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SCENE SUMMARY AND NOTES
Act IV, Scene 1
On Tuesday morning, Paris goes to the Friar to arrange for the marriage ceremony. For awhile, Friar Lawrence is confused and does not reply. Instead, Paris does most of the talking, explaining to the priest that he has been unable to learn the feelings of Juliet towards him because of her grief for Tybalt. Beginning to understand the situation, the Friar suggests that the marriage be delayed. During their conversation, Juliet enters. Paris greets her as his wife and pays her compliments on her appearance. Juliet is guarded in her replies, a fact, which puzzles Paris. She breaks off the conversation by asking the Friar if it is convenient for him to hear her confession now. Paris politely leaves.
Juliet breaks out in tears, lamenting the hopelessness of her situation. She declares she will do anything to solve her problem, but she refuses to be unfaithful to her husband. The Friar sympathizes with her, but it is beyond his wisdom to know how to deal with her situation. She replies that if he cannot help her she will end her life with a dagger, a foreshadowing of her own end in the next act. The Friar thinks of a remedy. He tells her she can pretend to be dead, thus putting off the marriage to Paris. The Friar then tells Juliet that she is to go home and consent to the marriage with Paris. He then gives her a potion and tells her to take it on Wednesday night. It will cause her to turn cold and rigid, stop her pulse, and make her appear truly dead. She will remain in this state for forty-two hours and will awaken from it as if from a pleasant sleep. When her parents go to awaken her on Thursday morning, they will believe her dead and entomb her in the Capulet vault the same day. In the meantime, Friar Lawrence will contact Romeo and bring him back to Verona. Romeo and he will be present in the vault when she awakens, and the Friar promises to help the two of them to escape back to Mantua under the cover of darkness.
This scene takes place in the Friar’s cell two days after Romeo and Juliet have met and two days before Juliet is to marry Paris. At first Paris is alone with Friar Lawrence, trying to make plans for the marriage. The two men are interrupted by Juliet, who, in her new maturity, is able to control herself in front of Paris. He is highly courteous and gentlemanly, expressing concern over her grief for Tybalt. He also praises her beauty. Juliet replies politely (but ironically) that her face “is not mine own”. The words confuse Paris, but the audience clearly understands that all of Juliet now belongs to Romeo alone.
When Paris leaves, Juliet pours forth her pent-up passion and anger to the Friar. She states she would rather die than marry Paris, and her words are once again prophetic: “Bid me go into a new-made grave/And hide me with a dead man in his shroud.” She appeals to Friar Lawrence for holy counsel and a practical remedy to get out of her dreadful situation. The Friar is truly impressed by her devotion to Romeo, but at first he has no solution for her.
The remedy that the Friar suggests is frightening and comes from his knowledge of herbs and medicines that was seen in Act I. He will make her appear dead so she can regain her life and her love. The Friar advises her to go home in peace and consent to marry Paris. He gives her a potion to drink on Wednesday, so she will be as cold and lifeless as death for forty-two hours. While she is in the trance, the Friar will summon Romeo from Mantua. When Juliet awakens in the tomb, Romeo will receive her there and take her with him back to Mantua, thus saving her from this shameful marriage to Paris. Without hesitation, Juliet agrees to the Friar’s plan. She takes the vial containing the potion and returns home.
Once again in this scene, Friar Lawrence’s intentions are good. He married the young lovers in hopes of ending the feud between the Capulets and Montagues. Now he gives Juliet the potion in hopes of reuniting the lovers. Unfortunately, his goodness in trying to help them will indirectly bring about their deaths.