Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act V, Scene 3
This scene is set at night, in a graveyard with the sealed vault of the Capulets in the background. The effect of Juliet’s potion is beginning to wear off. Paris enters and places flowers on her tomb. He has posted a servant, some distance away, and told him to whistle if he sees anyone nearby. When he hears the page whistle, he steps into the dark. Romeo enters with Balthasar. He takes the pickaxe and crowbar from Balthasar and tells him to deliver a letter to his father. He plans to open the vault of Juliet, see her face, and take a ring from her finger. He tells his servant not to interfere, but the anxious Balthasar lingers nearby.
While Romeo is engaged in opening the tomb, Paris comes forward. He recognizes the killer of Tybalt, whose death he reasons, was the cause of Juliet’s suicide. Paris demands that Romeo surrender so that he can be taken to the Prince for breaking his exile. Romeo, in no mood for a fight, begs Paris to leave him alone so he will not have to commit another murder. Paris refuses and attempts to arrest Romeo, who defends himself. In the fight that follows, Romeo kills his opponent. The dying wish of Paris is that he be laid next to Juliet. By then, his page has run off to notify the authorities of the killing.
To his shock, Romeo discovers that his opponent was Paris, whom he failed to recognize in the dark. He recalls Balthasar telling him about Juliet’s proposed marriage to Paris. He accepts the dead man as a fellow unfortunate and lays him in the tomb beside Juliet. When Romeo sees his true love, he is pleased that death has not destroyed her beauty. He fancies that death has fallen in love with Juliet and that he must jealously guard her against “the abhorred monster”! He kisses her, drinks the poison, and dies.
Friar Lawrence enters the graveyard with the intention of opening the tomb. Balthasar sees him, but refuses to accompany him for fear of his master. The Friar enters the tomb, and is shocked to find Romeo and Paris lying dead. Juliet stirs, comes to her senses, and immediately asks for Romeo. Friar Lawrence tells her sorrowfully of Romeo’s death. He suggests that she join a sisterhood of nuns. Juliet spies her dead “husband” with an empty cup of poison in his hand. She kisses his lips, snatches Romeo’s dagger, and stabs herself. She falls dead on Romeo’s body.
Paris’ servant returns with the city watch. Balthasar and the Friar are arrested on suspicion of murder. Soon the Capulets and the Montagues arrive with the Prince. The Prince orders the arrested persons to be brought before him for trial. The Friar pleads not guilty and tells what has happened. The Prince reads Romeo’s letter to his father and realizes the truth of the Friar’s statements. Then, he rebukes the heads of the two opposing families for their enmity and holds himself responsible for not being severe in carrying out his orders for peace. The prince imposes no further penalties; the tragedy before them is sufficient punishment for them all.
Capulet then extends his hand in friendship to Montague, and each promises to raise a statue in gold of the other’s child. The Prince concludes that none has heard “a story of more woe than this of Juliet and Romeo.”
This last scene, containing the denouement of the play, is melodramatic in its series of tragic crises and its atmosphere of ghastliness. It is appropriately set at night in a graveyard. The three deaths that occur cause a sense of total darkness, desolation, and despair. Fate, once again, has played its cruel hand in the death scene. Father Lawrence does not arrive in time to save Romeo, and Juliet does not awake in time to save him.
The scene is filled with irony. Juliet’s husband (Romeo) meets her fiancé (Paris) in the tomb of the woman that they both love. Paris has come to place flowers upon the tomb of Juliet. Romeo has come to say his farewells to “the dearest morsel of the earth” and kill himself beside her. Paris, who has been hiding, watches as Romeo pries open the tomb. Thinking that Romeo is trying to do some villainous shame to Juliet’s body, Paris challenges him. In the conflict that ensues, Romeo wounds Paris fatally. Paris makes a dying wish that his body be laid beside Juliet, which is what Romeo is planning to do for himself. Romeo then realizes that his opponent was Paris.
Romeo is determined to reunite with Juliet in death and promises, “I will lie with thee tonight.” When he sees that her cheeks are still crimson and her beauty has not faded, Romeo fancies that Death has fallen in love with her, just as he has done. Before drinking his poison, he bids his eyes to take their last look, his arms to take their last embrace, and his lips to seal hers with a kiss. As Romeo dies by her side, Juliet begins to revive. The irony is obvious. If Romeo had not been so hasty and impetuous, the lovers would have been united in life rather than in death.
When Friar Lawrence enters the vault and discovers the bodies of Paris and Romeo, he exclaims, “O sour misfortune!” At his words Juliet seems to wake; she immediately asks for her Romeo. The Friar tells her that a greater power than this has thwarted their interests. He suggests taking her to a sisterhood of nuns, but Juliet refuses, for death is on her mind. She kisses Romeo’s lips where some poison still hangs. Upon hearing some noise, she snatches her husband’s dagger, kills herself, and falls upon Romeo. The star-crossed lovers are united eternally in death and the two families of Capulet and Montague reconcile over the dead bodies of the lovers, thus fulfilling the dream of Friar Lawrence and Prince Escalus.
The ending of the play brings about the final the working of fate. As Friar Lawrence suggests, the seeming bad luck of the delayed letter was in fact the intent of a mysterious higher intelligence. Prince Escalus, too, finds a fateful meaning in the tragic event. “See what a scourge is laid upon your fate,” utters as he admonishes the Montagues and Capulets. The prologue had foretold that the deaths of Romeo and Juliet would “bury their parents’ strife”. Fate has made this come to pass.
Throughout the play, love and hate are interrelated, almost as an oxymoron. Early in the play, Romeo calls, “O brawling love, O loving hate.” Juliet later echoes his words when she says, “My only love sprung from my only hate.” This paradox expresses a conflict that is often found in humankind. Hatred seems to be a condition of man’s corrupted will, and it attempts to destroy what is gracious in human beings. The hatred between the Capulets and Montagues is what pushed Romeo and Juliet into secrecy and ultimately lead to their deaths. Through their love, but at a terrible price, Romeo and Juliet cause the hatred to be put aside. Ironically, their brightness (they have both been described in terms of light in the play) shines through in death to disperse the darkness of the hatred. Now the two families must come to terms with their collective guilt and resolve henceforth to be worthy of the sacrifice.
Throughout the play, the voice of the prince has been the voice of reason. He is a spokesman for public order. To him is given the final speech promising both punishment and pardon, and it is he who sums up the paradoxical interdependence of love and hate. He is the spokesman for the restored order through which the families are reconciled. The last scene closes the play with a moral that the sin of enmity is punished with unnecessary death for some and misery for others.