Do NOT use the term ‘fake news’ in your examination. Seriously! But it felt relevant here.
For the first time, we jump somewhere entirely new: Mantua. Romeo is remembering a dream he had, where Juliet found him dead and a kiss brought him back to life. Some big foreshadowing right there.
Balthasar arrives and tells him that Juliet is dead.
Again, Romeo doesn’t pause for thought or to consider his options. He vows to go straight back to Verona and “lie” alongside Juliet that night.
He finds an Apothecary that he has heard of before and convinces him to sell him some poison, as the Apothecary is poor and in need of the money.
The first scene ends with Romeo referring to the poison as “cordial”, a reviving drug, emphasising how a life without Juliet would be miserable for him. This is the most measured we see Romeo, devising a plan similar to Juliet’s. The difference is that he knows he will not wake from drinking this poison.
Out of the Frying Pan, into the
Friar Laurence meets with Friar John, who was entrusted with taking the letter to Romeo, informing him of the fact that Juliet’s death has been feigned.
This is an interesting moment in the play, as far as fate is concerned.
Up until now, you can argue that all the misfortune has been as a result of characters’ actions and choices.
Friar John reveals that he hasn’t delivered the letter, as he was feared to be sick with pestilence from helping the poor, so was sealed in a house.
Though it doesn’t appear to be chance which has led them to this situation, it does play a role in sealing both their deaths.
And time crops up again: “within these three hours will fair Juliet wake.” The clock is ticking and Friar Laurence must return to Verona as fast as he can to repair the situation.
It is a strong decision to reintroduce Paris to the play at this point. It paints him in a positive light to see that he genuinely cared for Juliet and loved her.
The purpose of this might be to show that Juliet could have been happy with Paris, to reinforce the tragedy of the piece.
But it also presents a brutal moment at the point when Romeo and Juliet are almost reunited.
Paris attempts to arrest Romeo, believing that his murder of Tybalt was the grief which killed Juliet. Romeo attempts to reason with him but soon they fall to fighting.
As Paris dies, he asks Romeo to lay him with Juliet and Romeo does so. This is a strangely gentle moment when the two adversaries acknowledge each other’s love for Juliet.
But Romeo now has two murders on his hands.
Moreover, of the three people currently dead, only Tybalt was from the Montague or Capulet family. And it seems to imply, as this is the Capulet tomb, that Tybalt’s body is there as well.
Finally, Romeo is left alone with Juliet.
He remarks largely on how beautiful she looks, even in death, another piece of dramatic irony.
But this soliloquy is in strong contrast to his opening exchange with Benvolio.
At the start of the play, he laments his own bad luck with Rosaline.
All his language centres on his sadness and grief, going so far as to say of himself “This is not Romeo, he’s some other where.”
Despite the tragic circumstances of the final scene, he appears to have made sense of who Romeo is. Rather than focusing on his own bad luck, his language is largely to do with his love, Juliet.
The tragedy is that this is the moment when he might be best equipped to have a mature relationship. But as someone famous once wrote, “the course of true love never did run smooth.” (Spoiler alert: Shakespeare wrote it. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream).
The Friar’s Chance
So Romeo is dead. A Shakespearean audience would have been waiting to see if Juliet woke up. A modern audience knows full well that Juliet’s about to wake up.
And that’s what happens next, right? Wrong! Baz Luhrmann has stitched everyone up by changing the action in his film. Next we see the return of Friar Laurence.
Balthasar says he “dreamt” that there was a fight and someone died (probably to cover his own backside).
The Friar discovers the dead bodies. And then Juliet wakes up. Friar Laurence tries to get her to leave the tomb, informing her that both Paris and Romeo are dead.
He says he’ll shove her in a nunnery but they have to go now as people are coming. She does not respond and the Friar leaves her there. The Friar has a chance to save Juliet but tries to protect himself instead…
And now Juliet is left alone.
She is surrounded by her dead husband, dead cousin, any other dead relatives who might be in there, and dead Paris, who actually wasn’t such a bad guy. She doesn’t hesitate.
Again, even after everything, time is severely limited and she has to act quickly.
Unlike Romeo, there is no time for her to contemplate everything.
She tries to find some remaining poison in the cup but it is all gone. She then tries to get any remaining on his lips by kissing him. Again, there’s none.
After hearing a voice close by she picks up Romeo’s dagger and stabs herself. Unlike the romanticism of Romeo’s death, this one feels more clinical.
Once again it highlights a degree of difference between Romeo and Juliet. He is driven by his emotions and feelings, she is driven by the desire to act. And so she dies.
It is worth noting that, in Shakespeare’s time, poison was known as a woman’s weapon whereas men used swords and daggers. This reversal in death offers an insight into the presentation of Romeo and Juliet as characters.
Then everyone turns up. First the watch, who see the sight and detain Balthasar and Friar Laurence (the latter caught looking shifty holding a spade).
Then the Prince arrives closely followed by the Capulet parents and Lord Montague.
The audience learns that Lady Montague, who has barely said a word in the play, has died of grief at her son being banished.
Body count is now up to five.
The Friar then confesses everything that has happened, including all his involvement in it.
He drops the Nurse in it too, for good measure, and then says he will accept a punishment of death.
The Prince, despite the death of another kinsman, Paris, is rigorous in asking everyone for their account. Even in the tragic circumstances, he demonstrates his ability to employ logic and reason.
Death of a Feud
Finally, the Prince shifts the focus to the Capulets and Montagues.
He is unsympathetic with them: “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate.”
And in the next moment, the story rounds itself off and the prophetic Prologue at the start of the play is fulfilled. They vow to settle their differences and ensure that Juliet and Romeo are not forgotten.
The Prince also offers a reminder that this is not the end of it all, as “Some shall be pardon’d, and some punished.”
Who that may be is not made completely clear, but we can presume Friar Laurence and the Nurse will probably be on the “punished” side of things.
From a play which opened looking at “Two houses both alike in dignity” the audience are left with a reminder of the story they have just seen unfold–not to do with two houses– but two young people, “Juliet and her Romeo.”