts a mature determination and firmness in Romeo’s character. He is no longer just a romantic youth. His comment about the poison of money reinforces the idea of his maturity. Unfortunately, he still possesses youthful characteristics and acts in an impulsive, hasty manner when he buys the poison and decides to kill himself.
Out of all the minor characters in the play, the apothecary stands out as most life-like. His ragged clothes, beetling brows, and utter misery on his face vividly describe his impoverished condition and give a picture of death personified. His shop, filled with the heads and hides of dead animals, is like a living tomb. The apothecary is so tired of the poverty, he will break the law and risk death himself in order to sell death for forty ducats.
It is important to note the imagery of stars again in this scene. When Romeo learns of Juliet’s death, he quickly decides to kill himself and join his angel. He shakes his fist and cries, “ I defy you, stars.” Throughout the play, stars have been part of the love of Romeo and Juliet. Before attending the ball at the Capulets and meeting Juliet, Romeo has a premonition of something hanging in the stars. As he woos Juliet on the balcony, he describes her eyes as bright stars. On their wedding night, he calls the stars bright candles. Now, for Romeo, the stars have gone out; his Juliet is dead.
The part of fate to the play becomes even more apparent in this scene. Fate brought Romeo and Juliet together at the Capulet ball. Fate has caused his exile from her. Fate has prevented the messenger from delivering the letter from Friar Lawrence. Now, worst of all, fate seems to have taken Juliet from him forever. It is no wonder that the romantic Romeo chooses to defy fate and join Juliet eternally in heaven.
It is important to note that this marvelously written scene begins with a dream of death that Romeo has experienced; ironically, that death brings him joy. In mid-scene, he learns about the “death” of Juliet, which he has to assume is real and which destroys his joy forever. At the end of the scene, he is dreaming of death again -- his own.
Act V, Scene 2
Friar John, the messenger sent to Romeo with a letter from Friar Lawrence explaining that Juliet is not really dead, returns without delivering it. He is quarantined due to a fear of the plague. Friar Lawrence, alarmed that Romeo will not return in time to be present when Juliet awakes, decides to be there himself and then hide Juliet in his cell until Romeo returns.
In this Scene, it is explained how fate interferes in thwarting the plans of Friar Lawrence. The letter that the Friar has sent to Romeo does not reach him, for Friar John is not allowed to go to Mantua. He is shut up in a house by the authorities, who fear that the house is infected with plague. Friar Lawrence is greatly perturbed at this news. He exclaims, “Unhappy fortune”. He realizes the power of fate to destroy his plans, and perhaps his good intentions. He is not capable of imagining the horror that fate will cause in the last scene of the play.
Within three hours Juliet will awaken from her trance, and Romeo will not be there to take her away. Fate forces him to get more deeply involved in the deception he has begun, and he seems somewhat overwhelmed. The Friar decides to hasten to the tomb and bring Juliet to his cell when she wakens; the lovers can be reunited later. Friar Lawrence has no way of knowing that Romeo has already heard about Juliet’s death and has hastened to Verona.