Act 4 opens with Paris chatting with Friar Laurence about the wedding.
The Friar tries to put him off but Paris will not be moved. Then Juliet turns up. Awkward.
She cleverly avoids agreeing that she loves him or will marry him, despite Paris pressing her to say so. They finally manage to ditch him.
Juliet says she will kill herself if the Friar doesn’t have a plan, but he does.
He then gives her a vial to drink tomorrow (Wednesday) night which should slow her pulse so much, that she appears to be dead. Then, when they put her in the ancient Capulet vault where they bury their dead, he will return and enable her to escape with Romeo.
He says he will send a letter to Romeo, informing him of the plan.
Now we see the difference between Romeo and Juliet. Both say they will do anything for the other, yet Romeo allows his shame and pride to overcome him, killing Tybalt and driving him and Juliet apart. By contrast, Juliet is willing to face death and leave her family, to be with Romeo. One good question to ask is, does Romeo deserve Juliet?
And in Scene 2, we see Juliet’s rationality. She returns and begs her parents for forgiveness, saying that she has seen the error of her ways.
Capulet says that “our whole city is much bound” to the Friar for changing Juliet’s mind. He might not think so, shortly.
Instantly, Capulet brings the wedding forward to the next day (Wednesday) rather than Thursday.
The pace of the action is increasing, and time is growing shorter.
Though she says nothing, we as an audience know that Juliet will now take the potion tonight. Her silence emphasises her bravery. She doesn’t ask to keep the wedding on Thursday and buy herself an extra day; she is ready to act now.
And the tension increases in Scene 3, once again, when the audience sees Juliet getting ready for bed.
It is worth observing that the scenes are now getting much shorter in length, which serves to drive the action forward.
Each decision and incident has a knock-on effect. Arguably, this is the biggest of them all. Juliet cannot come back from this: if it fails, she dies; if it works, she commits herself to Romeo forever and abandons her family.
Unlike Romeo’s impulsive murder of Tybalt, Juliet takes the time to consider the possibilities.
In her soliloquy, she addresses her fears and various possibilities; but ultimately, she resolves that this is the best way forward. She even leaves a dagger out in case the mixture doesn’t work. This is the beginning of the end.
Death of Jule
The Nurse’s attempts to wake Juliet being light-hearted and playful, acting as a nice contrast to what has happened.
But realisation dawns on her when Juliet doesn’t stir at all. She yells and both Capulet and Lady Capulet enter.
We learn something new here: Juliet is her only child. Perhaps for the first time properly, we see the parents speak lovingly of their child, with no ulterior motive.
Paris enters with musicians, again emphasising the tragedy.
They strongly lament her death but Friar Laurence’s response is interesting. He appears to tell them off slightly, saying that they wanted her to be married to advance her and now she has advanced to heaven.
But there’s more to it than that. He has no idea when Juliet will wake up (if indeed she will at all), and if she does, if he is found to have given her the potion, then he is in big trouble.
This is self-preservation, to get her away quickly and avoid the body being examined closely.
Peter and the Musicians:
Sounds like a new band (Hootie and the Blowfish, anyone?) but it is in fact an odd little interlude at the end of Scene 5, after Juliet has been found ‘dead.’
Does it advance the plot? No, not really. It is designed to offer a degree of comic relief.
We’ve just had a bunch of people lamenting the death of their child, friend, fiancée, and for those of you who know the plot, we know it isn’t about to get much better…
This scene is created to break things up a bit. But it doesn’t serve much purpose beyond that. The scene ends with a musician saying “hang him” because Peter has started singing out of tune. Feels a little tasteless, given what has just happened, mate…
But remember, an audience at the time would not know if Juliet had actually died or the potion had worked.